In the fourth largest city in the US: Houston, Texas, there are an estimated 100 masjids or rented out storefront Islamic prayer spaces. As someone who has grown up in Houston, i’ve been to some of these, and during Ramadan, my family tries to visit two different ones each week. But it’s rare that a mosque gives me that inner peace, the sense of divinity that we hope to achieve from being in any religious place.
Masjid Hamza in Houston, Texas doesn’t claim or boast to be amongst the biggest, or even the most architecturally beautiful of mosques. However, when it comes to religious places, we all know that aesthetic beauty plays a very small part in giving worshippers that very necessary sense of community.
Arab-American Nour Naser, a long-time attendee of Masjid Hamza said, “I always felt like Masjid Hamza was the medium for masajid in Houston, very accepting of people and welcoming. Other masjids tend to make you feel like an outsider, but I feel like the beauty in Masjid Hamza is in the hearts of those who pray there.”
I’ve lived close to Masjid Hamza for almost my whole life. In the past few years, I’ve been in and out of the country, usually for a couple of months at a time. There are at least another five masjids within a 20 minute drive from where I live, but when I am home, it’s always this particular masjid that I choose to attend over the others.
An important aspect of Islam that I focused on and marveled over while growing up was the fact that it doesn’t discriminate, whether by race, status or any other arbitrary divisions that humans have created. Yet as a society, we are deeply entrenched in micro-aggressions, even within our own Muslim communities. It’s a disheartening truth but one that I hope we will move beyond, especially living in America, the melting pot of the world.
Hamza Ghia, the Youth Coordinator and Quran Teacher at Masjid Hamza for the last seven years, is a 23-year old Pakistani-American. “The diversity at Masjid Hamza is unique. You have people from all over that come and get together. I would say because of its location it is probably the most diverse community in Houston, not only diverse in background, but diverse in terms of elders, youngsters, male, female, as well.”
The masjid itself is located in a generally lower-income area of the city, but the attendees vary from newly arrived refugees to families of well-to-do businessmen to others like myself, who have grown up with the masjid as our religious anchor. And in looking around the masjid at the last Friday prayer that I attended, the cultural diversity present, made me beam with pride.
Shuruq Gyagenda, a 20 year old Ugandan-American, told me, “I love the willingness of the board and its members to listen, and try their best to cater to the needs and requests of the masjid’s attendees.”
Many times our masjids becomes battlegrounds for power and control between individuals and their supporters. There have even been instances when the losing “party” leaves a masjid altogether to start one of their own. This isn’t to say that Masjid Hamza hasn’t had its own growing pains. At times, it’s like we almost forget what our masjid are for. But for the sake of our ever-growing communities and for the sake of our youth, it’s important to remember to put aside our differences and work on making our masajid more welcoming and create the absolutely necessary sense of open-armed acceptance.
Editor’s note: Atiya Hasan lives in Houston, Texas. Her views are her own.