Allah in America


Deep in the New Mexico desert lies Dar al Islam, a
Muslim oasis of cultural immersion and religious study
By Kathy Pinto

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/living/religion/7101946.htm

ABIQUIU - For centuries the high desert of northern
New Mexico has drawn diverse people and cultures --
American Indians, Spanish colonists and Anglo
settlers. Today, this never-changing landscape
includes Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims.

On the land around Abiquiu, which inspired the
masterpieces of Georgia O'Keeffe, these newest of
immigrants have found their piece of heaven -- and
constructed what is believed to be the country's only
adobe mosque.

Abiquiu is a 250-year-old Spanish-American village
located an hour north of Santa Fe. It sits in a varied
landscape of red and gold mesas, lunar-white rock
canyons and fertile river land. On a plateau
overlooking the Chama River Valley, across from
Abiquiu, lies Dar al Islam.

Dar al Islam was conceived in 1979 by an
American-educated Saudi industrialist and an
American-born Muslim at a meeting in Mecca, Saudi
Arabia. Their dream was to establish a Muslim village
that would be a showcase for Islam in America.

Its inhabitants would include not only people from the
Middle East and Asia, but also second-generation
Muslims and converts. Northern New Mexico was chosen
for its natural setting and because of its proximity
to traditional cultures, such as Hispanic Catholics
and American Indians.

Built in 1981, the community's strikingly beautiful
mosque, or masjid, and an attached school, called a
madressa, were designed by a renowned Egyptian
architect, Hassan Fathi, in traditional North African
style.

Under the supervision of Fathi and his team of
Egyptian masons, the labor was carried out by builders
and craftsmen from the area, including American
converts to Islam such as Chris Lutz, a builder and
furniture maker from Abiquiu.

As time went by, it became apparent that a Muslim
community was not realistic in such a poor, remote
area. The original Middle Eastern families who settled
Dar al Islam moved on. As the economy shifted, people
were forced to go where jobs were -- including the
cities of Los Alamos and Santa Fe, which called for
long commutes.

"Arabs in the Middle East read about this model
Islamic group in the U.S. in an Aramco [oil company]
magazine," said Lutz, "but after moving here, they
realized they weren't ready to live a rural
lifestyle."

Some of the land was sold, and today the complex,
which sits on 1,600 acres, is used as an educational
facility. In addition to the mosque and school, the
complex consists of a lecture hall and several
residences, including yurts, dormitories and houses.
The surrounding landscape lends itself to light-impact
camping.

The distinctive architecture of Dar al Islam blends
with the desert air of Abiquiu to inspire a sense of
timelessness, creating an atmosphere that is conducive
to religious study and contemplation. In Islam, nature
and its grand phenomena, such as the sun and moon,
seasonal cycles, the mountains and streams, all play a
part in spirituality.

"The mosque is open year-round to Muslims and also
non-Muslims who want to come and pray or contemplate,"
said Walter Abdur Ra'uf Declerck, a representative of
Dar al Islam. "We [Muslims, Jews and Christians] all
worship the same God."

The domed roof of the mosque, often referred to as the
"vault of heaven," rises above the juniper-studded
landscape. Inside, the cool darkness of the mosque
provides refuge from the outside world. During the
summer, when there is more activity and an increase in
worshippers, the sound of the muezzin's calls to
prayer five times a day pierces the desert stillness.

The complex has classrooms and spaces for
contemplative silence. Small, high-set windows allow
rays of sunlight to fill the prayer rooms.

Declerck says the retreat center's programs hope to
impart not only a knowledge of Islam but also what it
can offer to restore the values of compassion and
justice to the world. Part of Dar al Islam's mission
is to deepen the practice of Islam in a country far
from Mecca, Islam's spiritual stronghold.

Dar al Islam, a nonprofit organization, conducts
summer conferences and retreats, especially for young
Muslims to teach them about traditional Islam. Its
facilities are available to other organizations and
entities, such as schools, whose interests are
compatible with its own activities. Many of the
participants are teachers and ordained ministers.

"I just can't say enough wonderful things about it,"
said Joan Brodsky-Shur, a teacher/consultant at the
Village Community School in New York City.
Brodsky-Shur attended a two-week conference at Dar al
Islam in 1998. "When I went, I really knew nothing
about Islam. It was a fantastic experience."

Part of the center's appeal is the noted Islamic
scholars from U.S. universities, such as Temple and
Harvard, and all over the world who come to teach at
Dar al Islam. Another factor is that, while they are
there, participants live in a community of Muslims.
"This adds a dimension to it -- way beyond simply
studying something," says Brodsky-Shur. After she
attended the conference, Shur's school allowed her to
develop a yearlong course on Islam, and she has
received travel grants to Turkey and Muslim China.

Another conference participant, David Gutierrez, an
Albuquerque high school teacher, says, "I believe that
the issues we attribute to religion are tied up in
politics. Attending the conference enhanced this."

Gutierrez, who taught at the American School in Kuwait
for a year, says Dar al Islam's programs help
participants to learn what Islam is and what it isn't.

"I think it is so important for Americans to expose
themselves to some of these ideas," he says. "There
are now more opportunities for people to educate
themselves. The danger in this country is remaining
ignorant to what the real issues are."

The Muslim tradition of Ramadan

Beginning Sunday or Monday, Muslims in the Metroplex
will take part in Ramadan, one of the most important
rituals of their faith.

Ramadan (from the Arabic root word ramida, meaning
intense heat and dryness) is the Islamic month during
which Muslims (with the exception of children) fast
daily from dawn to dusk. According to Islam, Ramadan
is the month during which the first verses of the
Quran, or Divine Scripture, were revealed by God
through the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed
in 610 A.D.

Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, the sighting
of the Hilal (the crescent moon) determines the
beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar
calendar. The crescent moon is one of the most
important symbols in the Muslim tradition.

"Usually, I go to Abiquiu Lake, where there's a
beautiful view from the western horizon to watch the
moon," said Walter Abdur Ra'uf Declerck of Dar al
Islam. "In northern New Mexico, we often have cloud
formation at sunset so that if we cannot see anything
because of clouds we just wait to hear from someone in
California."

During this most sacred of months, fasting helps
Muslims to experience the peace that comes from
spiritual devotion, self-purification and charity
toward the poor.

The Ramadan fast ends with the sighting of the
crescent moon again, some 29 or 30 days later. If the
sky is overcast on the 30th day, the fast still must
come to an end. After special prayers at the mosque or
out in the open air, Muslims celebrate with the
festival of Eid al-Fitr, literally, "the Festival of
Breaking the Fast." Homes are adorned with lights and
decorations, treats are given to children, and visits
with friends and family mark this time.

Ramadan's fasting and the feasting prepare Muslims for
the months ahead.

"Islam is about submission, and in submission one
finds the fulfillment of one's deepest desires," said
Declerck. "Islam gave me this fulfillment."

Recommended reading

 Strangers in This Land: Pluralism and the Response
to Diversity in the U.S. by E. Allen Richardson,
(Pilgrim, $10.95)

 Remembering God by Gai Eaton (Kazi Publications,
$19.95)

If you go

For information on Dar al Islam, call (505) 685-4515
or go to www.daralislam.org. The Abiquiu Inn and
Restaurant, a 38-room hospitality complex, is owned
and operated by Dar al Islam. For information and
reservations, call (800) 447-5621.





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