By: Jackie Hardy, NDG Contributing Writer
With a total population of over 200,000 who call Irving home, Muslim residents make up approximately 30,000 to 40,000 of that population according to Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving (ICI).
In a post 9/11 world, Imam (pronounced ih-mahm – meaning spiritual leader in Arabic) has had to address the challenges many within the Muslim community have faced. This is a result of the negative public perception of Muslims following the tragic Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, 28 percent of Muslim Americans reported being looked at with suspicion; 22 percent said they were called offensive names; and 21 percent indicated they were singled out by airport security.
Public Religion Research Institute reported the number of Americans who believe Muslims are working to subvert the Constitution rose from 23 percent in February 2012 to 30 percent in September 2012 according to an article entitled The Reality of Islamophobia in America published on the Council on American Islamic-Relations (CAIR) website.
“There is a fear that all Muslims are terrorists and we are here to change the law of the country,” explains Imam.
Imam Sheikh migrated to the United States in 1995 and began serving as a spiritual leader in 1996, then moved to Irving in 2005; where he presently serves as the spiritual leader with responsibilities of leading the prayers (five times daily), counseling, teaching and leading the services at the Mosque.
The over 40,000 square foot facility located at 2555 Esters Road is comprised with a Mosque, community center and K-12 private school equipped with a library, computer lab, cafeteria and 16 classrooms in addition to 14 portable classrooms.
ICI is a place many Muslim residents of Irving can come and feel safe from some of outside prejudices they may encounter within their respective non-Muslim communities as well as a place non-Muslims can come to learn the truths about the Islamic faith; ultimately helping them dispel some of the myths and untruths about their religion and culture.
According to Imam, statistics show non-Muslim Americans will have a favorable and/or better perception of Muslims once they have been educated about their beliefs.
The Center provides a broad range of services that range in counseling, tutoring and facilitating religious lectures about their faith; in addition to being a place of worship and a facility that houses the school which has received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
“We are planning to expand the facility to an additional 96,000 square feet to house a floor with a multi-purpose room and 16 additional classrooms,” adds Imam.
Imam advised that all monies raised to support the construction efforts have strictly come from donations as they are in Phase II of the construction development project.
The continued growth in enrollment has warranted the need for expanding as the school currently serves 400 plus full-time students and an additional 150 part-time students.
ICI extends its services outside of the Center through its various community outreach initiatives. A few of their previous outreach programs have included opening their Center for the displaced residents affected by Hurricane Katrina; sponsoring health fairs with the American Muslim Women’s Physician Association; and collaborating with Northwood Baptist Church of Keller to help rebuild homes of tornado victims. They also have partnered locally with Greater Days of Service, an interdenominational organization that renews neighborhoods and provides home restoration of properties for homeowners.
“….the community Ramadan dinner they host every year has been attended by community leaders… overall I think they are a contribution to the City especially in the area of humanitarian contributions, so from my perspective they really have tried to make a difference…,” remarks Irving City Councilman Dennis Webb of Place 3.
ICI recently partnered with Texas Organizing Project to host a health care workshop in the effort to educate the public on the Affordable Care Act that became effective in early October. According to Brianna Brown, Lead Health Care Organizer of Texas Organizing Project, there were over 150 attendees at the event which was their largest health care workshop in Dallas County. Brown accredits ICI for the successful turnout due in large part to their strong promotional efforts within the community.
“Their reputation throughout the community especially in the non-profit world of services is really stellar,” adds Brown.
“Imam Zia and the members of the Islamic Center of Irving are some of the best neighbors and citizens any community in America would be proud to have. They are devoted to God and they show divine compassion for people in need,” adds Anthony Bonds, Irving community activist.
For more information about current and future events, contact ICI via email at email@example.com or via phone at 972-812-2230, extension 1005.