More than a place of worship

Published: 8/18/2008 12:18 AM

Decades ago, mosques were new to the area and served simply as places of worship.

Now they've also evolved into organizations that do much more for their communities and neighbors than just offer five daily prayers with a leader.

Janaan Hashim, spokeswoman for Islamic Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said mosques have turned into community centers, in a sense.

"The mosque itself exceeds the narrow purpose of being a place for prayer," she said. "It's a place for social gathering, a place for personal growth."

Mosques now provide services and programs for all ages, including things such as food pantries.

Islamic Center of Naperville has prayers, full-time and weekend schools and more than 32 different committees working on various programs.

"My philosophy about this is we are part of this country, we are part of this civilization," said Ashraf Elessawy, President of Islamic Center of Naperville. "Islam came to build, not to destroy."

Muslim Society of Glendale Heights Inc. has programs for adults who need help with their resumes and finding jobs. The group also helps refugees pay their rent while providing English classes.

Interfaith programs and political involvement also have become popular within many Muslim communities.

"Interfaith programs are something that we've been focusing on - especially after Sept. 11 because of negative things that are exposed on television," said Mohammed Misbahuddin, director of the Glendale Heights group.

Growing up, Hashim didn't see much community involvement at her mosque.

"But seeing the mosques integrate with their neighbors (now)," she said, "to me it's very telling of the growth of the Muslim community and their involvement with their American counterpart."

Kareem Irfan, former chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said Muslim-Americans are interacting more and more with non-Muslims.

"By being part of this country, Muslims have to give back to society, take care of Americans and American institutions around them," he said. "Muslim Americans have a significant role to play in the betterment of this country."