Imam in strip mall mosque stresses social services

Posted on July 23, 2012 by kre8tive under Latest News
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Imam Khalis Rashad

Imam Khalis Rashaad, born in Houston and involved in crime as a teen, says he wants to give back to his community with services like prison re-entry programs, drug and alcohol counseling, and financial management. Photo: Michael Paulsen / © 2012 Houston Chronicle

Standing behind the pulpit, addressing his modest 25-member congregation, Imam Khalis Rashaad¬†preaches about time management, nutrition and economic empowerment at his new mosque in Houston’s Third Ward – a largely uncharted territory for Islamic centers.

The rhetoric there is different from the more abstract spiritual sermons of its counterparts – the dozens of long-established suburban mosques in Sugar Land, Katy, Spring and Clear Lake.

Leased in a strip mall on Almeda Road, the mosque is just getting by with member fees and donations that come in through the center’s Facebook page.

No geometric designs or chandeliers adorn the ceiling, no domes or minarets mark the outside. Besides three pieces of Quranic tapestry, the walls at the three-month-old Ibrahim Islamic Center are bare.

“It’s something to have a million-dollar mosque,” said the 39-year-old resident imam, “but if you have cheap projects and cheap ideas coming out of it, it just defeats the purpose.”

That’s where the main difference with the mosque lies – its purpose.

“Our plan is to tackle those projects that many organizations don’t like to tackle,” he said, “and in the area where the most work is needed.”

Community center

While most mosques around the city function primarily as a place of worship for the faith’s five daily prayers, Friday sermon and religious classes, Rashaad hopes to revive a largely abandoned objective – that of the religion’s leader himself.

“Oftentimes,” he said, “we forget that the model of the mosque during the time of our Prophet Muhammad was not only a place of prayer.” It operated more like a community center, he said, both Muslims and non-Muslims visited the mosque to hash out social issues, seek economic advice and receive charity, food and even accommodation.

Under this model, Ibrahim Islamic Center administrators are working to launch several new programs specially catered to the Third Ward’s low-economic community including a food pantry, legal workshops, prisoner re-entry programs, nutrition and exercise programs, drug and alcohol counseling, medical workshops,and entrepreneurship and financial management classes.

“A mosque that stays within its four walls isn’t a mosque at all, it’s a club,” Rashaad said. “We have to be out in the community, meeting the vital needs of the community on their turf, on their terms.”

With the mosque just making ends meet, Rashaad currently gives his time pro bono.

“This is a part of me giving back to a community that I’ve taken so much from,” he said.

Drug dealer, dropout

Born and raised in his Christian grandparents’ home just south of Third Ward, Rashaad got mixed up with drug dealing and crime as a teenager, dropping out of high school and leaving home. After hitting rock bottom at 18, a few Muslim mentors in the area helped him stitch his life back together.

He re-enrolled in school, embraced Islam and subsequently received a bachelor’s in accounting and business management and a master’s in business administration. He now happily juggles life between his accounting practice, his imam responsibilities and his wife and two children.

Rashaad is among the first of a small but growing number of American-raised Muslims taking leadership positions in mosques. For decades, Houston mosques were staffed with immigrant imams from Muslim countries who spoke little English.

Last year, Rashaad completed Houston’s first three-year imam training course pioneered by Imam Wazir Ali, an El Paso-born Muslim who leads at a mosque in southeast Houston. The course had 10 students – all were American-born.

“The goal is to produce Muslim leaders who understand the core values of Islam and the core values of America,” said Ali, “as well as promote and uplift the basic needs for human life, growth and development.”

The Ibrahim Islamic Center’s first big project, Putting the Neighbor Back in the Hood, is set to launch in June. Mosque members will set up stations in Third Ward neighborhoods offering free professional medical check-ups, drug and alcohol counseling, nutrition advice and fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We no longer can continue to sit on the sidelines and just watch while other faith communities do the work alone,” Rashaad said.

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