W.V. Islamic Center reaches out

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Nestled between Avondale suburbs and the Gateway Pavilions shopping center sits the West Valley's only mosque and Islamic community center.

The idea for the West Valley Islamic Center, which was established two years ago, grew out of the need for a place of worship for the several thousand Muslims in the area, Board Chairman Junaid Qureshi explained.

"What we used to do, when there'd be any religious function we would have to drive 30 miles to Glendale or Peoria. It got to the point when we'd get home at midnight, so we started tossing around the idea that we should have our own center locally because it was not practical otherwise," Qureshi said.

Over time, the center has grown to a congregation of approximately 100 Muslims and their families.

Busy religion
Qureshi describes Islam as a "busy religion." Prayers are held five times a day by full-time imam, or priest, Suleman Abdullatif, who has memorized the Quran in its entirety.

This skill is particularly difficult to master, Board member Rizwan Shan added.

"Imagine learning the Bible verse by verse, it's a tough thing to do, and then to be able to understand what it's saying. Then imagine if the Bible were in [another language] and then still knowing it word for word."

Services are also held every Friday, along with religious education on Sundays for children taught by the imam and women in the congregation.

"One of our primary goals was education, because we wanted our kids to grow and learn," Qureshi said. "It's also a nice way for our wives to channel their energies and volunteer their time."

The center also serves as a place for social events within the congregation, such as weddings or watching sports.

"We watch football games, have fantasy leagues and check up on what's going on with baseball. It's not just a place of worship, it's truly a place where we can hang out and grow together," Shan said.

The center also serves as a source of education to the community about Islam, Qureshi added.

"We really want to present ourselves as a progressive community. This center isn't just open for Muslims, it's open for anybody who has questions or wants to learn more. We want to be part of the larger community [of Avondale]."

The Islamic religion has five tenants: prayer five times a day; completing a Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca; giving zakat, or charity; fasting during Ramadan, and belief in one God and Muhammad as his prophet.

Part of educating the community about Islam involves dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions, such as Muslims not believing in Moses or Jesus.

"If you read the Quran, there are more references to Moses than there is to Muhammad. Jesus and Moses are all Islamic predecessors; if we deny them, then we cease to be Muslim," Qureshi said. "So we are very brotherly to them in that sense, we respect them no less than anyone else."

Another misconception the center and its board members wish to educate the community about is the idea that Islam is a violent religion.

Rachel Trott
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