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The Islamic presence in Manhattan

By Anton Trafimovich

The first mosque in Manhattan was built in 1982. But the growing Muslim population — driven by increases in the number of international students — forced construction of the Islamic center of Manhattan in 1993. The center now unites around 200 Muslims here.

Unlike in the 1980s, the Islamic center is not just a place for prayer. Mustaque Hossain, a faculty member in civil engineering, came to Manhattan in 1991. Originally from Bangladesh, he attended an mosque in a regular house purchased from a faculty member. That place didn’t have designated space for females to pray, something that is considered standard in mosques. Now there is a large prayer hall, a designated area for female prayers, meeting spaces downstairs, and classrooms for the children.

“It is an all-encompassing facility on par with prayer facilities of other denominations in town,” Hossain said. “It is the heart of the Muslim community in Manhattan and the surrounding area.”

Adnan Alkhiary, a doctoral student in family studies and Islamic Center of Manhattan president, said most of the efforts of the center are devoted to religious education. The center hosts meetings and discussions on religious topics, and maintains a library and an ongoing Girls club.

The Muslim Students Association, a K-State club, co-participates in various activities organized by the center. Abdulrahman Alkhiary, a sophomore in political science, MSA chair member and Adnan Alkhiary’s son, said both organizations are based on the same people.

“There is not any period between them,” he said.

Although all of the center’s members profess the same religion, they come from different Muslim countries and cultures. There are more than three dozen countries represented in the center.

Sulaiman Alrweih, a freshman in architectural engineering, said he found the Islamic Center very different from the mosques he used to visit in his home country of Kuwait. He appreciates that he can see the variety of Muslim cultures in one place.

“I can talk to other Muslims from other countries, learn about their culture,” Alrweih said.

Prior to coming to Manhattan, Alkhiary’s family spent several years in Columbia, Mo., where the majority of Muslims were local residents. In Manhattan, almost all the Muslims are affiliated with KSU. Out of 200 members of the center community, only four are local residents.

“Our weakness is that the community is not constant,” Adnan Alkhiary said. “We don’t have as much commitment.”

There are a number of faculty members at the center, but students dominate. That results in an ever-changing staff and activities.

The Islamic Center hosts breakfasts during Ramadan, the holy month, when Muslims are prohibited from eating during daylight hours.

“Many non-married people come because usually they don’t know how to cook,” Abdulrakhman Alkhiary said.

The Islamic Center also helps to adapt and settle new Muslim students coming to Manhattan. They can rely on assistance with finding housing, buying a car or just getting acquainted with the city. Sometimes the center members even go to the airport to pick up a student who just arrived.

Also the center hosts many gatherings and activities designed to unite the community. From time to time local Muslims gather in the center’s backyard to have a picnic, barbeque or play games.

One of the center’s goals is to educate locals about Islamic culture. Everyone is encouraged to attend weekly meeting with speakers in the center.

“Our door is open,” Adnan Alkhiary said.

To reach more people, MSA holds lectures on Islam in the Leadership Studies building each semester.  Adbulrahman Alkhiary speaks there at the Culture Context class. He has done it six times nine times during the past year.

The Islamic Center is trying to cooperate with different local services for the benefit of both parties. The Red Cross staff came over the center to learn more about Middle Eastern and Muslim culture and to teach Muslim community how to act during tornado and other disasters. The center for its part offered to consider volunteers from the number of Muslim community in case of any disaster.

“We are trying to work out relations,” Adbulrakhman Alkniary said.

In the future they are going to host meeting of this kind with the police and fire department. Adbulrakhman Alkniary said, they are trying to show all the people there is no any distinct between Muslim community.

“It would be win-win for us, for community, for everyone,” Abulrahman Alkhiary Sr. said. “We got to take that step.”

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