The Islamic Center of Hattiesburg supports local Muslim community
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 21, 2013 23:01
In a town of more than 45,000 citizens, The Islamic Center of Hattiesburg supports a local Muslim community that consists of roughly 200 people.
Members’ professions range from medical doctors to professors and students, and some travel upwards of 45 miles to attend services at the center.
According to member and Mississippi native Mustafa Ali, the center’s collective membership does not fit the mold of a particular stereotype.
“All generations and all ethnic backgrounds are represented,” said Mustafa Ali. “A Muslim is a Muslim.”
The center, which was founded in 2004, is open daily to accommodate the prayer times of the five obligatory prayers of the Islamic faith known as Fajr, Zhuhr, Asr, Magrib and Isha.
The center is also open for a weekly Friday service known as Jama’ah. According to Mustafa Ali, between 25 and 100 people typically attend Jama’ah.
William Carey University medical student and Houston native Ali said that he can pray anywhere but also stressed the importance of the center.
“It makes it a lot easier to have this community center here,” said Ali. “It gives us a chance to meet some of these other guys here, so it builds community.”
University of Southern Mississippi graduate student and Saudi Arabia native Fahad Alolayan also touched on the community center’s importance.
“I’m really glad that we have this community, and without this mosque, I can’t pray on Friday because this is just different,” said Alolayan. “We can pray at home, but it’s better to be together.”
In addition to providing religious services, the center also offers educational opportunities. Children in first through sixth grades are taught the Arabic language during weekly Saturday school services. Classes that study the Holy Qur’an are also available for all age groups.
“It’s more than praying,” said Alolayan when asked about the educational opportunities at the center. “They learn Islam.”
Despite the various opportunities offered by the center, members expressed little concern regarding their abilities to practice their faiths when today’s fast-paced society keeps them from being present at the mosque.
“I always try to find ways to [pray],” said USM graduate and Nigeria native Faisal Mallum. “I still need to find ways to come pray because it’s obligatory and I need to do that.”
Ali tempered the same notion.
“I would be able to practice even if there was no one here,” said Ali. “I could pray at home, or I could pray on the street, wherever.”
Alolayan mentioned that he prays outside if he needs to, and people are generally receptive towards his faith.
“In general people are respectable,” said Alolayan. “I don’t remember anyone trying to stop me or even talk to me badly or anything.”
The notion that people in the Bible Belt are tolerant towards members of non-Christian faiths is certainly one that challenges the status quo, but Ali thinks the conservative nature of the region complements the Islamic faith well.
“The Bible Belt is somewhat conservative compared to other areas of the country, but Islam is actually somewhat conservative as well,” said Ali.
Although members feel well received by the Hattiesburg community, Ali admits that Islam is depicted in a biased light in today’s media.
“When people think of Islam they think about Iran or Osama bin Laden,” said Ali. “But what they won’t think about is charity or helping orphans or feeding the poor, which are major tenants of our faith.”
When asked what people uninformed about Islamic faith should know, members stressed the importance of knowledge.
“You should start trying to ask questions to learn,” said Mallum. “Study history, study Islam and the principles and what they actually entail.”
Ali offered a similar suggestion.
“I would want them to come sit with a Muslim,” said Ali. “We can pass it to you verbally, we can show it to you in writing, there’s no secret. The only secret is that you have to come here and believe in one God.”
Islam accompanies Christianity and Judaism as one of three Abrahamic religions, so its origins are closer to home than the media would typically lead the public to believe.
The Islamic Center of Hattiesburg is located on North 25th Avenue and is open seven days a week.