WHEATON – In a city known for its nearly 40 churches, the Islamic Center of Wheaton, which recently opened, is comfortable in its new home.
The center moved into its Wheaton location after the closure of the First Assembly of God Church this fall at 900 E. Geneva Road.
“We consider Wheaton a city of faith,” said center spokesperson Abraham Antar. “I think having a large number of churches in Wheaton provides us an opportunity for interfaith relationships. We want to present ourselves [to the area] because, as well as serving our community, we want to build bridges to other communities and churches in the area.”
The center offers space in its prayer hall for up to 800 people during each of the five traditional prayer times in the Muslim faith. It has proven so popular that during some of its services worshipers have had to use spare classrooms to pray.
Antar said studies by a nonprofit affiliated with the center have shown there are more than 20,000 Muslims in the western Chicago suburbs.
That growing population needed a place to come together.
Wheaton doctor and center member Mohammed Raheem said he sees Muslims from Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Naperville and Addison come to worship. As the center expands its range of community services to include community assistance such as ACT classes and a food pantry, he believes it will become a staging point for outreach.
“It gives us the ability to communicate and be present,” Raheem said. “When you open up a church or mosque or worship place, with the worship you should get the society involved and have good relations with your neighbors. It gives us a lot of opportunities to establish a relationship with our other neighbors in faith.”
He said he hopes that the center will serve as a place where those interested can become more familiar with his religion and those who practice it.
Antar said that the center is already meeting with and receiving support from churches and residents alike. As the Muslim population in DuPage County grows, he hopes community and understanding grow as well.
“We just want people to know that we are just the typical American family next door,” Antar said. “We have a number of people who are your typical neighbor – doctors, business owners, IT professionals, housewives. Just typical people in the community and we just want to be a part of that community.”