Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Everything's Bigger in Texas

Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Everything's Bigger in Texas

Article excerpt

Houston Muslims to continue to expand their community in all arenas.

SAYEED SIDDIQUI, A GEOPHYSICIST who moved to Houston in 1974, describes how shortly after their arrival to the city, he and his wife, Nilofer, were driving on Highway 59 when Nilofer said, "I heard there is a masjid around here." She wanted to exit the freeway and see if they could find it, and although Sayeed was disinclined to go hunting for a mosque, his wife insisted.

"Let's just go look for it," she said."Just take the Shepherd exit."

They found it. In 1973, a group of Muslims had bought a small house on Richmond Avenue in downtown Houston after several years of meeting in members' homes for Quran study and prayer. That initial group evolved into the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which more than 40 years later is one of the major Islamic organizations in the city.

Houston is a city of little more than 2 million people, of which an estimated 1.2 percent are Muslim, and it is among the largest urban Muslim populations in the U.S. Houston's Muslim community is truly diverse, a place where you find khutbahs in Urdu, students of W.D. Mohammed, and mosques whose boards of directors include European American converts. The Muslim community in the greater Houston area is among the most educated in the country and ranks ninth in the nation's Muslim population.

This size and diversity has given Houston Muslims the opportunity to serve as leaders in civic and political activities. What follows is just a snapshot of the spirit and action of the Houston Muslim community.

AN ORGANIZATION WITH A LEGACY

Sayeed and Nilofer Siddiqui describe a Quranic discussion group that was held every Sunday at the mosque they found on Richmond Avenue. Sometimes as many as 50 people attended, some coming from miles away.

"That's where we, the people who were sitting in that circle, got the sense of the true kernel of Islam," says Sayeed. "How the human being should be improving himself through Quran."

After registering as a 501(c)(3) organization, ISGH developed the model that it still follows: a central organization with five different zones, which are further divided into sub-zones. According to ISGH president Aziz Siddiqi, in addition to 19 Islamic centers, ISGH runs six full-time Islamic schools, three Islamic funeral homes and five lowcost medical clinics. The organization also coordinates classes for new Muslims and a prison dawah program.

"It's wonderful to see ISGH grow," says Nilofer. "We've come a long way - from a dilapidated' house to 19 mosques."

ADVOCACY AND CIVIC INVOLVEMENT

In March 2012, a day-long program, the Civil Rights Coalition Conference, was held at Houston Community College. It featured speakers from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition as well as the keynote speaker, broadcast journalist Amy Goodman, producer and host of Democracy Now. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Texas' Houston chapter was at the helm. Shireen Jasser, outreach director of CAIR's Houston chapter, says the conference is a natural result of the organization's focus on building partnerships with community groups that have similar concerns regarding social justice and civil rights.

"I really haven't heard it happening before in other communities, so this was a first for Houston," says Jasser. "Latino groups, Muslim groups and civil rights groups all coming together and having this 'crosspollination,' promoting our issues and just sharing with one another."

Another key C AIR- Houston activity is the annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, an opportunity for Muslims to visit Austin, the state capital, and meet with legislators. Jasser says the most recent Capitol Day, in 2011, was crucial because there was a socalled "anti-sharia" legislation on the table. "Anti-sharia" bills, which, to varying degrees, propose to restrict Islamic religious practice, have proliferated across the country, and both Jasser and CAIR-Texas executive director Mustafaa Carroll see it as a priority issue. …

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