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Long-awaited Islamic community center comes to Hillsboro

In highly-charged political year, local Muslims say all are welcome to join them

The site sits on Northwest Helvetia Road and will feature open green spaces.After 20 years of renting hotel conference rooms and packing prayer rugs to borrowed space, about 160 local Muslims are looking forward to having a worship space to call their own.

“We want to feel like we belong,” said Issam Abu-Khater, president of the Islamic Community Center of Hillsboro (ICCH). “We are living here, working here, paying our taxes and it’s part of the American Dream — freedom of religion.”

After 20 people started gathering for prayer and worship in 1997, the ICCH religious community has been steadily growing. Members pooled their resources and purchased a 4.5-acre plot on Northwest Helvetia Road in February. They plan to convert a large shed outbuilding into a prayer hall and use the existing house for small community events.

They’ll also construct a parking lot to accommodate the large number of expected visitors and leave the fields open for families to enjoy. Future goals also include offering a weekend school for Muslim children where they can learn about the teaching of the Qur’an and religious rituals.

Muslims are asked to pray five times a day — at dawn before sunrise, midday, the late part of the afternoon, just after sunset, and between sunset and midnight. While not all five daily prayers are said in community at a mosque, many Muslims try to go to the mosque at least once a day.

Currently the closest Islamic center in Washington County is in Beaverton. While Muslims working in Hillsboro used to be able to make it to Beaverton and back on their lunch break, Abu-Khater said, it’s usually no longer possible with the traffic congestion. “You want to fulfill your duty to God but at the same time you have to go back to work.” ICCH will include open grassy fields for families to enjoy.

Like many of his fellow ICCH members, Abu-Khater works in Hillsboro’s hi-tech industry. As an Intel employee, Abu-Khater makes use of the company’s “diversity rooms,” set up to accommodate employees of all faiths.

The ICCH members are part of the Sunni sect of Islam, which makes up about 85 percent of the world’s 1 billion Muslims.

ICCH members are ready to start work on the new property. “There’s been a steady demand to stop renting space,” said ICCH member Mansoor Abbas, who has been checking out properties around town for a few years with the help of other members. “We’ve been looking for a while and we were lucky to get this place.”

While they appreciate the rented and borrowed spaces, Abbas said they want to oblige all Muslims wanting to participate. While attending Islamic Friday prayer services is mandatory for Muslim men, it is optional for women. Because of the cramped space, Abbas said they often only have room for men. “We want it to be for everybody,” Abu-Khater said.

The renovated property will have enough room to accommodate women and children. Their new property won’t be just be for Muslim worshipers, though.

“It’s open to all,” Abu-Khater said. “We are an inviting community, not a closed community.”

The group plans to host open houses and classes about Islam for all who are interested in learning more about the religion. “We want to show people what we are,” Abu-Khater said. “We follow the way of the prophet Muhammad and we are very peaceful.”

It’s important for ICCH members to share this message with the community, Abu-Khater said, especially in the midst of recent media hype.

The idea of a ban on Muslim immigrants to the U.S. — which has popped up in presidential election debates — as well as terrorist attacks by ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) around the globe has ICCH members worried they could be lumped into that group. HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Issam Abu-Khater is the president of the Islamic Community Center of Hillsboro and is enthusiastic about bringing a new worship space to Hillsboro.

While they’re concerned about misconceptions breeding, most people in the area and city staff members have been supportive, Abu-Khater said. One Hillsboro resident took the time to email the group to pledge her support after presidential candidate Donald Trump said “I think Islam hates us” in an interview without making a clear distinction between the religion and radical terrorists.

“We bring mostly disciplined and well-educated people with good character and morality and want to be a part of the city of Hillsboro,” Abu-Khater said. “We want to contribute positively and add value and complement other religious and ethnic communities.”