By REBECCA WASHNEY
KENNESAW, Ga. —The Masjid Suffah, a located in a dingy strip mall off Jiles Road, was established in 2015. Despite objection by the Kennesaw City Council and the local community, it opened its doors to the public. Since then, it can only be described as thriving; but how big and how accepted is the Islamic community in Cobb County?
Nestled between an old photo studio and a restaurant, the Masjid Suffah in the strip mall Kennesaw Commons Shopping Center. The mosque was faced with discrimination after initially being denied a permit by the Kennesaw City Council. Almost two years later, after several petitions and a lawsuit, the mosque opened for worship.
Maser Omer, a board member of the Masjid Suffah and originally from India, has lived in Kennesaw for 15 years. The Masjid Suffah opening meant a more local place for him and his family to come to worship.
“It’s not so much helping to grow the community so far,” Omer said. “But it’s a place that allows Muslims from all over Cobb County to gather in a place more centralized.”
According to the most recent U.S. Religion Census, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. Despite this, there are only an estimated 4,087 Muslims in Cobb County, making up only .006 percent of the population. Even though there are few Muslims in Cobb County, the response to intolerant and racist political rhetoric in this area has been mostly positive, Omer says.
“Immediately after certain political misfortunes there was some push back, but surprisingly there was a lot more support for us,” said Omer. “We had nice messages of support on our Facebook wall, and just had more responses of love.”
In response to President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” Atlanta mosques introduced “Visit A Mosque Day” throughout Georgia, intended to bring awareness about Islam’s role in America.
“We participated in Visit A Mosque Day, and the response was overwhelming,” Omer said. “We had 60-70 visitors, all curious to know what we do who we are. They [visitors] wanted to meet the Muslims in their own community and ask questions, and we were happy to answer any they had.”
Katie Boaen, an attendee of the event, said she enjoyed bringing her family and having the opportunity to meet members of her community she would not usually meet. Boaen also brought along family and friends in an attempt to help further their understanding of the Islamic community as well.
“I brought my parents and little sister,” Boaen said, a local resident who attended the event. “I really enjoyed getting a firsthand look at a different religion and culture than I’m used to.” Boaen has lived in Cobb County for almost 14 years, having never set foot into a mosque until the Visit A Mosque Day event.
“Living here in the Bible Belt you don’t usually notice anyone other than Christians,” said Boaen. “I think it was a really great thing for them to do just to spread awareness of their religion in our community, and ease some of those bigots fears that they’re all dangerous. They do a lot of good work in the area for kids.”
Another local, slightly more populated mosque in Cobb County is the Masjid Al-Furqan, the West Cobb Islamic Center. The mosque, previously called the Masjid Al-Hedaya, started from humble beginnings in an apartment on Franklin Road, before moving to another small location in Powder Springs Street in Marietta. From this location, the congregation gathered enough funds to become the first mosque to be built from the ground up in Cobb County off Barrett Parkway. The mosque broke ground just last year in 2016, is now similarly thriving, hosting the grand opening on July 23, 2017.
Imam Nihal Khan, born and raised in New Jersey, recently graduated from Nadwatul ‘Ulama in Lucknow, India, before moving permanently to Kennesaw. As the imam of the new mosque, Khan tries to focus his efforts on the youth of the area by offering a wide variety of community outreach programs.
Although perceived by members to be less formal than the Masjid Suffah, this mosque and its members are no less dedicated to Islam. The Masjid Al-Furqan incorporates the use of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep members up to date about the myriad of events hosted. Events such as Friday Family Night and Thursday Night Hoops and as a bike ride on the Silver Comet Trail are open to the public, with hopes of increasing their community outreach and inclusion. Most notable in their attempts of inclusion is the Masjid Al-Furqan’s participation in an “interfaith gathering and dialogue” on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Holy Grounds Café in Powder Springs, where they joined with local Christian and Jewish communities.
During a speech on hope and healing for the Eid al Fitr Khutbah on June 26, Khan said that mosques were a safe place for youths to come together and worship. He addressed the recent tumultuous political climate in the speech as well.
“We are witnessing a time period in history where xenophobia, where intolerance, where racism, has come out and has woken up from the crevices in history that it was shut down and put away into,” Khan said. Working with other members of the community, Khan and the rest of the congregation at both Masjid Suffah and Masjid Al-Furqan are hoping to pull peace, unity, and love back out from the nadir.