Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 November 2013.Phone: 706-868-7278
DescriptionAlthough Augusta is home to several Muslim organizations, the Islamic Society of Augusta (ISA) is the largest and in many ways the most visible. Located in the suburb of Martinez, Georgia, the ISA has pursued an aggressive policy of community outreach and education. This policy, although always in place, has been encouraged by the current imam (or prayer leader), Mohammad H. Almomsi, and has also become more prominent as a response to vandalism experienced at the mosque after the events of September 11, 2001. According to a statement posted in the center building’s lobby area, the mission of the ISA is “to create a peaceful, clean and harmonious environment, to nurture and facilitate the practice of Islam by all those who enter. The Islamic Society of Augusta strives to please Allah by following the guidance of the Holy Qu’ran and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
Activities and ScheduleFriday afternoon, at 1:40 p.m., is the Jummah prayer, which is typically well attended. The prayer service might discuss “contemporary issues and concerns, learning about the Islamic morals and manners and selected readings from the Quran and Hadeeth,” according to the ISA web site. On one summer visit, about one hundred members (approximately eighty men and twenty women) attended the Jummah prayer. ISA School, a religious education program for children and teenagers older than six years of age, is held during the school year on Fridays from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 2 p.m.. It costs $120 for the first child’s registration, and $60 for each additional. Throughout the week, several other types of specialized classes are offered for adults and youth. A class for new Muslims is conducted on Wednesday nights, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. A women’s class, which meets to study “selected important chapters of the Quran like the Chapter of YaSeen,” according to the ISA web site, is on Tuesday evenings after sunset prayer. A Monday night youth class aims at discussing “the challenges facing the Muslim youth in the U.S., followed by discussions to answer the different misconceptions about Islam.” The ISA also hosts lectures from visiting academics and other figures; for instance, in one recent case, two peace activists returning from Jerusalem gave a presentation. Candidates for local political races have come to the center to debate or speak. ISA leaders have also organized open houses, or events aimed at bringing in non-Muslims from the Augusta community to learn more about Islam. One popular open house in 2002 was attended by over four hundred visitors. The ISA has sent delegations to do sensitivity training in local police departments and public schools in both Columbia and Richmond counties. There is also an ISA program in the South Carolina correctional system. ISA members go for weekly visits and sessions with prisoners, answering questions about Islam. For Id al-Fitr (the holiday that follows the fasting month of Ramadan,) a large celebratory meal is served to the prisoners.
DemographicsApproximately 130 families, or 300 total people, are members of the ISA. For big events – such as the prayers for Id al-Fitr – visitors will come from neighboring cities, and as many as 400 people might be in attendance. The congregation is predominantly made up of professionals: doctors, engineers, students from the Medical College of Georgia, and there is also a presence of those affiliated with Fort Gordon Army base. A slight majority (50-60 percent) of members are from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, although the congregation is ethnically diverse, with the remaining members being of Chinese, African, Middle Eastern and African American descent.
HistoryIn 1975, Dr. Skima Fadel and her husband moved to Augusta from Chicago. The Fadels – who are both physicians, and both of Egyptian descent – were disappointed to discover there was no visible Muslim community or mosque in the area. With their two young sons, they regularly made the two-hour trip to Atlanta for services. Eventually, Fadel said, she wearied of the trip and decided to do something about it. She began flipping through the Augusta phone book, looking for names she thought might be Muslim. One of the first names she found and called, Abdul Hamid Shaikh, turned out to belong to a Medical College of Georgia faculty member of Pakistani descent with a son the same age as her own. Together, they found several other interested families. Numbering five families total, they wrote up the constitution for the Islamic Society of Augusta. From the beginning they held classes in Islam for the children, but in the early days they met in members’ houses. In 1979, the ISA bought a track of land in Martinez, planning to eventually build a mosque there. In those days, Fadel says in an interview, the land was a “jungle.” Indeed, it had “no roads, no neighborhood, nothing around it!” They had chosen a high-growth area, however, and in less than a year, major roads and housing subdivisions were constructed around the site of the future mosque. The investment was, Fadel says, a good one. After the land was acquired, the ISA began collecting individual donations for the mosque’s construction. In 1980, they broke ground on the original, three-room building, and by 1985, the new center was inaugurated. By the end of the decade, however, an explosion in numbers of Muslims in Augusta had occurred. Engineers and their families began moving to town, in response to both the1987 opening of Plant Vogtle (a nearby nuclear power facility) and new opportunities at Savannah River Site, a nuclear weapons management plant. In the 1990s, the ISA completed several expansion projects, including adding classrooms for religious education, a hall for meetings, and the purchase of a nearby existing house for the imam.
Experiences After Sept. 11, 2001After the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the ISA found itself a center of attention in Augusta. In the weeks following the attacks, vandals sprayed graffiti over the doors of the center’s building and broke its windows. Other local religious leaders promptly condemned the incident, and the community’s response, according to one member, was “wonderful.” “People came from churches and synagogues to help clean up!” she said. The center also received attention from the press, which ran stories on the local Muslim community. The ISA has always made efforts to be involved in interfaith and public relations activities, but since September 11th, these have taken on a new importance. The ISA’s sensitivity training sessions for police and schools have often been led by younger Muslims “who were born here, who don’t have accents,” according to Fadel. They have also held open houses. “Before September 11th,” said Shaikh, “when we would have an open house, no one would show up. Now, everyone shows up!” Membership growth has slowed somewhat since September 11th, due in some part to visas becoming more inaccessible for Muslims abroad. Shaikh notes that the center does, however, continue to grow in numbers.
Organizational StructureDecisions at the ISA are made by an executive committee. This committee includes a president, secretary, treasurer, education secretary, social secretary, librarian, women’s representative, youth representative and three members-at-large.
Description of the CenterThe ISA center building is located a few blocks off busy Washington Road, a major traffic artery lined with restaurants and strip malls that serves as a connection between intown Augusta and the thriving Columbia County suburbs. The mosque is in Martinez, one of the first suburban towns to develop in the 1980s. It is located half a block from St. Teresa of Avila, one of the area’s few Roman Catholic churches, and is situated between a real estate agent’s office and a modest housing subdivision. The mosque is a sand-colored brick building with a small tower topped with a prominent crescent moon symbol. There are two entrances – the main entrance, through which men and many women enter, and a women’s entrance on the side, where some women “prefer to enter,” according to a member. Inside, there is a lobby area, which has bulletin boards with announcements, tables with pamphlets on Islam, and seats and cubbies for removing and storing one’s shoes during a service. On the walls are posters concerning the Islamic position on human rights and on women. Services are held in the spacious prayer hall, which has small white fans mounted on the walls, and is divided by a simple white canvas screen. For services, women sit behind the screen, and men in front. Adjacent to the prayer hall is the medina hall – a large gathering room with a podium for speakers and events. There are also six classrooms for the Islamic education classes, and side meeting rooms where smaller classes or groups can be held. Outside, there is a large parking lot, a playground for children, and a deck for ISA events.