Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 16 January 2004.
HistoryMasjid Ahl-ul-Bait is Denver’s most visible Shi’a community. The community is composed of a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, including Lebanese, Iranian, Iraqi, and South Asian—to mention a few. Members in the late 1980s felt that the particular needs and customs of Shi’a Muslims were not being addressed in the larger Muslim community, so efforts were made to create a distinct and separate community. In the early 1990s a community center was established which provides services including formal religious rituals, educational lectures, language classes and other community activities.
As much as can be inferred, Masjid Ahl-ul-Bait is typical of traditional Shi’a characteristics. For example, the Imam, or community leader plays a central role in the center’s activities and personally shapes the direction and tone of the community. Though limited in resources and size the community has made itself known through participating in the larger Muslim community’s activities as well those of the non-Muslim community. As can be expected Masjid Ahl-ul-Bait has suffered from gross misunderstandings by both the larger American society as well as the by larger Muslim community. At times this misunderstanding has manifested itself in outright discrimination and alienation.
DescriptionAhl-ul-Bait is located in the suburb of Lakewood just west of downtown Denver in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood surrounding Federal Blvd. Its building is in a residential district, though the building itself is an old parish converted into a mosque. The community is small when compared to other Islamic centers and deals primarily with the needs of Shia members. Shi’ites and Sunnis share the same fundamental Islamic doctrinal positions, making it hard to label them as sectarian groups. Nonetheless, ritualistically there are differences in the community that lead to division and mutual exclusion.
Shi’a belief revolves around the axis of Ahl-ul-Bait, or “People of the House” referring specifically to the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad’s family. The most revered figures in Shi’ite history come from this lineage. The community regularly meets to either celebrate the birth or mourn the death of such figures. This is in addition to the regular meetings the community has 3 times weekly. As such, the community calendar is marked with more frequency and activity than most other centers. As a result the community acts both as a vital religious and social center.
A typical community gathering would include a lecture by the resident Imam followed by group prayer and a dinner. All the while male and female volunteers instruct classes to children in the basement below. A unique feature of Shi’ite worship practices is the recitation of supplication prayers, which are read by an experienced member of the community and followed along silently or quietly by the other members. These prayers usually are of a highly rhythmic nature and are read with notable harmony and austerity. In addition to the activity just mentioned, a similar one might take place with the recitation of Persian poetry, which would then include call-and-response participation from the general audience.
Although the center is relatively small and serves the needs primarily of the Shi’a, the community’s religious leader or Imam is highly visible with regard to the non-Muslim community. The Imam is regularly engaged in various inter-faith panels, public forums, talk T.V. and radio shows, along with other civic activities. This is uncharacteristic in that in other Islamic centers it is usually not the formal Imam that partakes in such activities but rather qualified ‘lay’ members of the community. The centrality of the Imam at Ahl-ul-Bait in the community is typical of Shi’te groups and corresponds to a clear theological position unique to Shi’ites.
The center offers the congregational Friday prayer in addition to nightly prayer when the community has a gathering. It is open only when there is a designated community activity. The Friday prayer hosts at most a few dozen attendees, while the evening gatherings draw in perhaps twice that number. A Shura and executive committee direct the center, however, the role of the Imam in the direction of most affairs at the center is of notable prominence.