The Library of Islamic Knowledge officially opened last weekend in downtown Houston. Mayor Sylvester Turner, joined by former Houston Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, cut the ribbon of the lavish $2.5 million dollar library housed within the Islamic Da’wah Center.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Turner said: “This place is not just for Muslims, but everyone,” noting it opens the door for people of all faiths to learn about a different part of the highly diverse city of Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle.
— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) April 17, 2016
The Houston newspaper described the venue as “white marble floors of the opulent library contrast with its mahogany brown tables and bookshelves – some of which remain empty.” There’s no shortage of gold in sight. The library’s executive director, Ameer Abuhalimeh, said it cost around $2.5 million.
“The center is dedicated to the history, culture and public education of Islam,” said Abuhalimeh. “Our goal isn’t just to promote a balanced perspective of Islam, but also to serve downtown Houston and the community at-large,” he added. The library is open to the public and is part of a larger goal to offer a comprehensive educational resource to Houston residents.
The Islamic Da’wah Center opened in 2002 on the site of the former Houston National Bank. Olajuwon, who converted to Islam early on in his NBA career, bought the property in 1994, converting it into the three-story mosque that houses a main prayer hall, meeting rooms, classrooms, offices, and a kitchen. It was the first mosque in downtown Houston, according to the center’s website, and the first in the city “dedicated for Da’wah” (also spelled Dawa or Dawah).
“Broadly defined, Dawah means preaching, proselytizing or calling non-believers to Islam. Dawah is viewed in classic Islamic law as a communal obligation, meaning it is the general responsibility of the Muslim community,” says Kyle Shideler with the Center for Security Policy.
The Islamic Da’wah Center website states its mission is to “promote Islamic principles, teaching, and culture;” and its vision, to “become a destination for seekers of the truth.”
The new third floor library touts programs that host worldwide lecturers and scholars with knowledge about Islam, Islamic history, cultures, literature and the Arabic language, according to the Islamic Da’wah Center. Offerings “will range from classical Islamic knowledge to contemporary issues that affect global Muslim communities” and “…will give participants opportunities to examine the historical and cultural aspects of Islam, review historical and current events, and study global and local challenges facing Muslims, as well as acquire academic knowledge that will enrich learning about Islamic culture and life as a Muslim.” The library will offer Arabic classes.
By year’s end, Abuhalimeh anticipates having 25,000 books in the library and a digital collection of approximately 100,000 titles. He hopes the center’s Museum of Islamic Art, “dedicated to the accurate presentation of Islamic art,” will be completed by then. The museum lists among its key objectives celebrating 1,400 years of Islamic culture, the impact Muslims have had on humanity and “to propel the desire to further study and discover the mysteries of the Muslim world.”
During the ribbon cutting ceremony, Turner also said he was happy the center will continue to serve as an educational resource for middle schools, high schools, and colleges in the area, something it has done since its soft opening two months ago, as reported by the Houston newspaper.
In 2015, the Houston Independent School District opened its Arabic immersion magnet public school, which the Qatar Foundation International (QFI) granted the district’s Board of Education $75,000 for “Arabic language activities and Arab cultural events for students, teacher professional development, educational resources, the promotion of the Arabic language, community outreach, and curriculum development” as part of the school’s educational mission. Similarly, Olajuwon described a demand for the library to help the museum “complete the educational mission of the institution,” in the Chronicle article.
Houston has the state’s largest Muslim population, which, by some estimates, accounts for 1.2 percent of the city’s population. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most current 2014 available statistics estimate 2,239,558 people reside in the city of Houston. The 2014 Social, Economic and Demographic Characteristics of Metro Houston identified Arab as an ancestry for 0.7% or 41,653 people as part of the current Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Metro area (based on the 2013 American Community Survey) of a 6,313,158 total population. In the Houston newspaper article, Abuhalimeh claimed 200,000 Muslims live in Houston.
In 2015, the San Antonio Express-News reported there were about 80 mosques and, at least, 10 Muslim schools in Houston. According to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, 65 percent of adult Muslims in the U.S. are foreign born. Pew’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans noted more Muslims came to the U.S. in recent years: 12 percent came before 1980; 16 percent, during the 1980s; 31 percent, in the 1990s; and 40 percent since 2000.
In January 2016, Pew reported just over half of the projected growth of the U.S. Muslim population from 2010 to 2015 was because of immigration. They estimate 3.3 million Muslims of all ages live in the U.S., comprising around 1 percent of the nation’s population. Based on age, fertility, mortality, migration, and religious switching drawn from multiple sources, including the 2011 survey, Pew projects the U.S. Muslim population to double by 2050.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.