Islamic Community Center of Atlanta

This profile was last updated in 2006

Although founded only a few years ago, the Islamic Community Center of Atlanta (ICCA) has quickly become a central location for Muslims living in the Fayetteville area, a southeast suburb of Atlanta. Housed in a former grocery store/teenage dance club, the property is marked by a distinct structure resembling a minaret (see photo). The ICCA has developed into a very active organization, offering many programs for education, socializing, and interfaith dialogue.

Demographics

The ICCA does not keep a registered membership list. Therefore, calculating and determining membership is very difficult. It is clear that the center has grown considerably since it opened in 2001. In the early days, approximately six members attended evening prayers. Today, evening prayer can attract between fifty to several hundred worshipers. During Ramadan, the Friday and Saturday evening prayers attract as many as a thousand worshipers, allowing for standing room only in the social and dining areas. Many members of the community who regularly participate live in the Fayetteville and south Atlanta areas. The ICCA also attracts many travelers, which contributes to the difficulty in estimating membership. The ethnic composition of the center is 40% Indian-Pakistani; 30% African-American; 25% Arab-American; 5% other. Although English, Arabic, and Urdu are the most common languages used, a community leader noted that at least ten languages are spoken by the various members.

Affiliation with Other Communities/Organizations

The ICCA is not formally affiliated with any national or international organizations. However, the community participates in an informal network of communication between Atlanta area mosques. It is also attached to interfaith organizations in the city. ICCA is affiliated with the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB), founded by Soumaya Khalifa, wife of the current ICCA director. The ISB is a non-profit organization “with a purpose of building a stronger community through sharing information and forming relationships.” A number of events and lectures are hosted by ISB, including a special event held at Georgia Tech dealing with religion in public schools. In fall 2005 this well-attended lecture featured Charles Haynes from the First Amendment Center in Washington DC as keynote speaker. Many members of ICCA are also members of ISB. The ICCA is an active participant in the Fayetteville Interfaith Network, founded in 2002, shortly after the center was established. This network was formed in part as a reaction to September 11 to reach out to the Fayetteville community. In addition to the ICCA, several area Christian churches and Jewish synagogues are part of this organization. The various centers affiliated with the Fayetteville Interfaith Network gather for meetings, dinners, and worship. During Ramadan, ICCA invites members of other religious communities to the Iftar potluck dinners.

Administration

Although the sign on the building identifies the community as the Muslim Community Center of Atlanta (see photo), the formal registered name is Islamic Community Center of Atlanta, Inc. At the founding of the center in November 2001, the members originally chose the name “Muslim Community Center of Atlanta (MCCA).” However, when applying to the Secretary of State for non-profit status in the State of Georgia, “MCCA” was already registered, so the center had to choose an alternate name. The community members primarily refer to the center as the MCCA. The center is organized as a non-profit corporation. There are six members on the Board of Directors, including a president (currently Mohamed Khalifa), a treasurer (currently Zain U-Syed, and a secretary (currently Huma Farouqi). In addition, there is one Facilities Manager, who is responsible for the daily needs and maintenance of the center. The Board of Directors meets monthly to discuss the daily operation of the center, upcoming activities, and other events. All of the positions are voluntary.

History

The Islamic Community Center of Atlanta was founded in November 2001 by a couple, Dr. and Dr. Faiyez. Before the center was founded, the Muslim community in Fayetteville did not have a designated place for worship. The closest center of worship for Muslims in the Fayetteville area was located in Newnan, Georgia – approximately 23 miles (30-40 minutes) away. A weekly drive to Newnan for Friday prayer was inconvenient for members who worked or lived in Fayetteville. These Muslims began renting a hotel room on Friday afternoons so that they would have a convenient, clean, and quiet place to pray. This practice eventually led to gatherings in the basement at Mr. and Mrs. Khalifa’s home. The community gathering in the Khalifa home was informal and advertised only by word of mouth, so only a small group of people attended. Dr. and Dr. Faiyez, two of the regular attendees, decided to donate a building to the group to be used as a community center for prayer and classes. According to Mr. Khalifa, Mrs. Faiyez noticed an empty building with what appeared to be a minaret located on the corner of Lanier Avenue and Jeff Davis Road. Fortunately, the building was for sale, and it was reasonably priced with a spacious interior. Mrs. Faiyez felt that there were two “signs” that the space would make a good Muslim community center. First, the sign that had been constructed to advertise the original A&P market (the original occupants of the space) resembled a minaret. Second, the interior right wall contained built-in cubbies that had been used to check purses when the space was later turned into a teen dance hall. The couple noted that these cubbies provided a convenient place to store shoes during prayer. Once the building was purchased, the small group of participants who had been gathering at the Khalifas’ home began reconstructing and renovating the building to become an appropriate place for Muslim worship. Most importantly, the mihrâb (a niche constructed inside the wall) needed to be established to orient the congregation to Mecca. To accomplish this task, Mr. Khalifa contacted an astronomer recommended by Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta. The astronomer calculated the exact latitude and longitude of the center and sent an astronomical chart to Mr. Khalifa to use in conjunction with a vertical column in order to establish proper orientation to Mecca. Several other renovations were also made to the original space. A wall was constructed to contain the Qibla, and several screen partitions were installed to separate the center area where the group prays. Also, a prayer rug was installed in the center of the building. The carpet was donated by a member of the community and produced by a company in Duluth, Georgia, that specializes in carpets for Muslim worship. The prayer rug is red and marked with small boxes that run parallel to the mihrab. The boxes serve not only as an aesthetic element but also orient worshippers for prayer. By standing in the boxes with their heels to the back line, worshippers organize themselves into straight lines and stand shoulder to shoulder. (Men and women worship in the same room at ICCA, but they are separated. The men line up at the front of the worship space, while the women line up at the back of the rug behind the men.) Finally, members modified the existing bathrooms to accommodate required ritual ablution (washing the hands, face, mouth, and feet before prayer). The space includes an area to bathe the feet and marble stools for comfortable seating.

Religious Leadership

The center does not have a resident imam or spiritual leader; instead services are directed by a learned man in the community, selected at each prayer session by the men in attendance. These men usually choose someone to lead the prayer who has memorized the Qur’an and whom they personally know to be well-versed in the Qur’an. Occasionally, however, they choose someone who is unknown to the majority but who either personally professes great knowledge of the Qur’an or who has an individual present who can vouch for him. For special ceremonies such as a wedding, the ICCA may request an imam’s presence, although it is not strictly necessary. During Ramadan, the ICCA will request that an imam from Al-Farooq Masjid or another local mosque lead the community in prayer.

Activities and Schedule

The ICCA sponsors many educational and social programs, as well as opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The ICCA is open daily for salat, the five daily prayers, and worshipers gather before or after the prayers to socialize. Many community members also participate in religious education, provided at no cost. Examples of the educational offerings are listed below. Khatm-ul-Qur’an: This class is offered only during Ramadan. Every evening a community member recites about 20 pages of the Qur’an, and the entire Qur’an is recited over the course of 29 nights. Halaqa for Ladies: This is a study circle for ladies focused on the Qur’an. Class in English is offered on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Class in Urdu is offered on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Arabic Grammar, Qur’an Tafseer and Aqeeda: This class is offered throughout the year on Saturday mornings. However, during Ramadan the class meets in the late afternoons until sunset, between Asr and Maghrib. Arabic grammar, Tasfeer (Qur’anic interpretation) and Aqeeda (Islamic creeds) are the focus. Qur’an Classes for Children: Young children attend this class on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday School: This class (10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) teaches the Qur’an to older children. Halaqa: Tajweed (interpretation of the Qur’an) and Seerah (teachings on the life of the prophet). This adult study circle is held on Sundays beginning at 5 p.m. Qur’anic Arabic Classes: This class meets Wednesdays at 6 p.m., and is open to adults, stressing correct reading of the Qur’an as well as Qur’anic memorization. The center is also available for special occasions and social events, such as weddings or hair removing ceremonies (a ceremony in which a newborn’s hair is cut and weighed, and the family is then given that weight in gold). During Ramadan, the ICCA has a unique way of breaking the fast. Once the community gathers together, each member eats a single date and then the community celebrates with a buffet-style potluck dinner. Members each bring a dish to share and the food is arranged according to its level of spiciness, from mild to very hot. The men, women, and children all eat dinner together, and visitors from other faiths are invited to join them.

Description

The center is located at the intersection of Jeff Davies and Lanier Avenue. As a visitor approaches the center, the tall minaret-like tower is clearly visible from the road. The ICCA center faces Lanier Avenue with a small parking lot in front and an additional parking area in back. The sign on the front of the building says “Muslim Community Center of Atlanta” in English. Directly below the sign is the entrance to the building, two different front doors that both lead into the foyer area. Inside the foyer is a table with leaflets that include the prayer schedule, classes, social activities, and any additional community announcements. There is also a box designated for donations. Since the center does not require its members to pay dues, the center and all activities are supported entirely with donations. The foyer area opens up to the rest of the interior space. The walls are all white, and every wall is adorned with posters printed with Qur’anic passages, Arabic prayers, or other religious teaching. To the immediate right, the center has built-in cubbies for shoes and other belongings, and directly in front of the cubbies are tables and chairs for socializing. To the left of the cubbies is the entrance to the men’s and women’s bathrooms, which are located behind the prayer area and separated from the rest of the center by a wall. In front of the entrance is the prayer area, marked off by partitions and accented with a large red prayer rug. The mihrab is located at the rear right of the prayer rug. To the left of the entrance is an open kitchen area, separated from the rest of the room by an open counter. Behind the kitchen, there is a classroom area with a whiteboard, tables, and chairs. To the right of the classroom and to the left of the prayer area, the center has numerous tables and chairs that serve as additional classroom space or a place for informal conversation. At the back left of the center, a sitting area includes a couch, chairs, and a filled bookshelf.

Student Researchers

Rebecca DeSousa and Maggie Geraghty