Nine years have passed since land was purchased in Chantilly on which to build a mosque. But Saturday evening, at long last, ground was broken for the facility which will serve the Northern Virginia chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
The ceremony at Walney Road and Eagle Chase Circle began with a recitation from the holy Quran and then a poem praising and thanking Allah for all of His blessings.
"TODAY IS a monumental day — not only for us, but for Fairfax County — which has welcomed us into its community, its schools and its hearts," said Shahid Malik, the chapter president. "Our new mosque will provide us a place to congregate in peace and to show our appreciation and love for our God."
Ahmadiyya Muslims have some 68 chapters in the U.S., including two in Virginia, and about 6,000 members in the Washington Metropolitan area. Some 400 members of the local chapter live in Chantilly, Centreville and other cities in both Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
"We're a sect of Islam," said Malik. "Our motto is 'Love for all, hatred for none.' Our sect condemned the terrorism in the 1800s; the Quran doesn't condone Jihad. So we are persecuted in most Islamic countries."
For the past nine years, the local chapter has been meeting in a rented house on Centreville Road in Herndon, until the mosque's site plan was finally approved by Fairfax County. Delays involved a rezoning and an archaeological survey.
"We kept having to meet more and more new requirements," explained Malik. "I was so frustrated. They were even telling us what trees to plant so their seeds wouldn't go into the Park Authority's land behind us."
He contacted Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey and his Chief of Staff, Meaghan Kiefer, for help, and received it from them and from Sully Planning Commissioner Ron Koch. And now the project's first phase — a 7,200-square-foot mosque with two stories and a basement — is underway in the Walney Oaks community.
Designed by former Clifton architect Jim Hricko, it will be square and its exterior will blend in with the colors of the neighboring homes. Inside will be a carpeted, open space for prayer. The group will also build a small street, called Ahmadiyya Avenue, from Eagle Chase Circle to the mosque.
PHASE TWO — a 17,000-square-foot hall — will house classrooms, a library, book store and places to hold meetings, community gatherings and conferences. Said Malik: "We want local homeowners to be able to use and enjoy the hall, too."
The $2 million Phase One is expected to begin construction in May and finish by January 2008, with the $2 million second phase progressing as funds allow. Although it's much larger than Phase One, that phase's cost includes site development and infrastructure.
Currently, daily prayers begin around 5:45 a.m., but the time changes with the sun and seasons. Members pray again around 1:25 p.m., about 5 p.m., right after sunset and between 8-9 p.m. Many pray at home, and some 40 people pray in the rented house.
"Nowadays, we're combining the sunset and night prayers because people are busy working," said Malik. "And on Thursdays, we read a portion of the Quran and people ask questions. There are similar passages in both the Quran and the Bible." Children's classes are on weekends.
At Saturday's groundbreaking, member Usman Choudhary of Springfield said the event was a long time coming. "We're thrilled and thankful," he said. "The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a peaceful and very tolerant community. Mirza Gulam Ahmad founded our movement in 1889."
Choudhary said Friday, 1 p.m., prayers — called Juma — are like Christians' Sunday church services: "And we teach children about Islam and their own religion in Sunday School." He said a mosque provides an identity.
"From my own perspective, it's a place to pray, meditate and worship," said Choudhary. "From a community perspective, [everyone's] welcome; we want people to see what we're all about. We'd love to hold interfaiths. We've been to Floris [United Methodist] Church, and now it would be nice to have them come to our place."
"We look at social issues that face all of us, such as 'How do we make this a better society?' he continued. "We're a moderate, reform movement in Islam that preaches a peaceful way to co-exist with people of all faiths."
Mannal Bakhsh, of Chantilly's Hunters Run community, said that, before they started meeting in Herndon, "For two years, the prayers were at my house because my dad, Chaudhry Allah Bakhsh, was the president." She, too, was delighted about the groundbreaking.
"IT'S JUST so heartwarming because we've waited so long to have our own mosque," she said. "There's a lot of excitement and a great sense of belonging. We've done so many fund-raisers. Finally, we'll have a place to practice our faith in our own place of worship and not be going from one place to another."
Bakhsh said they have cultural days where they invite the community in to learn about each other's customs, practices and beliefs — "even what we wear and the food we eat."
Farhana Fouzia of Chantilly's Armfield Farms community is president of the Northern Virginia chapter of Lajna Imaillah — the Ahmadiyya Muslim women's auxiliary. She organizes education meetings for the women and children, especially girls.
Fouzia said it's called Nasirat and is religious education and moral training. Boys attend, too, until they're 7 and go to boys-only classes. At Saturday's groundbreaking, she said, "We're thankful to our beloved God, Allah, for giving this house of God to us to worship together as a community. And we'll have a regular place for our Nasirat classes."
Also at the ceremony was the vice president under Fouzia, Farida Sheikh of Centreville's Sequoia Farms community. "We moved here when this land was bought in 1998, and we are so excited that we'll have our own mosque," she said. "This is a very happy day for us."
As is their custom, men and women sat in separate sections at the groundbreaking. The women wore long coats, plus scarves covering their heads and hair.
"We don't have free mixing of men and women, because of modesty," explained Sheikh. "If we're separate, we don't have to cover ourselves and can be more comfortable."
Ahsan Zafar, the amir of the U.S. Ahmadiyya Muslim community, addressed the gathering, saying "Worship is praying to Allah and interacting in a good way with our fellow man."
"The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has its roots in India, and today marks the day we go forward to make all our plans a reality," said Shahid Malik. "Nothing came without a struggle, but it makes this celebration all the more special for our congregation."
HE SAID he won't be able to relax, though until the project's remaining details are ironed out with the county. Said Malik: "I can't rest until we have the occupancy permit in hand."
Meanwhile, he said his members are eagerly anticipating being part of the Walney Oaks community and sharing in its responsibilities. "This [mosque] will become the center of our lives," Malik told the crowd. "I'm looking forward to being with you again when we cut the ribbon in 2008."