This profile was last updated in 2006
This profile was prepared by student researchers Erica McDonald, Anita Nair, and Geoff Platta of Valdosta State University, under the direction of Dr. Richard Amesbury.
IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... may not be as prevalent as ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church. in Valdosta, but its contributions are just as essential. The Muslim community here is small and unique, and it meets on Friday afternoons for prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. In addition to local residents, the Muslim Cultural Center attracts many out-of-towners and provides Muslims from a diversity of cultural backgrounds with a place in which to come together and pray.
The Muslim Cultural Center is housed in what one member jokingly describes as “non-pedigreed architecture.” The building is a small, single-story house in an economically disadvantaged part of town. In accordance with the customs of the community, men enter through the front door and women enter through the back door, after removing their shoes. Inside the Muslim Cultural Center are two main rooms — a kitchen and a large open room. The large open room serves as a space in which to pray, socialize, and eat. Most sit on the spacious floor, which is decorated with a dark green carpet. The only furniture in the room is the pulpit (from which the imamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... delivers his sermon) and a piece of office furniture. There is also an intriguing piece of art on the wall. It is a beautiful but functional piece, which includes five clock dials, set to the times of prayer for the day (based on the sun’s position). The large room easily accommodates the 15-25 people who attend afternoon Friday prayer.
The building that has been utilized by the Muslim community in Valdosta for the past 20 years has a peculiar history. It was originally used by a community organization called the “MaryMary was the mother of Jesus and, as such, has a special place in the affection and devotion of Christians. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew speak of her as a Virgin who conceived Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Devotion to the Virgin Mary, also cal... ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... Terell Club.” During this time, the building was also often rented out for baby showers, wedding receptions, and the like. As the members of this particular organization aged, they met less and less frequently. A local Muslim woman named Amal Rashid noticed this and asked the group if she could begin using the space as a daycare center. The owners agreed in 1983. At this time, Amal and her husband Hassan Rashid thought that they were the only Muslims in Valdosta. On one fortuitous occasion, Amal went to a doctor’s office to ask questions about some medicine she had been prescribed. She wanted to make sure that it would not interfere with her fasting during RamadanRamadan is the ninth lunar month during which the first revelation of the Qur’an came to Muhammad. Each year in this month, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. They ar. also meant to make a conscious effort .... However, as soon as she mentioned Ramadan, the physician let her know that she too was a Muslim. The two couples quickly got together and decided that they needed a place to worship. When the day care center closed, they approached the landlord of the building and asked permission to turn it into a Muslim Cultural Center. The landlord agreed, and in 1986 this building became the place of worship for the Muslim community in Valdosta.
The Muslim Cultural Center advertises itself as a “Universal Islam” center. Almost half of the membership is comprised of African-Americans. The other half is made up of an astounding array of immigrant groups from around the world: Malaysians, Bangladeshis, Iranians, Pakistanis, etc. There are both SunnisSunni Muslims emphasize the authoritative role of the consensus of religious scholars (‘ulama) in interpreting the Qur’an and the Sunnah (custom) of the Prophet. The community could thus choose any good Muslim as a successor (khalifah) to Muhammad, th... and ShiitesThe Shi’at ‘Ali (the party of ‘Ali, for which Shi’ah is an abbreviation and from which the adjective Shi’i comes) believed that the Prophet Muhammad designated his son-in-law ‘Ali and his descendants to be leader (Imam) of the ummah after his ... in the community. Members occupy a broad range of vocations, including business professionals, college professors, physicians, and psychiatrists. Some are retired. There are also some international students who attend Valdosta State University, but they are not as numerous as the elder members of the group. Despite the Center’s location in a town with a predominantly Christian population, members say they have suffered no major challenges or hostility from the broader community. The next closest place of worship for Muslims is located about 90 miles away, in Albany, Georgia.
Activities and Schedule
Members primarily gather at the center on Friday around 2:10 p.m. for the afternoon prayer (this is the third of the five daily prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.). There is often an accompanying discussion of the Qur’an, known as a khutba, led by an imam. The “sisters” get together on a much more frequent basis than the men. They are a rather close-knit group who meet at least once a month to dance, sing, do henna, and engage in other communal activities. Ramadan is the primary holiday season in Islam. It occurs during the ninth lunar month of the year, which causes the season to fall about 10 days earlier every year. Ramadan begins when the new moonThe different phases of the moon’s cycle are significant in some Pagan traditions, especially in Wicca, where the moon is associated with the Goddess. Wiccans believe the inherent spiritual power in nature is greatest on the night of the full moon. They... is sighted, and the first day of Ramadan is often the subject of controversy. Muslims who have immigrated to the United States from elsewhere often prefer to start Ramadan when it begins in their country of origin, whether or not the moon has been sighted in the United States. Since the Muslim Cultural Center is comprised of such a diversity of Muslims from around the world, a “moon committee” was established. The committee is responsible for going out at night and looking for the moon. When it is sighted they call the Center and inform everyone that fasting for Ramadan will begin the following morning. Once the actual first day of Ramadan is established, the rest of the holiday is filled with prayer, fasting, and late meals. An increase in participants at the Center usually occurs during Ramadan. Fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset every day for 29-30 days. Large communal meals are usually eaten after sunset. At the beginning of the month, a calendar is posted in the entryway of the Center so that everyone can sign up for a day to bring food. Because the Muslim Cultural Center is small and there is only one standard-size stove, the women usually cook through the night in preparation for the large meal (or iftarIftar is “breaking the fast” at the end of each day of the month of Ramadan. After sundown during Ramadan, most Muslims ceremonially break their fast by eating dried dates and soup before the maghreb prayer. Later they may eat a larger meal with relat...) for 30-40 people the following evening. Non-Muslim visitors are often invited to the Center to join in these fast-breaking celebrations. Dishes range from Malaysian and Pakistani cuisine to “SoulThe soul is the inner spirit, the life-essence of a person, regarded in many religious traditions as Divine. In the Hindu tradition, the atman or pure consciousness within is understood to be one with Brahman, the ultimate reality that pervades the entire... Food” and reflect the wide diversity of cultures and ethnicities represented. Eid is the first day after Ramadan. In Valdosta, it is celebrated at Mathis Auditorium. The occasion is typically attended by about 150-180 people from the region — including Alabama, North Florida, and Georgia — all of whom are dressed in their best garb. Many immigrants choose to model the clothing worn in their home country. Because there is such a diverse mixture of Muslims from around the world, it is important for everyone to respect differences in Islamic practice. Because Sunnis and Shi’ites pray in slightly different ways, the Center organizes two different prayer sessions, and those not praying during a session just wait respectfully in the back of the room for their turn.