This profile was last updated in 2003
While the Islamic Center of San Antonio appears hidden in its peaceful location on Fairfield Avenue, it is anything but removed from the larger San Antonio community. On the contrary, the Islamic Center prides itself on its relationships with its Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors, developing strong connections with local churches, the mayor, city officials, and the police department. Imam Yousef Said, the vivacious young leader of the Center, places the task of hospitality at the forefront of the mosque’s mission. “We try to practice our religion and to have a good relationship with the community, to open this place to non-Muslims, and to explain Islam to them,” said Yousef. “We can be one family.”
Originally from Jordan, Imam Yousef relocated to the Islamic Center from a Houston mosque in 2002. In the wake of September 11, he recognized that the Islamic Center—whose members are largely from the Middle East, India, and Pakistan—could play a vital role in San Antonio. He took it upon himself to help educate the wider community on Islam, and also to remind young Muslims that they are American Muslims first. Today, the basketball hoops outside the mosque sport Texas flags, and the Center annually holds an open house where they invite the San Antonio community to meet its members and ask questions. During the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, Imam Yousef often preached against acts of violence done in the name of Islam in his Friday sermons. His Friday khutbas are in Arabic and English.
In the early 1990s, members of San Antonio’s Muslim community began meeting in stores and apartments throughout the city to pray. In 1992, the community pooled their resources to purchase the large, open expanse of land on Fairfield Avenue, now home to the Islamic Center of San Antonio, the city’s largest mosque. The Center opened in 1997. Today, the Islamic Center is rapidly expanding to meet the needs of its 700 regular members. Plans are in the works for Al-Madinah Academy, which currently functions as an Islamic Sunday school, to be transformed into a full-time day school that will offer Arabic and Qur’anic classes in addition to a standard curriculum. The Center itself is also set to expand, with hopes of adding banquet halls that will accommodate the hundreds who daily come to the Center to break the fast during Ramadan and of building playing fields on the land behind the school.
Activities and Schedule
The mosque is open for all five daily prayers, and from 1:15- 2:00 for the Friday Jum’ah prayer. On Saturday, the Center holds classes on Islamic law; Sunday and Mondays there are Arabic and English classes; Tuesdays classes on Qur’anic recitation; and on Wednesday, classes specifically for women. Children attend weekly Sunday school classes. During the summer, children’s classes are available daily, covering topics like the Qur’an, Arabic, and the life of Mohammed. During Ramadan, the mosque holds iftar meals daily to break the fast.
Membership Size and Demographics
About 700 people belong to the mosque, though more than 2,000 will come to prayer during Ramadan and on Eidh al-Fitr. Members are from all over the Middle East and Asia, with more recent immigrants from Bosnia, Somalia, and the Palestinian Territories. About half speak Arabic, with a significant portion speaking Urdu as well.
Interfaith Events and Community Outreach
The Islamic Center of San Antonio is strongly involved in local interfaith activities. They hold an annual open house where they invite non-Muslims to visit the center, and hold a question and answer session. Members also visit area churches to explain the teachings of Islam to the wider San Antonio community. After September 11, members of the Islamic Center formed strong relationships with the local police force and the FBI, who, in turn, offered increased protection of the area’s Arab American population and regular patrols of the mosque. The community has also participated in blood drives to show their solidarity with victims of violence. In addition to interfaith activities, the Center works closely with the San Antonio branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to increase education about Islam and to protect Muslim Americans from acts of violence.
The stark white exterior and traditional domed entryways of the Islamic Center of San Antonio are a surprising site in the heart of the city’s medical district. The Center’s main building is dominated by an enormous prayer hall, with separate entrances for men and women. There is also a separate prayer room where women can pray without be disturbed. Beside the entrance to the mosque, there are washrooms that provide space for men and women to complete the ritual ablutions (wudu) necessary before prayer. There is also a kitchen and a small library containing Arabic texts. Beside the Islamic Center stands the new Al-Madinah school, a day school established in 2000 and dedicated to educating Muslim students. Originally started as a Sunday school, the academy had three separate classrooms; now it offers summer school and year-round classes in Arabic, the Qur’an, the Life of Mohammed, and worship.