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Islamic center settling in
Outreach efforts help ease issues
Mosque WEB 1
Tareef Saeb, chairman, holds a computer rendering Thursday of what the Hamzah Islamic Center in south Forsyth will eventually look like. The center moved to its new home site in June. - photo by Autumn Vetter

It’s been six months since the Hamzah Islamic Center began holding prayers and classes in a temporary building on the 12-acre site of its future permanent home in south Forsyth.

The prayers are peaceful and the neighborhood equally quiet on a weekday afternoon.

The memories of opposition over the center’s site plan application have faded as the Hamzah organizers settle into the Tidwell Road location.

Following an afternoon daily prayer, Chairman Tareef Saeb reflected on the issues the Islamic center encountered in fall 2009, when commissioners granted sketch plat approval despite neighbors’ concerns about the religious facility.

“We definitely had initially the opposition, and it could kind of be divided into two categories,” Saeb said. “A lot of the opposition was based on traffic, and some of it was beyond us. It could be prejudice or whatever else.

“We were hoping that after they see the whole thing they see how we try to keep it nice and it actually improves the whole look and feel of the neighborhood. Traffic-wise, there has not been an issue.”

For those who had some fear of the unknown, the outreach efforts and openness of the center aim to make those concerns dissipate.

“On the other side,” he said, “people take time to get to know us, learn about us, find out more about us, and that makes the other issues go away.”

The center has begun to form a social connection with Cumming First United Methodist Church, facilitated by its communications director, Neida Streit.

While Streit taught a class on comparative religion, her group visited the mosque on a Friday night for a lecture. They also did a prayer walk on the site when construction began.

“We prayed that God’s word be heard, which is not against the Christian faith or the Islamic faith,” Striet said. “They would love for people to visit them and see what they’re about.

“They are different from us, but they’re not that different from us. They do worship the same God we worship. They do believe in Jesus.”

In the future, the two churches plan to hold a soccer tournament for their youth groups and a cultural event for adults and families, she said.

“When you get to see the person instead of the face of what’s on TV, you get to know them as a person, and maybe a friend, and as a neighbor,” Striet said. “God calls us all to love our neighbors, and they are our neighbors.”

The Islamic center is the only one in the county, she said, though a small one once existed near the Cumming square in the 1980s.

Since June, Hamzah has moved from the Union Hill Road location it rented for seven years to the Tidwell site, which has a paved parking lot, picnic areas and a temporary 8,000 square-foot modular building.

An area has been cleared for the permanent facility, which Saeb said will be about 17,000 square feet and contain a mosque, school and community center.

The variety of offerings is intended to “keep the whole family involved,” he said.

For now, the five daily prayers, school and Friday services take place in the temporary building.

Saeb explained that the times for prayers and sermons take place in hours that do not impact traffic, such as the Friday sermon at 1 p.m. and the night lecture at 8 p.m.

Muslims pray five times each day based on the sun’s movement: at dawn, near 1 p.m., near 4 p.m., at sunset and about 90 minutes after that.

“You really have an appointment with God every couple of hours,” Saeb said. “It keeps you focused on God throughout the day.”

He explained that Muslims pray wherever they are at the time of prayer, though togetherness at mosques is encouraged for those times.

“One of the focuses of the religion is to build community through prayer,” he said.