Muslim center celebrates 40 years in the county

SILVER SPRING – While anti-Islamic hate crimes have risen nationally in recent years, the members of the Muslim Community Center on New Hampshire Avenue say they feel as welcome in Montgomery County as they have since the center opened in 1976.

The center was the brainchild of several Montgomery County residents who, at the time, attended the Islamic Center of Washington on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., and were interested in starting a community center to service the county. Sajjad Durrani, a founder of the center who still serves on its board of trustees, recalls that the center received support from the community during its construction. 

“When we applied for a permit, there was a public hearing with the County, of course,” Durrani said. “Many people around here came to the hearing to support us, which made a big impression on us. During construction, the church next door allowed us to use their power and brought water over to us.”

The MCC officially opened in September of 1976. A nonprofit service center, the MCC includes a mosque, a library, and numerous community spaces. Since its inception, the MCC has provided services to immigrants from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and India, as well as to American-born Muslims and the community at large.

The MCC’s leadership considers its clinic a key component of its relationship with the community. Asif Qadri, a longtime member of the MCC, first proposed the idea of operating a clinic on the center grounds to the board of directors in the early 1990s, and it formally opened to the public on June 14, 2003. Qadri, who still serves as the clinic’s medical director, remembers his first patient, “A 65-year-old Chinese gentleman.” While the all-volunteer clinic initially provided basic health care services to the uninsured, thanks to grants received from the state and county government, numerous foundations and individual donors, its services have expanded to include mental health, domestic violence, colorectal and breast health care, in addition to other specialty services. Originally free, the clinic now requests a $50 co-pay from first-time and follow-up patients, or $25 from patients who are enrolled in the county’s Montgomery Care assistance program.

“However,” Qadri said, “No one will be turned away because they cannot pay.”  The MCC has received widespread recognition for its clinic, whose patients are predominately non-Muslim. The clinic also provides financial aid to patients who require testing which they cannot provide on-site.

The MCC directors say the support of the surrounding community has not wavered in trying times. MCC’s 25th anniversary coincided with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

“After 9/11, we had a press conference,” said Arshad Qureshi, an MCC founder and trustee.  “The Montgomery County public officials stood up with us and said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe. What happened on 9/11 you had nothing to do with.’ We received support from the state of Maryland as well.” Qureshi said the MCC’s work with the community has done much to combat negative stereotypes of Islam.

“People see the service we do through our clinic and support for the needy and that’s the true Islam,” Qureshi said. “Some people think that in Islam, women are second-class citizens. We’ve had two female presidents, one of whom is a convert.”

The MCC has also hosted public forums on concerns about the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric and crime in the aftermath of the election of President Donald J. Trump. In February, a panel discussion with numerous area politicians and faith leaders was held on opposing hate in the community.  Last month, County Council President Roger Berliner addressed a public meeting in which he discussed the county’s resistance to Trump’s policies of mass deportation and ban on travel to predominately Muslim countries.

“I think MCC is a testament to the immigrants who came here and had an opportunity to build an institution,” said Usman Sarwar, president of MCC’s board of directors. “They’ve been here for 40 years doing this work because they believe this is their home.” Sarwar is the MCC”s first American-born president.

On Sunday, the MCC hosted a “free shopping spree” in which area residents were invited to come and collect donated clothing, books, and toys. Several members of the refugee community attended.

“There was a man here who had been a tailor in Syria,” said N. Khan, a member of the board of directors. “He was delighted when he found a sewing machine. He said that now he can start his business again.”



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