WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

Muslim Community, Rural Residents Seek Middle Ground in Development Fight

Play associated audio
Teacher Shirin Ishaq leads first-grade students in a math class at Al-Huda school.
Tara Boyle
Teacher Shirin Ishaq leads first-grade students in a math class at Al-Huda school.

It's the last Friday before spring break, and teachers at the Al-Huda School are scrambling to wrap up lessons before saying goodbye to their students for a week. First-grade teacher Shirin Ishaq is in the middle of a math lesson. Several dozen girls, dressed in blue dresses and white headscarves, have their hands in the air, waving for her attention.

"Okay, we have five pennies equaling to?" she asks them.

"Nickels!" shout her students.

"Ten pennies equal to?"

"Dimes!" they respond.

Ishaq's classroom is in use all day, every day — as are all the classrooms in this school. Principal Haroon Baqai says Al-Huda has "maxed this building out."

"We're using every single room, every single closet," he says. "Some closets have been converted into office space. Some rooms that were really not classrooms, we had to convert them into classrooms."

The Al-Huda school is part of the Dar-us-Salaam Muslim community, which was founded in Silver Spring in 1995. Since then, it's moved to College Park, and its school for pre-K through 12th graders has grown from some two-dozen students to nearly 650.

Baqai says this growth has created a space crunch that doesn't just affect students. Their parents and other adults in the Dar-us-Salaam community have no room at the Al-Huda campus for their prayer services, so they hold them several miles away in a Knights of Columbus hall.

Dar-us-Salaam means the abode of peace, or the home of peace.

So the leaders of Dar-us-Salaam would like to move to a site in a rural part of Howard County, to the site of a former Catholic School called Woodmont Academy. They say the move will allow them to grow and expand the services they offer to their members. Eventually, they'd like to build a mosque.

But some residents near the site are opposed to those plans, and have created a formal coalition called Residents for the Responsible Development of Woodmont, or RRDW.

Development opposition

Chaun Hightower has lived a few miles from the Woodmont Academy since 2005, and is on the executive board of RRDW.

"The idea of having what looked like a really huge community being built out here didn't seem to fit with the landscape," she says.

RRDW members say their big concern has to do with zoning. Allowing a new large-scale development at this site, they worry, might open the floodgates to other big developments in some of the last large tracts of open space in Howard County. Hightower says the opposition is all about development, not religion.

"Our issues as it relates to the purchase has nothing to do with the fact that this is a Muslim community, nor does it have anything to do with the religion as a whole," she says. "Our issue is land use."

Paul Skalny, an attorney working with RRDW, says the group would be fine with Dar-us-Salaam's move to Cooksville if it'll agree to use the land according to the more conservative zoning rules that applied to Woodmont Academy.

"This is really about setting a precedent in the western part of this community, and allowing a zone to become prevalent where it really doesn't belong," he says.

'Home of peace'

Minhaj Hasan, a board member of Dar-us-Salaam, says he and other members of his community are still hoping Howard County officials will grant their zoning request. But he also says preliminary concerns about the size of their plan — including a proposed mosque that could hold thousands of people — have been overblown.

"If we can have a site that accommodates unlimited growth, of course, why wouldn't anyone have that? But we recognize the reality of our growth, it's not going toward 5,000. There's no Islamic center in the country that gets 5,000 congregants."

And Hasan wants residents in Cooksville to know that, if the sale of the Woodmont Academy goes through, Dar-us-Salaam will work hard to be a good neighbor and build strong ties to the local community.

"Dar-us-Salaam means the abode of peace, or the home of peace," he says. "So that's what we want — we want people to know us, not from our pamphlets and our marketing material on our website — but we want people to know us when they interact with us."

He'll find out soon whether that interaction is in the cards. Howard County planning officials will make a recommendation on the zoning of the Woodmont site to members of the County Council in the coming weeks, and the Council is expected to vote on the matter by this summer.


[Music: "New Life" by Dawud Wharnsby]

Photos: Dar-us-Salaam Community

NPR

Nate Parker's Past, His Present, And The Future of 'Birth Of A Nation': Episode 14

News of a 1999 rape case against Nate Parker raises some age-old questions about culture. Can art be separated from its creator? What moral obligations, if any, do the consumers of culture bear?
NPR

Berkeley's Soda Tax Appears To Cut Consumption Of Sugary Drinks

According to a new study, the nation's first soda tax succeeded in cutting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. But there's uncertainty about whether the effect will be permanent.
WAMU 88.5

Questions About Hillary Clinton’s Newly Uncovered Emails

A federal judge orders a review of nearly fifteen thousand recently discovered Hillary Clinton emails from her time as Secretary of State. A new batch related to the Clinton Foundation was also released. Join us to discuss ongoing questions.

NPR

Instagramming In Black And White? Could Be You're Depressed

Researchers analyzed people's photo galleries on Instagram, then asked about their mental health. People who favored darker, grayer photos and filters were more likely to be depressed.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.