HOUSTON - Houston is the most diverse, multi-cultural city in the country and home to a significant number of Muslim Americans who currently live or travel here regularly for business.
The Islamic Da’wah Center is recognized as one of the nation’s premiere Islamic worship centers with weekly visitors who come from all over the world from the oil and gas industry, medical center, education, business, NASA and the local community.
Located in downtown Houston, the Islamic Da’wah Center was built in 1928 and was the former home of the Houston National Bank. In 1994, the building was acquired by former NBA Rockets Forward, Hakeem Olajuwon, and restored into an Islamic Center.
During the restoration, a strategic priority was made to preserve the rich history of the former bank building. The vault and safety deposit boxes that once belonged to the Houston National Bank Building were preserved and turned into a gift shop where visitors can find cultural souvenirs and items from all over the world available for purchase.
The Da’wah Center is a showcase of beautiful architecture, including a gold-leaf-domed interior, beautiful marbled halls and a limestone exterior. The historical building holds a special meaning to the rich multi-cultural population and downtown community.
According to Ameer Abuhalimeh, Executive Director, the mission of the Islamic Da’wah Center is to encourage dialogue and understanding with people of all faiths, as well as to educate the public about Islam history and its cultures.
In addition to services provided for the Muslim community, the center is introducing other free public events through the Museum and Library to further enhance the understanding of the Islamic faith. Everyone is welcome to learn more though a scholar series, author series or conferences celebrating the work of renowned Muslim scholars.
A major part of the Da’wah Center is the Mosque, or worship center, which is a religious space for Muslims to observe the five daily prayers. According to Abuhalimeh, “the worship center is a place I’d like to call a safe environment. A peaceful environment dedicated for spirituality, reflection and prayers.”
Approximately 1,500 worshippers come to the center to pray and reflect each week.
“Fridays are our major prayer day where we have close to 700 worshippers, primarily professionals working in downtown Houston,” he said. But there is so much more.
The Da’wah Center offers exciting, educational environments so the community can explore and learn about the Islamic faith and culture.
“You may not agree with it, but you have to understand it so we can all live in a peaceful place built on understanding and compassion rather than fear and intimidation,” Abuhalimeh said.
At the forefront of community education is a one-of-a-kind Islamic library with treasures of knowledge from the Muslim world, including China, Morocco and Spain. It is the first Islamic library of its kind in North America not part of a university or institution.
“It is a special library because it is dedicated to the Islamic knowledge which includes primary and secondary resources,” Abuhalimeh said.
The library houses books from renowned publishing houses from the Muslim world written and translated by renowned authors and scholars of the Muslim faith. It is accessible through individual membership or being part of an institution that has an institutional membership with the library.
Six major areas comprise the book collection, including the Quran, the Hadith, Arabic language, Islamic Creed, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history, as well as the subsection of each one of these collections.
There are close to 15,000 items in the library with space available for up to 25,000 items in print. The digital collection is in development and will include hundreds of thousands of books on demand for anyone learning about the Islamic faith and culture.
Visitors will find three full-time librarians with 25 years of experience in library science ready to assist with your resource needs. All are seasoned librarians with backgrounds from the Library of Congress and Houston Public Library.
The Da’wah Center is currently building an extensive museum dedicated to the history of Islamic faith. Visitors will find resources to help them explore the depths of Islamic civilization that extended for 1,400 years and its contribution to humanity in many different aspects of life. Visitors can gain a better understanding about the different Islamic dynasties that ruled the Muslim world.
Another project open to the public is the museum dedicated to educate the community about the depth of Islamic civilization that extended for 1,400 years from the 7th century to today. The museum traces the different dynasties that ruled the Muslim world using many art forms to convey the message. It also looks back at the Islamic civilization as a history to explain to people the contribution of Islam to humanity in many different aspects and trying to shed light on that to further enhance the public understanding of the Islamic Faith and Islamic Cultures around the world.
The historical collection of the museum is curated through private collectors and Islamic countries. Other pieces will be purchased to build out the collection so the Museum has adequate representation in all time periods. Plans are in the works to open and inaugurate the museum within the coming year.
To the non-Muslim, there are many questions about the faith and culture. While the Da’wah Center is a religious facility, the community can take advantage of the education it offers through free classes and seminars available to the public.
“When somebody comes in our place, I hope I can inspire them to do the right thing and become better citizens of the world,” Abuhalimeh said. “It is the responsibility of all religious institutions to provide that platform of inspiration and guidance because there is a hunger for it and the center can play a role in the contribution to the advancement of mankind. This is the message I hope I can present to my city, to the Muslims and non-Muslims of our community.”
Abuhalimeh was named the center director in 2008. He is focused on making sure the worship center, museum and library are all working harmoniously and providing outreach to educate the public about Islamic history and cultures.
A resident of Houston for the past 27 years, Abuhalimeh and his family love Houston because of the diverse culture.
“We live in a very intelligent city surrounded by intelligent people,” he said. “It is important to have a project like this because of the composition of the different talents we have in Houston from all over the world.”
The center has a diverse staff with people from Tunisia, Cairo, Louisiana, Mexico and Jordan. Touring exhibitions will soon be offered to the public. Public classes and courses designed to educate and help people gain a better understanding of the history of Islamic civilization.
The Islamic Da'wah Center is located at 201 Travis at Franklin in downtown Houston and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.
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