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View Full Version : As Ramadan begins, Islam center promotes understanding

09-01-2008, 03:00 PM
MIDDLETOWN — Islam took Qasim Muhammad from the streets of the South Bronx three decades ago.

It brought him to Middletown, where he runs a halal butcher shop on East Main Street.

Now it takes the 55-year-old grandfather to a spare room in a small building across the street from his butcher shop.

Shoes off, Muhammad bows his head, as Latif Abdul Wasi stands next to him and chants the last of the five daily prayers in Arabic.

They pray at the Mid-Hudson Da'wah Center, which opened its doors in October.

Da'wah means "invitation" in Arabic. To the Mid-Hudson Da'wah Committee, the center's founders, it is an invitation for Muslims in the community to deepen their understanding and commitment to their faith. To the non-Muslim, the center is an invitation to learn about a faith they might not know much about, or shatter any pre-conceived notions they might have.

"We are explaining Islam, promoting Islam," says Muhammad, a committee member.

Stacks of pamphlets explaining Islamic tenets in English and Spanish, as well as Spanish copies of the Quran, are piled on a small table. The center offers study classes for men and women, even marriage and substance-abuse counseling. And Abdus-Shaheed Azeez, who leads the center, says the center plans to organize community watches, work with Middletown school officials to help address issues of Muslim students, even hold workshops with representatives of other faiths.

All to spread Islam's message, a message Muhammad feels has been distorted, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Now it's an uphill battle," says Muhammad, who grew up Catholic and converted to Islam at age 21. "I got caught up in the wave of hatred towards Islam. I know what Islam is. We have to give people the proper perspective."

But there's another reason Muhammad practices da'wah: By spreading his faith, he believes his soul will be rewarded.

"Mankind works on incentives, whether's it's man-to-man, man-to-God or God-to-man," Azeez says. "I have to take care of you to take care of myself."

This week marks the start of Ramadan, an especially holy time for Muslims. To the outsider, it's simply a period when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to reinforce their devotion to Allah. But it's much more than that, Azeez says.

Ramadan is about self-assessment, reflecting on what you've done over the past year and realizing how you can better yourself. "If you haven't changed (after observing Ramadan), you fasted for nothing," Wasi says.

So the men of the Mid-Hudson Da'wah Center will fast. They will reflect. And they will pray.

And if a fellow Muslim needs a place to pray, he or she can head to the spare room in the small building on East Main Street.

"As long as we trust in Allah," Wasi says, "the door will be open."

"In the Spirit" is the Times Herald-Record's weekly religion and spirituality feature. If you have any ideas, please e-mail Hudson Editor Kristina Wells at kwells@th-record.com.


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09-02-2008, 01:13 PM

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