The largest mosque and Islamic center in the United States opened its doors last Saturday, situated in Lanham, Maryland, just 21 kilometers from Washington D.C. It is a beautiful building, white and turquoise, featuring classical Ottoman architecture and Islamic art, with two minarets.
With help from the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs and the local Turkish, American Muslim community, the vision of an all encompassing, complete Islamic mini-city has been realized. In recent years construction began, and it took five years to complete the entire project.
The center includes a mosque, auditorium, conference room, exhibition hall, sports complex, library, research center, gift shop, and more. It boasts of the grandeur and splendor of the great mosques and learning centers in Muslim history.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attended the opening ceremony and recited verses from the Holy Qur’an in the mosque.
There is an Islamic Arts Museum below the mosque which can house exhibitions for Muslim artists, providing a platform for their work. Classes in traditional Islamic arts will be offered, in Arabic calligraphy, paper marbling, and gold inlaying.
The architect of the complex, Muharrem Hilmi Senalp, told the Anadolu Agency, “There is a mosque at the center, and a Turkish-Islamic garden in front of it. Right next to it, there is the cultural center, which is a harmony of classical and modern architecture.”
The entire complex is built on a 60,000-square-meter area and includes traditional Turkish baths for men and women, sauna, swimming pools, and an indoor sports complex and fitness center. Adjacent to the mosque and cultural center are 10 traditional Ottoman houses, where guests from out of state can lodge.
According to an article in the Washington Post, “The mosque has been built in the style of 16th-century Ottoman architecture. Materials were shipped from Turkey, including marble that was used in four pillars that bear the weight of the central dome. The mosque has two towering minarets that will stand as a reminder of the time when Muslim leaders climbed the stairwells and voiced the call to prayer. Craftsmen and laborers, 150 in all, came from Turkey to do the work.”
A place of peace and brotherhood, it will serve as a center that brings people together in an age when humanity all across the world is suffering from conflicts and disputes.
Community events will be hosted, inviting both Muslims and non-Muslims to learn more of the true essence of Islam, far from the marred images that the media on the one hand and the terrorist groups abroad on the other hand portray. The center will be of service to its neighbors and community, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
“This is not just a Muslim mosque,” said Ahmet Aydeilek, secretary general of the center, to the Washington Post. “The purpose is to serve the entire community. Ninety percent of the people who come here for prayer are not Turkish.”
The President of the center said on their website, “Islam is a movement of wisdom and civilization that began with the command from Allah to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “Read!”
“It gives life to all things within its reach and touch. It is a civilization of balance and ethics that has laid down basic principles that form the human relationship between Allah, society, and nature. The Mosque is a place of worship; hence it is one of the most important elements of this great civilization. Its position in Islam is similar to the position of a person’s heart.”
“The believers who come together in the spiritual climate of the mosque enjoy reunion with fellow humans while simultaneously feeling the joy of Almighty God through Salat (prayer). Rising calls for prayer from Muslim places of worship begin from dawn and continue on until the twilight of the night. The calls coming from the mosque’s graceful minarets are calls to peace, brotherhood, justice, and tolerance. The main goal of the wisdom and divine messages taught in the mosques is to provide spiritual healing in this world and in the hereafter.”
The Diyanet Center is already bustling with activity. In addition to the congregational prayers five times a day, weekend activities include teaching the Holy Qur’an, art and cooking classes, and lectures on Islam for youth and adults.
Personally, I would love to visit this beautiful mosque. It reminds me of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul which I visited four years ago. In my family, we plan our trips to be a balance of fun, learning, and spiritual growth. A road trip from Ohio to Maryland may just strike a perfect balance; we could stop in Pennsylvania on our way, to take the kids to Hershey Park, a theme park with roller coasters and loads of fun rides. The educational part of our trip could include a trip to the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Natural History. Our final stop would be Diyanet Center; tourism for the soul, to pray, worship our Lord, read, and feel a sense of connection to our rich Islamic heritage.