An American-Muslim balance

You may notice that this mosque does not look like a mosque.

“This is an American-Muslim Mosque,” Shaheen Bharde, the secretary of the Roswell Community Masjid’s board, said. “We are going to do it the American way.”

The American way: sermons in English, funding from an American community and a woman who made the personal decision not to wear a headscarf. The American way requires a balance.

“What we try to do — and I think we have been successful at — [is] to combine both,” Bharde said. “To allow them to go out as both.”

The outside of the mosque blends into the surrounding brick buildings. It looks more like a large house than a mosque.

Before the mosque opened its doors in November 2008, it was a cluster of little offices that were brought to foreclosure.

But the fact that this doesn’t look like your everyday mosque doesn’t stop members — of all colors and some from as far as Decatur — from flooding into the doors; space has become tight and parking is now the biggest problem.

Atlanta is home to a growing Muslim population. What is noteworthy is the uniqueness of this population. It’s a throng of Muslim-Americans who manage to embrace both cultures in their identity and experience Islam in their own way.

Bharde, a modestly-dressed English-born who came to the U.S. after college, symbolizes this culture. As she spoke to a group of college students, she continued to struggle to keep her headscarf properly situated, depicting the possibility that is new to her.

“I try to represent the best Muslim I can be from within … but spiritually I’m not ready yet,” Bharde said of her decision not to wear the headscarf outside of the mosque.

She wasn’t religious as a big-city youngster. It was only after 9/11, when Bharde couldn’t answer her own lingering questions, that she changed her ways.

“Why was there a Taliban?” she spoke in her gentle voice. “And why were they doing what they were doing?”

Bharde saw the impact 9/11 had on the world around and took on a mission.

“It always seems like the fanatic few made the news,” Bharde said. “We had to not let the few represent Islam.”

With Bharde’s mission of an American-Muslim mosque, she had her bumps along the way, specifically derogatory comments on the mosque’s website.

“When you see a few, you think ‘Oh, this is what the whole community thinks,’” Bharde said. “But we just had to toughen up.”

At the end of the day, Bharde said, the community has been welcoming.

“It takes time. It’s a lot better than we thought. We got out there to expose our mosque to the community,” she said of the mosque’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Surprisingly, some Muslims within the mosque are less welcoming than the outsiders. Bharde says that some families were upset that the mosque’s school conducts a pledge of allegiance every morning.

And that marks the balance the American-Muslim culture plays in our society. They seesaw between fully committing to their traditional routes and “doing it the American way,” between educating the public around them and risking hostility, between being different and being the same.