"IEC is on the news!" "Did anything happen to IEC?" "Is IEC closed?" "FBI in IEC." These were just a few of the many text messages my phone was bombarded with that evening. I was at work, tutoring some kids for an hour and could not answer my phone. I started worrying because I was getting calls, messages, and my phone was vibrating non-stop.
When I was finally able to see my messages, I got the news that our community center, the Islamic Education Center of Houston, was on the news for claims that it was sending money to Iran – which in this day and age meant "terrorist activity". The story "developed" and it became "mosque seized". It was a Thursday night, so I had plans to go to the center for the regular Du'a Kumayl program. Regardless of the news, I left work, and called my brother – who happens to be IEC's treasurer. As he pulled up, I was on the phone with him and he tells me, "Oh man! There is every news channel here. All I see is mics and cameras, I gotta go!" I reached the center, pulled in, and saw that the crowd had calmed down. There were a few news station vans with their cameras in the parking lot next door, as they were not allowed to be on IEC property. I parked my car and went inside to see fellow community members doing the usual business – talking, playing with their kids, filling each other in on what was on the news exactly. The Adhan was recited, Isha prayers were performed, and Du'a Kumayl began. Our resident scholar said a few brief words, basically saying, nothing has happened, nothing has been seized, but this issue has risen, and it will pretty much be a long court case, IEC is open and running as normal.
I went home and turned on the news, only to see the same headline "Mosque Seized". I laughed and thought, that's kind of funny, I was just there, didn't seem seized to me! Sure enough, the news was communicated to our community through the center's listserv, as well as through each other, that programs were running as normal and nothing is closed. Everyone was encouraged to attend Friday prayers the next day so they could get an update, but more importantly to show support.
Friday prayers called more news cameras, and even better, the Iranian "green party", in Houston called the "SABZ group", protesting and shouting slogans in the next door parking lot, such as "Shame on Al-Hadi!" Al-Hadi is the full-time Islamic school that is housed inside of IEC, and nobody was really sure why they were shouting shame on Al-Hadi. Nonetheless, Friday prayers went as normal, and the board of directors informed the community not to speak to media, as they are very good at twisting statements that are given to them.
The Houston Chronicle news reporter was allowed inside the center, as he had previously planned on coming on that Friday to see what Friday prayers were about – it was his luck this was all taking place. He interviewed me, as well as another brother in the community. He was aiming at getting the more "emotional" side of the story. As I told him, I say the same here.
It's a very unfortunate situation. It is upsetting in the way it was brought about and the headlines we saw on the news channels. The media sent the completely wrong message to everyone, and for that we are not happy. As for the building being seized, simply for being leased by the Alavi Foundation, which the whole case is against, it is just too bad they are even thinking of doing so. I felt most sorry for the 200+ students who attend school full time, for the families that moved to Houston and drive miles and miles just so their kids could attend a good Islamic school and so they could have a nice community aspect in their life. As for everything else, I told the reporter, they can take the building, but we can pray anywhere, really. Thursday night was a lot of chaos, but as we saw, we still prayed our evening prayers, we still did our supplication, we went home, and came back the next day for Friday prayers – nobody can stop us from praying or doing our usual programs. If not in this building, it would be unfortunate, but we would just have to set up shop elsewhere.
I told him how I remember when this building was first leased for IEC. I still remember playing hide and seek upstairs in the undeveloped parts of the building and going to Sunday school in classrooms that were simply separated by a partition. And I still remember seeing it under construction, and how much it has changed, and what it is now. I also told the reporter how silly it was that 25 years later, this issue arose. It was kind of a "why now?" feeling.
Articles were all over different newspaper websites, independent and mainstream. It was actually kind of cool to see our building's picture on CNN! Many people in the community were very positive about what happened, saying that maybe this is a wakeup call for our communities to become more active and show support for our centers. As we know, Allah does everything for a reason, and He is the best of planners.
Moral of the continuing story: do good. Muslims are going to be in the limelight even more than we already are. Now is our time to be active, to do community work, educate our people, hold interfaith programs – the ideas are endless.
As our dear Imam Khomeini said: "Let them keep the Movement alive via the mosques, which are Islam's strong forts, and advance it by Islamic slogans."
This is exactly our job – to protect, and to keep our Islamic movement alive. Our centers should be our gathering places, where we go often, to plan our community efforts, to educate ourselves and others, and as a safe haven for when we need to be with our brothers and sisters, or just to go and pray. We need to prepare our centers for doing good works, so that whenever the cameras decide to drop by, all they will see is our community following the path of our Prophet and Imams (peace be upon them).
Again, as Imam Khomeini said: "Do not empty the mosques – this is an incumbency today!"