CAIRO - Recalling the mosque original role in Islam, a Houston Islamic center is reviving a largely forgotten objective of imams, offering Muslim worshippers unusual preaches about time management, nutrition and economic empowerment.
"Oftentimes we forget that the model of the mosque during the time of our Prophet Muhammad was not only a place of prayer," Khalis Rashaad, the Imam of Ibrahim Islamic Center at Houston's Third Ward, told the Houston Chronicle.
Located in a mall in Almeda Road, the mosque is just getting by with donations that come in through the center's Facebook page.
Unlike typical mosques, the Muslim worship place has neither geometric designs or chandeliers adorning the ceiling nor domes or minarets marking the outside.
Besides three pieces of Qura'nic tapestry, the walls at the three-month-old Islamic Center are bare.
"It's something to have a million-dollar mosque," said the 39-year-old resident imam, "but if you have cheap projects and cheap ideas coming out of it, it just defeats the purpose."
While most mosques around the city function primarily as a place of worship for the five daily Muslim prayers, Friday sermon and religious classes, the center is different.
Operating more like a community center, its administrators are working to launch several new programs specially catered to the Third Ward's low-economic community.
The programs include a food pantry and legal workshops as well as prisoner re-entry, nutrition and exercise programs plus drug and alcohol counseling, medical workshops, and entrepreneurship and financial management classes.
"Our plan is to tackle those projects that many organizations don't like to tackle," he said, "and in the area where the most work is needed."
Rashaad hopes to revive the original role of the mosque during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) when both Muslims and non-Muslims visited the mosque to hash out social issues, seek economic advice and receive charity.
"A mosque that stays within its four walls isn't a mosque at all, it's a club," Rashaad said.
"We have to be out in the community, meeting the vital needs of the community on their turf, on their terms."
Working for free as the mosque imam, Rashaad hopes to give back to the society.
"This is a part of me giving back to a community that I've taken so much from," he said.
Born and raised in his Christian grandparents' home just south of Third Ward, Rashaad got mixed up with drug dealing and crime as a teenager, dropping out of high school and leaving home.
After hitting rock bottom at 18, a few Muslim mentors in the area helped him stitch his life back together.
He re-enrolled in school, embraced Islam and subsequently received a bachelor's in accounting and business management and a master's in business administration.
He now happily juggles life between his accounting practice, his imam responsibilities and his family.Imam Rashaad, a father of two, is also among the pioneering American-raised Muslims who are taking leadership positions in mosques.
Last year, he completed Houston's first three-year imam training course pioneered by Imam Wazir Ali, an El Paso-born Muslim who leads at a mosque in southeast Houston.
"The goal is to produce Muslim leaders who understand the core values of Islam and the core values of America," said Ali, "as well as promote and uplift the basic needs for human life, growth and development."
The Islamic Center's first big project, Putting the Neighbor Back in the Hood, is set to launch in June.
Extending hand to their neighbors, mosque members will set up stations in Third Ward neighborhoods offering free professional medical check-ups, drug and alcohol counseling, nutrition advice and fresh fruits and vegetables.
"We no longer can continue to sit on the sidelines and just watch while other faith communities do the work alone," Rashaad said.