History of the Islamic Center of Little Rock (I.C.L.R.) by Hashim M. Ghori
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I am very humbled to say that I am one of the “founding fathers” of the the Islamic Center of Little Rock. I thank Allah (swt) for giving me this great opportunity to work with a few brothers to build the Islamic Center in Little Rock, which was always one of my life’s dreams.
I moved with my family from Brandon, Mississippi to Little Rock in September 1979. Initially, I was looking for families who could speak my native language, Urdu, since my wife and I are both originally from Hyderabad, India. I found only six other families: Mohammed Hamid Hussain and Ahmed Golzar from Hyderabad, India; Ali U. Shaikh from Kolkata, India; and Moazzam Husain from Dhaka, Bangladesh. There were only two Pakistani families, Dr. Mufiz Chohan and Dr. Fayyaz Mirza. Also, I met Abdul Hamid Patel from Gujrat, India; he was then a bachelor. In 1981, Dr. Chohan and his family moved to Newport, Arkansas and Dr. Fayyaz Mirza and his family moved to Wichita Falls, Texas. Mohammed Hamid Hussain and his family moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1986. Ahmed Golzar and his family moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1999.
Later, I learned that in North Little Rock there were four families from Palestine and one family from Egypt. In addition, there were six families from Palestine living in Jacksonville at that time. There were no mosques in North Little Rock or in Jacksonville.
In addition, in 1979 there were about twenty African-American Muslim families living close to downtown Little Rock. They established a mosque called Masjid Ameen Zakariah, which was located at 1717 Wright Avenue; it had been converted from an old movie theater. Brother Johnny Aleem Hasan was the Imam of that mosque. We used to attend the mosque for Juma salah as well as on some other religious occasions. A few years ago the mosque was re-named the Islamic Center of Human Excellence.
In 1980 the above mentioned six families started meeting at homes each Saturday evening for the purpose of learning Quran and Tafseer in English, and to teach Quran and Hadith to our children. Br. Patel also joined our group. Our children learned Quran, memorized surahs, learned about Islamic values, and prayed with us. It was an opportunity for the small Muslim community to get together by having “potluck” dinners and socializing as well. Since so many of us were far from our families in our home countries, given the small community, it felt like an extended family. Later we came to know that there were several Muslim families and students in Pine Bluff who had established a mosque and a new Islamic organization called the Muslim Association of Arkansas (MAA). We started attending their monthly meetings, held on the first Saturday evening of each month.
On April 14, 1984 we established the Little Rock Chapter of MAA, opened a bank account and started collecting membership fees and donations, with the purpose of establishing a mosque in Little Rock. I was in charge of this Chapter and served as the Secretary of this organization for seven years. The number of Muslim families and students in Little Rock grew steadily and we were unable to accommodate them in homes for our religious gatherings. At that time myself and Jonny Aleem Hasan were also participating in an interfaith dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims sponsored by the Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock. Since we were a non- profit religious organization (MAA at Little Rock) the members of the Church offered us their Sunday school rooms located in the basement of their church for free, which we gladly accepted. We are very thankful to them for their generosity. We conducted our first monthly meeting at this facility on May 11, 1985. We also participated in the Interfaith Thanksgiving events and also spoke at local churches and schools about Islam. After attending the annual ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) convention, we learned about the importance of creating Muslim youth groups and started our own chapter of MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America).
In the late 1980s, UALR (The University of Arkansas at Little Rock) started a Computer Science degree program. About one hundred students from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries were enrolled in this program. With the help of Br. Ali Shaikh, a professor at UALR, we got the approval to pray Juma salah in the two basement rooms of the Administration South building at UALR.
On January 16, 1992, the organization named “Muslim Association of Arkansas, Little Rock Chapter” was dissolved and a new organization named “Islamic Center of Little Rock” was started. The ICLR Constitution was adopted on May 8, 1992 and the organization was incorporated as a domestic non-profit corporation in the state of Arkansas on May 20, 1992 by the Secretary of State, W. J. “Bill” McCuen. The Employer Identification Number (EIN) for ICLR was obtained on June I, 1992 in order to handle financial matters.
In June 1992, we bought a small house (900 Sq. Ft; 50ft X 150 ft ) located at 3224 Anna street near UALR and South Oak Apartment complex for $7500 and established the temporary ICLR mosque, Alhamdulillah. I was fortunate enough to locate the property about a block from UALR across Fair Park Boulevard. Brother Ahmad Golzar negotiated the price of the property and we paid cash to the owner through donation from just a few families in our community at that time. The location was ideal because there were many Muslim students from the Middle East who were enrolled at UALR at that time. This mosque was a convenient location for them to offer their daily five-times prayers as well as the Jum’a salaat. With the help of student volunteers and the men from our small community, we converted this house into a mosque. We purchased our supplies from the nearby Kauffman Lumber and spent another $7500 for renovation. This house had two separate prayer rooms for men and women with two separate bathrooms.
We had the opening ceremony of our temporary mosque on Nov.14, 1992. Dr. Mufiz Chohan, a present member of ICLR Board of Trustees, was the speaker at this historical occasion. For the first time, we started five daily prayers, Jum’a salaat, weekly Islamic studies for our children and adults at this small mosque. We also conducted our monthly meetings at this mosque. This property was transferred to NAIT (North American Islamic Trust) in December 1992 in order to establish a national trust organization for maintenance (in case we defaulted to carry on the Islamic activities due to financial constraint or other reasons).
With the assistance of Br. Ali Shaikh, a professor of Chemistry at UALR and a past President and past member of the Board of Trustees of ICLR, we purchased two adjacent vacant houses (3218 and 3220 Anna St) from UALR ownership in August 1993 for $11,000. These two houses were demolished. Then the small house (temporary mosque) was demolished, thereby giving a total area of 165 ft x 150 ft. These properties were also transferred to NAIT.
We requested the City of Little Rock for a permit for constructing the new building of ICLR (the present mosque building). Alhamdulillah, we received the permit on April 4, 1994. The new ICLR has a total area of approx. 5563 sq. ft., about 2400 sq. ft. of prayer hall, with separate praying areas and separate wadu areas for brothers and sisters and a kitchen. When the construction of the mosque building began in 1994, we had about $40,000 in hand and the estimated cost of the project was about $350,000. We could not borrow the needed money from the bank, because it is not allowed in Islam to borrow money that demands interest payment for building a mosque. We approached a member of the community, Br. Sikandar Bhatti (ABCO builders) who had experience in house construction but no experience in building a mosque. Alhamdulillah, he agreed to start the construction. He also agreed that, as long as we keep on bringing the money the construction will go on.
The fund raising efforts began. Dr. Mufiz Chohan gave us a list of Pakistani doctors practicing in the USA and we sent them letters appealing them to donate money for our project. Donations started to come. We had a booth in the bazaar at the ISNA convention in September 1994. I sold candy and scarves, and raised $2000. We distributed pamphlets at the booth with a request for donation for our project. Brs Farag Sharaf, Wael Abdin, Ali Shaikh, Faizul Hanif, Hamid Patel, Atif Farooqi, Mahmood Jhilati and myself travelled to Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, Memphis, Tulsa, Dallas, Irving, Richardson, Houston ,Colombia(Missouri) and Atlanta(Georgia) on Fridays and collected donations. Also, Hamid Patel visited London( UK) and brought us donations for our project. Students from Middle East donated some needed funds for our project. Several sisters organized community garage sales in Little Rock and Pine Bluff in order to collect funds.
At the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha, on May 13, 1995, we conducted our first fundraising dinner at the Donaghey Student Center of UALR. The featured speaker was Dr. Syed Habeeb Ashraf of Baltimore, Maryland. He raised about $45,000 ($15,000 in cash and $30,000 in pledges). The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) also endorsed our project for fundraising. We had to borrow about $25,000 from NAIT for finishing the parking lot, which we paid back within a couple of years after the project was completed. Br Mohammed Shaher agreed to build the mimbar, mehrab and podium free of cost. He also finished the parking lot. Alhamdulillah, the construction of the Islamic Center was completed in December of 1995.
The grand opening was held on January 13, 1996 by Imam Mujahed M. Bakhach of Forth Worth, Texas. Hafez Yakoob Shareef, Imam of Islamic Society of North Suburbs (ISNS) of Chicago recited the Quran at this occasion.
Our builder Br. Sikander Bhatti, deserves lot of credit for agreeing to start the construction when we had in hand only $40,000. We had excellent cooperation from the Muslims of greater Little Rock area as well as from the Pine Bluff Muslim community. We are very thankful to Allah for giving us this wonderful opportunity to build our first Islamic Center in Little Rock from the ground level. May Allah accept all our efforts. Ameen
If I have made a mistake in not recognizing any individual or organization, please forgive me. The names of those brothers who helped us in renovating the old house are listed under their photos.
Please see the 26 photos associated with the various activities of the ICLR.