Local Muslims who want to give back to their community and practice their faith now have a new organization in Lexington to help them do it.
The Muslim American Community Center of Lexington was founded in January to create new opportunities for Muslims to serve others and contribute to a better understanding among cultures, while also providing them a convenient place for worship.
The fledgling group recently agreed to purchase a house on Lowell Street to use for worship and as the base for its community service activities, with plans to take occupancy of it in May, according to Mawdudur Rahman, one of the group’s founding leaders.
“Everyone is excited about it,” Rahman said of the response by the local Muslim community to the new organization. “They think service is the most important thing. They want to participate.”
The center so far has about 150 to 200 members, but Rahman expects the numbers to grow considerably, noting that Lexington alone has an estimated 1,400 Muslims — based on census data — and that the center welcomes people from surrounding communities.
A native of Bangladesh who has lived in Lexington since 1982, Rahman actively volunteers to assist mosques in Greater Boston. But he said while it will provide a place for religious practice, the Lexington center should not be seen simply as a mosque but as a community service organization.
“Our primary goal is holistic — one part is service, the other is ritual, prayers,” said Rahman, a professor emeritus at Suffolk University, where he taught accounting and management for close to 40 years. He said he is not aware of any other Muslim organizations in the state with that distinctly dual mission.
“Islam is perceived as only ritual,” Rahman said. But he said the religion also encompasses a responsibility to be compassionate and serve others. “Compassionate Islam means you have to be kind, you have to help people.”
Dr. Mohammed Jaleel, another leader of the group, said by e-mail that the center was started “to create a social space for Muslims of all ages to pray, play, share their knowledge and experience, perform their religious duties and social functions. We will invite people of any faith to participate in our social activities and services to benefit Lexington and the neighboring communities.”
Rahman said that the local Islamic community — most of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants — includes many professionals with valuable skills to offer as volunteers. His message to them is that “If you don’t serve people, you are not doing enough as a Muslim.”
He said another goal of the center is to teach other community members about Islam, but also help Muslims understand other faiths.
“It’s sharing knowledge,” he said.
The center already has begun some community activities, including arranging for several physicians from the Muslim community to offer free medical counseling to low-income people served by the the Church of Our Redeemer’s meals program in Lexington.
Rahman said he foresees Muslim professionals offering free assistance with other matters ranging from legal questions to college admissions and personal finance.
The center also hopes to educate young Muslims about their opportunities and responsibilities as American citizens.
“We need them to understand that ‘this is your country. You need to be part of the American cultural matrix.’.”
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.