VIRGINIA BEACH — People joined together on Friday, June 15, for an Eid al-Fitr picnic following the end of the holy month of Ramadan and to appreciate the site that will be the future home of the Crescent Community Center.
They ate burgers and hotdogs fresh from the grill, played volleyball and soccer, gathered under a tent and socialized while children took advantage of bounce houses.
“We’re raising money now,” said Ramzy Moustafa, a Virginia Beach native who lives in Chespeake and serves on the board for the center. From inside a food truck, he motioned across the field. “It’s going to go right there on the pad, where the bounce houses are.”
The site is ready, and building may come within a year, though construction funds still are being raised. It would serve as a community hub for people from a number of ethnic backgrounds and as a place to worship.
The 12,300 square foot center where Salem and Landstown roads meet would give local Muslims a mosque and a home for educational and other gatherings. The City Council approved plans for the site in 2013.
“This is actually the true Islam — peace and togetherness,” said Raj Islam, chairperson of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission. The commission has been involved in helping the center overcome negative perceptions among some Virginia Beach citizens.
Some people at the picnic said part of developing the center is a kind of public relations effort so neighbors understand people of a faith that has been subjected to mischaracterizations, especially since Sept. 11, 2001.
“We need to keep working to change the narrative, to show the real Islam,” said Dr. Sherif El-Mahdy, a Virginia Beach resident.
Speaking of the center itself, he added that it will be a great place to gather. Community support – and donations – to help make it a reality are welcomed.
“We needed more space,” said Aref Rashid of Norfolk, speaking of the center’s current location on Lynnhaven Road.
He, too, mentioned outreach. “It is my hope we can bring people in the community to see we are a wonderful people. We are not this harmful group the media has portrayed us as.”
Among the people at the gathering were Dr. Nauras Hwig, 25, who recently graduated medical school, and his sister, 22-year-old Nasrin Hwig, studying to be a physician’s assistant. They said the coming center will be just that – a true center, an important community heart that will benefit younger people.
“Kids can be around other kids who are practicing the same religion,” said Nasrin Hwig. “It will be an opportunity for kids.”
They spoke of growing up as among the few people of their faith amid the wider community. The center will mean a lot for people in the local community and from around the Hampton Roads region.
Menna Youssef of Washington, D.C., attended with her mother, Hanaa Youssef, who had been visiting the capital but wanted to be home to celebrate with friends.
Menna Youssef said she remembered thinking in childhood that she was part of such a small community in Hampton Roads before attending religious observances at venues such as the Scope or convention centers, where many people came together in prayer.
“I never thought we were going to build a community center,” she said, though Virginia Beach is the largest city in Virginia.
“It will come,” Dr. Osama Modjadidi of Virginia Beach said. “God willing, it will come.”
Visit crescentcommunity.com for information about the center or donating.
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