In the News

Islamic Center repurposes political signs to offer thanks, praise to God

By Ellie Buerk

November 24, 2020

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo is turning politics into praise by decorating the Perrysburg mosque’s lawn with repurposed campaign signs decorated by the community’s families and their children.

The signs, on which each family has written its name and things for which its members are thankful, were provided by both the local Democratic and Republican parties. 

Imam Ahmad Deeb said the project is intended to highlight the elements of a holiday like Thanksgiving that are beautiful.

“Last Friday, I gave a sermon called ‘Beyond Mythical History: Finding hope through fact not fiction.’ And a part of the discussion was about recognizing that this is not a celebration for a lot of people, especially our indigenous peoples. Many of them don’t consider this to be a day of celebration but a day of mourning,” the imam said.

Imam Deeb added that he wanted to encourage his community to come to terms with a difficult national history while maintaining hope and positivity. 

“Those are not mutually exclusive things,” he said, noting that he advocates for an empathic approach that acknowledges harm done, attempts to rectify historic wrongs, and seeks to find a common, constructive place to talk about the nuances of ongoing systemic struggles.

The imam said that the fact that political campaign signs are the canvas on which the Muslim community in Perrysburg has chosen to inscribe its gratitude was, at first, a practical decision — the signs were available in surplus following the election — but the display has become a comment on national division and strife. 

“Despite where we may be on the political spectrum, despite the sides that we have, despite the parties that we belong to, there are universal truths that we all recognize and if we’re able to focus on those, even something as divisive as a political sign can be something that unites,” Imam Deeb said.

“So the idea was let’s fill our entire, beautiful hill with signs of gratitude. And the word for that in Arabic is alhamdulillah, which both means all praise and all thanks belong to God,” he said.

The imam also noted that this project is not about ignoring history or promoting a simple and fake idea of unity.

“We don’t get to unification by lying about history, creating mythical stories, but we also don’t get to unification if we come from a place of moral superiority,” he said. The conversation that needs to be had across Thanksgiving dinner tables needs to push beyond black-and-white narratives about who’s right and who’s wrong. 

“Gratitude is a universal symbol of our shared humanity, and there are others. Let’s come from that place and then begin to have these difficult conversations,” Imam Deeb said.

Ahmad Taouil, president of the 2020 Islamic Center of Greater Toledo Council, said the center is asking families to bring in their signs by Thanksgiving so they can be displayed throughout the holiday season. The project has been a way to safely bring together a community amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

88 Counties: Wood County’s Muslim community has grown over the years as part of the fabric of the region

By WTOL Newsroom 

September 24, 2020

PERRYSBURG, Ohio — As the RV continues to roll through Ohio, our 88 Counties in 88 Days feature takes you to Wood County where we’re highlighting the Muslim community there.

It’s one that started off small but has grown over the years.

The time of 9/11 was one filled with high tensions, and talking to Muslims in Wood County shows how the community banded together to honor those who lost their lives, and how the greater community united to show support for the mosque at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

Here are stories from those in the community: 

“The mosque is like a second home, the people here are like a second family – they’re my brothers they’re my sisters.  When we migrated here to Perrysburg it felt it did truly feel like home, there was a sense of community,” said Hana El Nemr. 

“There’s a lot of, quite a few Muslims in the Toledo area.  A lot of it is the nearness to Detroit and Dearborn which has the highest concentration of Muslims,” said Ahmad Taouil, president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. “This community grew from one center where we originated in Toledo on Bancroft and to, I think right now, the count is 11 different Muslim Centers in the area.”

“No, I do tours all the time and the first thing I say is, ‘You’re scared; no problem. I totally understand it. It’s not even your fault,'” said Imam Ahmad Deeb. “And we had a situation where a person came and they were just like in tears towards the end. ‘Cause they were just like, ‘I used to be terrified of this place and then I came inside and realized all of it was irrational. ‘ 

Deeb shows off the highlights of the inside of the mosque to visitors. “At the top, these are God’s attributes; the most merciful, the most loving, the majestic.  And then you have these beautiful stained glass windows.”

When the RV visited the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, it was on Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the mosque, this anniversary is remembered for the terrible toll the attacks had America that day and the American Muslim community as well. 

“The flags flown at half-staff, we do that each year in commemoration of 9/11,” said Taouil. “There’s always been a security concern just for the high tensions that came right after 9/11.  Fortunately we have a great community and we really bonded.”

In the aftermath of that day of terror and destruction, members of the Wood County community and beyond created some common ground, reaching out so the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo could feel their support.  

“One day after 9/11, we had a radio station, a local radio station, reached out to us, and said you know we know we understand what you and your community is going through,” recalled M. Razi Rafeeq, former president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and current board of trustees member. “(They said) we would like to have a gathering at the Islamic Center. There were enough people that could go around the entire building holding hands and prayed.  And basically, the message was there’s no one who could harm this community. That was a moment that I think people who were here physically in person at that time will never forget.”

“The reality is that for Muslims, not only are we mourning – we’re also in immense anxiety. Is our mosque going to be shot up today? Who knows? And what is our role in an environment of heightened tension?” Imam Deeb said during the service on Sept. 11. “Mercy and gentleness. We’re not going to fuel more hatred, we’re not going to pour more flames on the fire. We’re not going to be the manifestations of the very things we hate that impact us. No. We’re going to take the other direction and always we’re going to be people of Rahma and mercy, we’re going to be people of love, we’re going to be people of unification.” 

The members of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo are part of the fabric of Wood County, and they’re proud to be here. 

“We’re proud to be American Muslims, and we are part of this heritage, we’re part of this community, we are contributing in many many ways, and no one can ignore us,” said Rafeeq. 

Eid during COVID-19 | How this year’s celebration has changed for Muslims in our community

By Zeinab Cheaib

July 31, 2020


Today marks the Islamic holiday of Eid! 

This year, due to the pandemic, things looked a bit different.  

During Eid al-Adha, many Islamic members in our community would traditionally gather to the mosque early in the morning and pray. In order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, this year’s prayer was done virtually. “We wanted to ensure our community is safe and our city is safe, so we decided not to have an Eid prayer at the actual mosque, because usually we get a thousand-plus (participants)… So that’s a recipe for disaster,” explained Ahmad Deeb, Imam of The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.  

Many joined in on Eid prayer from the comfort of their own home and listened to the sermon after. But you may be wondering… Just what is this holiday all about? 

“On Eid Al-adha, it is the completion of the pilgrimage. And we give to those who are less fortunate, for those who may not have, in order for us to all celebrate. Not just a few of us who may be blessed with wealth and status, and in blessings, really,” said Deeb. 

For the little ones in the family, The Islamic Center gave a special treat to those who stopped by.

“We also have this beautiful drive-through where our community members can come and take some goody bags. So, this is a drive-through Eid, where people can come with their families to take a goody bag and, you know, hopefully still maintain that spirit,” added Deeb. 

The Imam mentioned another big way that Muslims felt the impact of COVID-19 on the how the holiday is celebrated traditionally. Millions of Muslims from across the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year as part of the holiday. 

But due to COVID-19, only a limited amount of people were able to attend. Saudi Arabia enforced social distancing and temperature checks during the Hajj pilgrimage and limited those who were able to visit Mecca in general, along with the strict restrictions on travel to the country. 

With determination, the Muslim community still found a way to celebrate a scaled-down version of the holiday, honoring the importance of their faith during trying times.


Eid al-Adha draws donations to Islamic Food Bank

By Nicki Gorny 

July 26. 2020

Donations are rolling in to the Islamic Food Bank of Toledo.

The nonprofit is in the midst of an annual campaign tied to Eid al-Adha, the second of two major holy days in Islam. It falls on Friday. One way to observe the day is to donate meat, in line with a scripture-based tradition known as udhiyya in Arabic or qurbani in Persian and Urdu.

The Islamic Food Bank of Toledo is the only nonprofit locally to specifically facilitate such donations, accepting monetary donations that organizers put toward procurement and local distribution of lamb meat to Muslim and non-Muslim families in need.

“We’re seeing a tremendous response,” chairman M. Razi Rafeeq said.

If a global coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected many elements of Eid al-Adha – drastically scaling back the number of pilgrims who will perform the hajj in Saudi Arabia and pushing prayers and celebrations online or outdoors in Toledo, for example – it’s perhaps less true of this charity-minded side of the holy day.

The Islamic Food Bank of Toledo has significantly ramped up its outreach since the onset of the pandemic, Dr. Rafeeq said, and it is continuing to see an increased need in the community. With a goal in mind this year to distribute twice the amount of meat as in a typical year at Eid al-Adha, he hopes this year’s program will be particularly impactful.

“Four thousand pounds of meat will go a long way,” he said. “We’ll be able to help 200 families.”

Eid al-Adha is known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, a title that ties back to the central story of the day God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and, in admirable obedience to God, Abraham readied himself to comply. God intervened, and the animal that Abraham ultimately sacrificed in his son’s stead became a basis for the tradition of udhiyya or qurbani.

Beyond this sacrifice-inspired tradition, Muslims typically celebrate Eid al-Adha with prayers and family or community celebrations; the observance itself is similar to Eid al-Fitr, which culminates the holy month of Ramadan and this year was celebrated in May.

As was the case with Eid al-Fitr, a community-wide celebration for Eid al-Adha in Toledo is postponed until 2021. Individual mosques in and around the city, several of which have been re-opening on a limited scale in recent weeks for socially distanced public worship, are in some cases planning their own outdoor and socially distant observances.

The Toledo Muslim Community Center is planning outdoor prayers, as well as arranging treats for children, for example. Toledo Masjid of Al-Islam is planning on gathering for in-person prayer; it has done so with precautions in place throughout the pandemic. The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo is hosting prayers virtually.

Leadership at the Islamic Society of North West Ohio were keeping a close eye this week on the reports of the virus’ spread in the area as they tentatively planned for socially distanced prayers.

Eid al-Adha is timed in line with the hajj, an annual pilgrimage to the holiest site in Islam. In a drastic scale-down from the 2 million or more pilgrims who participate in the hajj in a typical year, officials are permitting just 1,000 Muslims to perform the hajj this year.

The Islamic Food Bank of Toledo is accepting donations for its Eid al-Adha program through Friday. While Muslims might donate to several international organizations, or make their own arrangements to donate meat, the food bank stands out for its local distribution.

Dr. Rafeeq said they anticipate facilitating the donation of 60 lambs this year, an increase from the 25 to 30 that have been typical of previous year’s programs. In addition to several pounds of meat, each recipient through the food bank receives a box of pantry staples.

The increase in this program for Eid al-Adha reflects a broader expansion of the scope of the Islamic Food Bank of Toledo, which has ramped up its efforts and stepped into new partnerships since the onset of the pandemic. Dr. Rafeeq said this is in response to increased need.

He credited a community that’s been supportive since the beginning: Their monetary donations so far this year have reached nearly $150,000, an impressive amount considering their entire budget last year was $60,000, he said. And that sum does not cover non-monetary donations.

“We feel like this program is a great way for us Muslims to fulfill not only our Islamic Eid al-Adha obligations,” he said, “but also meet a need in the local community.”

By Kristian Brown

July 6, 2020 

Imam Ahmad Deeb is the leader at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. He says the community must come together and be there for Anthony Dia’s family even after the memorial service. He says, “At a time like this, some families need space, but at the same time its incredible alienating, isolating, and lonely process, to grieve by yourself to lose your husband, who is a father of your two young kids, so we do our duties, we have to remind ourselves that we have to go beyond that of our condolences, it should not be sent on the day of, they should extend through our service even after.”

Officer Dia has close toes to the Islamic Center. A relative serves in leadership here. Imam Deeb says we are living in uncertain times, but he believes everything we are experiencing in 2020 is not God’s punishment, but God signs. He says, “In Muslim faith we don’t believe that this is a punishment, it may be a test for us to rise to a challenge to have faith what is being taught here and really the sign being shown here, the ultimate sin is are we going to continue living as disconnected individualistic, members of a collective, cause we are part of a collective whether we like it or not.” Imam Deeb says we must come together across faith lines, across ethnic lines, and form authentic relationships. He believes that is the key to hope and healing.

Religious Offerings: Faith communities respond to police brutality, protests

By The Blade

June 7, 2020 

As protests and riots have gripped the country in response to death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, several local faith communities and leaders released statements decrying racism and calling for action. These include the Toledo Catholic Bishop Daniel Thomas, the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, the United Muslim Association of Toledo and the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, among others.

“United with Catholics throughout the Diocese of Toledo and together with all people of good will, we denounce in the strongest terms immoral actions which are the poison fruit of racism; and we denounce immoral actions which are born of hatred and result in unbridled violence,” Bishop Thomas wrote in part on Thursday.

“Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo expresses its deep concern and sadness for a disturbing pattern of bigotry, racism, disparate treatment, and the unreasonable and unlawful use of authority against people of color and particularly black Americans,” Jewish Federation President Richard Rusgo and Executive Director Stephen Rothschild wrote in part on May 31. “… We cannot stand idly by. It is our collective and individual responsibility to do more than speak out against injustice. It is not enough to act symbolically. We all must act individually, in public and in private, to understand the plight of millions of Americans who fear for themselves and their children.”

On Tuesday United Muslims of Toledo called for “conflict resolution by law enforcement, a systematic review of discriminatory practices, and increased accountability for all police officers” in a statement demanding justice for George Floyd.

“As Muslims, we cannot stand by while such atrocities are committed on a seemingly daily basis,” President S. Maseeh Rehman wrote in part. “Many of us come from places where authoritarian regimes regularly silence dissenting voices. Forced disappearances and state sponsored killings have become commonplace in our countries of origin. We refuse to let that happen here. Not in America, which we love and respect.

“Let us be absolutely clear, to be a neutral bystander in these situations is to side with the oppressors. A man once asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘What is the best effort/struggle (jihad?)’ The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replied, ‘Speaking a word of truth to an oppressive ruler.’ Now is the time to speak truth.

“The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo cited the Quran, 49:13, in condemning the murder of George Floyd and calling for “full accountability for those responsible for his death” on May 31. The community expressed support for the rights of citizens to protest, but encouraged protesters to do so peacefully “so that the message of change doesn’t get lost.”

Full statements are available on organization websites or Facebook pages.

Conference date set

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is rescheduled for Aug. 29 through Sept. 7, 2021 in Minneapolis, organizers announced last week.

The General Conference had previously been slated for May 5-15, 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is expected to be a historic conference, with voting representatives of the global church to consider proposals to split the denomination as a means of finally settling long-standing and deep-seated divisions among membership on sexuality.

Foundation’s drive-through is pandemic-related substitute for Eid al-Fitr service

By Alexandra Mester

May 24, 2020 

A steady stream of decorated cars and frequent honking of horns is not usually how Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday celebrating the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic made the usual unified Eid service at downtown Toledo’s Seagate Centre, typically drawing about 10,000 people, impossible this year.

“But there’s not only one way to celebrate,” said Dr. Abed Alo, a board member of the Masjid Saad Foundation in Sylvania.

The foundation hosted one of several drive-through events around the city Sunday on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, following a morning service live-streamed on Facebook. Families decorated their vehicles for a contest, visited with Elsa and Spiderman, and received small gifts — all from a safe distance.

“The kids are having a blast,” Ndal Farah of Toledo said while driving through with his wife, Iman, and their children. “We’ve adapted. This is amazing.”

While they have missed the community aspects of worshiping with others inside a mosque, Mr. Farah said they have grown closer as a family through meals and prayers together in their home each night.

“There is blessing in everything that we’ve been given,” he said.

It’s something Dr. Alo said he’s heard from many. While there is hardship in not being able to be together as a community of faith, the pandemic has given people time to reflect and concentrate on what is truly important.

“Since the mosque is closed, every family established their own corner in their homes to be considered a mosque,” Dr. Alo said. “Parents or children are leading the prayers…. It’s not all bad. We learn many lessons.”

For Yusef Hammuda, a physician’s assistant working in Toledo-area emergency rooms for Mercy Health, the coronavirus crisis has moved him more deeply into his faith. He has seen and helped people who were suffering the virus’ sometimes devastating symptoms.

“You realize the fragility of the life we were blessed with, and that we have really taken it for granted,” he said as he volunteered on the foundation’s safety team for the event Sunday.

Reflecting on the Islamic teachings during Ramadan has only amplified his strengthening faith.

“This is the closest I have been to God,” he said. “You can see the power he has. This is all a test, and hopefully we pass it in whatever way that may be.”

Eid al-Fitr may look a little different, but faith and fellowship persevere

By Nicki Gorny

May 23, 2020 

Eid al-Fitr is a celebration of a culmination: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasts is no small feat, physically nor spiritually.

But Imam Ahmad Deeb isn’t quite ready to close the door on Ramadan. As he’ll reflect in a sermon on Sunday, Muslims should carry the spirit of the holy month into the rest of the year.

“How can we sustain the spirit of faith that we feel increased on special occasions and in special times?” he challenged. “How can we harness that throughout the rest of the year?”

That forward-thinking need not extend to the rigid terms of fasting, though, according to the religious director of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Actually, it shouldn’t; in a faith tradition that emphasizes balance, it’s forbidden to fast on Eid al-Fitr.

So bring on the brunch on Sunday.

If Eid al-Fitr is always a day to anticipate, as the first of two major holy days in Islam, it was perhaps especially so this year. Dates for Ramadan are determined in line with a lunar calendar, which this year sees Eid al-Fitr on a long holiday weekend in the late springtime. Muslims were looking forward to the coincidence as a convenient opportunity for travel and revelry.

“We were going to make this a really big deal,” Kareem Hammuda said. He’s one of the volunteer organizers of the annual community-wide celebration at the SeaGate Convention Centre. Their team was planning to work with the city, he said, continuing a relationship with civic officials that last year saw a historic first-ever iftar (evening meal) at One Government Center.

“We were shooting for even a two-day event,” he said.

But with a pandemic that’s thwarted even the best-laid plans, the community is looking toward a much more low-key celebration this year. Organizers were this year forced to suspend both the community-wide celebration at the convention center, which is generally estimated to draw more than 5,000, as well as a separate annual celebration at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, which in a typical year draws closer to 1,000.

Mosques throughout the region remain largely closed to the public because of the pandemic. While Masjid Saad Foundation, Toledo Muslim Community Center and Tayba Center for Education are adapting to the unusual circumstances this year by hosting drive-thru celebrations on Sunday, offering goodie bags to children, others are encouraging their members to celebrate together while staying apart.

Several mosques present Muslim-American musician Raef in a virtual concert dedicated to the Muslims of Toledo. It’s on YouTube at 7 p.m. Sunday. A video compiling greetings from families throughout the community will premiere during that virtual performance. 

But greetings and well wishes will be largely offered via phone and video this year, rather than over hugs and handshakes in crowded halls; families will largely remain in their homes as they eat and make merry in the spirit of Eid.

Some will start the day on the spiritual note through virtual connections to their mosques, as they have throughout Ramadan. Several mosques have offered daily reflections in lieu of the usual prayers for which members would have gathered in person on each night in Ramadan.

On Eid al-Fitr, Imam Deeb will lead prayers and offer a sermon at the Islamic Center beginning at 9:45 a.m.; Imam Farooq Aboelzahab is doing the same at the Islamic Society of North West Ohio beginning at 10 a.m.

Imam Deeb said the day’s prayers begin with the takbirat, a prayerful repetition of the Arabic for “God is greater,” as they would if they were able to celebrate in person. He sees the takbirat as a reminder that the spirit of Ramadan continues beyond Eid al-Fitr.

He related it to the spiritual concept of taqwa, which Muslims foster during Ramadan.

“It is a God awareness, a God consciousness, that allows us to be conscious of God in all of our moments,” he said of taqwa. “Through fasting and restricting food and drink, and disciplining the self in that way, we’re able to access a higher part of ourselves, and of course experience hunger, which is important to cultivating gratitude for the blessings that we have.”

The repetitions of the takbirat, then, is “reminding us that God is greater than everything,” he said. “Even though we are celebrating the end of Ramadan, we are sustaining the spirit of Ramadan after it. It’s a reminder that taqwa is a lifelong process to inculcate. We have to stay God-conscious and remind ourselves that God is greater.”

An Eid prayer follows, then a sermon. Imam Deeb said he plans to reflect on gratitude and on maintaining the spirit of the holy month; in a point that feels particularly relevant to this year’s unusual circumstances, he’s also thinking about Ramadan “as a means of being aware and more sensitive to the needs of others around us.”

It’s a lesson he’s also seeing come out of the pandemic.

“We are now keenly aware of the impact that we have on other people around us,” he said, offering the use of face masks as one example.

In a typical year, the prayers he leads and reflections he offers would lead into a raucous brunch and children’s activities at the Islamic Center. Like Mr. Hammuda of community-wide celebration, Islamic Center President Ahmad Taouil said the masjid was particularly excited about the way the date fell this year.

“We had a lot of things planned for it this year — bouncy houses, food trucks, clowns, activities for the kids,” he said. “There would have been a lot of things happening.”

But he and others are quick to temper their disappointment. Safety remains a priority during a pandemic, and they said the community will find new ways to celebrate this year.

Imam Deeb said their faith lets them see the current constraints as an opportunity.

“That’s the beautiful thing about faith,” he reflected. “You believe everything is from God, which means that everything is really an opportunity. As opposed to things happening to you, things are happening for you. It’s an opportunity to be creative, to use our imaginations and find ways to celebrate and to make the festivity beautiful, despite the fact that we can’t be together.”

By Kayla Molander

April 23, 2020 

The holy month of Ramadan begins tonight at sundown. Like everything else, it is different this year because of COVID-19.

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo is preparing for a month of praying and fasting. They’re also embracing adjustments necessary to protect people from the coronavirus.

Ahmad Deeb is the Imam at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Today he has a full belly but tomorrow…

“Muslims all over the world fast for 30 days,” Deeb says.

The experience is personal – a lesson in self-control and connection to God.

“You start accessing sides of yourself emotionally and spiritually that you don’t really experience when you’re snacking all the time,” says Deeb.

But it’s also social.

“Ramadan is an incredibly communal event,” says Deeb.

Muslims must fast for 30 days from sun up to sun down, but after that, the gather for prayers and food. COVID-19 has put a damper on this year’s gatherings.

“For many it will be difficult,” says Deeb.

But Imam Deeb says this will not deter Muslims from learning and growing.

“Religion isn’t confined to one institutional space,” says Deeb.

For the social aspect, they’re embracing online platforms with pre-recorded prayers, readings, and spiritual discussions.

“Every single night we’re at least seeing each other,” says Deeb.

And they’re making sure that anyone can join.

Some stuff is going to be on YouTube, Facebook live, Zoom. We’re trying to be accessible to all platforms and to all those in our community,” says Deeb.

Although coronavirus has forced us all apart, the Islamic Center is reminding us that we don’t have to feel alone.

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo lit blue to show support to healthcare workers and first responders

By WTOL Newsroom 

April 15, 2020 

TOLEDO, Ohio — If you drive by the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, you may notice a beautiful blue glow around it.

The center says the building is lit blue to show support for healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines against COVID-19.

Many other buildings and landmarks throughout the world have been doing the same to show their support for the tireless work being done by the individuals who answer the call to save lives.

Those with the Islamic Center said they are honored to join the effort to support.

The Islamic Center will retain its blue hue for the next week. 

Islamic Center to build residential housing on campus

By Nicki Gorny

January 11, 2020 

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo is looking to introduce a residential community to its campus in Perrysburg.

“We believe that our model is about service, and if you think about what’s the largest predictor of longevity and health, it’s really building a sense of community with loving and supportive people around you,” said Hussien Shousher, chair of the board of trustees for the center. “That’s what we want to build.”

The Islamic Center is in the early stages of the project, having just secured the appropriate zoning for the property with the Wood County Planning Commission, Mr. Shousher said. They intend to break ground in 2021.

The residential community would be geared toward an active adult population in its initial phase, he said. It would be constructed on the north side of the approximately 50-acre campus, which is surrounded by farmland on Scheider Road in Perrysburg.

The initial phase would encompass 50 affordable housing units, intended for those 55 and older. A park-like setting would connect the homes and the center.

Mr. Shousher said the residential community would be open to anyone, regardless of faith.

“We’ve always been an inclusive community, an inclusive center,” he said. “Our goal is that it would be open to everyone, continuing that theme.”

The board chair described the residential community as the next step in the community’s master plan. The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo has been on its current campus since 1983.

Imam Ahmad Deeb, who has served as the center’s religious director since the summer, said he sees the project in line with the values of the Islamic Center.

“It’s a high priority within Islam to take care of the elderly, and we know the great need in our community for affordable housing,” he said. “So I’m very proud that our community has taken this step — a very unique step, I think, nationally — to take that injunction and really apply it through affordable housing.”

Song of hope unites band Birds of Chicago and the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo

By Tom Henry

November 23, 2019

“I’ve seen American flowers. They will bloom again.” — Lyrics from the 2017 Birds of Chicago folk song, American Flowers.

Former Toledoan JT Nero — a 1989 St. Francis de Sales High School graduate who has gone on to fame as co-leader of the popular folk-Americana group, Birds of Chicago — got a heartfelt, three-hour reception Saturday afternoon from the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo as he, his wife and fellow Birds of Chicago co-leader, Allison Russell, and others touring with them headed to a gig at The Ark in Ann Arbor that night.

The reason: A beautifully poetic, 2017 song called “American Flowers” in which Mr. Nero — whose birth name is Jeremy Lindsay — prominently highlights the mosque during the final minute of the nearly six-minute piece.

The official video of the song was written in response to the angst of America’s troubled times, offering a vision for a better country explained through the metaphor of flowers coming back into bloom.

It’s a protest song, for sure, one in which Mr. Nero said he was “definitely trying to call up [noted folk balladeer] Woody Guthrie’s spirit.” But its focus is on forward-thinking hope and inspiration. It does not make any direct political commentary.

“American Flowers” was recently brought to the attention of the Islamic Center’s new Imam, Ahmad Deeb, who loved the message of inclusion for all people and snippets of what Mr. Nero said are things that are “quintessentially American” to him.

Mr. Nero plays acoustic guitar and is known for his raspy, road-weary vocals.

He paints images of several landscapes in his song’s vision of Real America, including the unmistakable sight thousands of northbound I-75 travelers experience daily of the mosque in Perrysburg Township.

Ms. Russell is a Montreal native who plays banjo and sings backup vocals on that song. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter. They are the group’s two main singers, and alternate on songs.

The Islamic Center on Scheider Road opened Oct. 22, 1983 on a 48-acre site purchased in 1978.

“Why did they choose Perrysburg Township?” Imam Deeb mused as he began a tour for Mr. Nero, Ms. Russell, and their guests. “God only knows.”

Though there are now bigger mosques, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo was the nation’s largest when it opened 36 years ago, said Nadia Ashraf-Moghal, the center’s president.

Mr. Nero’s lyrics include these words about the center:

I was flying down the highway, when it caught my eye. I was sippin’ red cream soda, I was listening to Johnny Prine. And I saw that golden dome against a pink and purple sky. I was singing ‘Don’t let your baby down.’

Two co-workers at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, made Imam Deeb aware of the song: Guitarist Greg Hall, who performs in a band called Water Villains, and Eman Jarouche, who has been attending the center since birth. Both are UTMC physical therapists. Ms. Jarouche also notified other people she knew at the center.

“It meant a lot to us, because there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam,” Imam Deeb told The Blade after the event. “But most important, ‘American Flowers’ represents hope and our religion is one of hope. I resonated with that message so deeply [that I thought] we have to have them.”

While he did not expect a response when he emailed Mr. Nero an invitation, the imam got a response the next day and was thrilled to make immediate plans for the visit.

“Music is kind of like religion,” Imam Deeb told the audience that came to hear the group perform the song. The center’s religious leader said he thinks of music as a barrier-breaker that helps unite and inspire people from all walks of life.

When he first heard the song, it reminded him of Bob Dylan’s classic, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Imam Deeb said.

“It’s almost like this was a sequel,” he said of “American Flowers”. “It’s so incredibly hopeful.”

Mr. Nero said he was inspired to write the song after seeing the last public appearance by the late folk singer-acoustic guitarist Jimmy LaFave at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla. in 2017. Mr. LaFave, 61, a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, died of cancer shortly afterward at his home in Austin.

Ms. Russell agreed that music feels like a religious experience to them and many other musicians.

“It connects people around the world,” she said.

People often focus on politics. But one of the most dangerous things in society is the disconnect that has grown among different groups of people who fail to communicate with one another, Imam Deeb said.

“We don’t know our neighbors. We have these pent-up angers and biases,” he said.

Problems can fester because of a lack of communication. People often feel too intimidated to initiate contact, Ms. Russell agreed.

“You reaching out to us was a brave thing to do,” Ms. Russell told Imam Deeb. “Now, we know each other.”

Mr. Nero was born in 1971 at what is now Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center.

His success has an unconventional early influence: According to an online biography, he learned doo wop songs and spirituals from legendary Harlem Globetrotters Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal in the back of the team bus as a child. That was made possible because Mr. Nero’s father was a point guard for the Washington Generals, the team that traveled with the Globetrotters and lost every game while serving as comedic punching bags.

He told The Blade he left Toledo in 1998 for San Francisco, where he lived until 2002 and began his “songwriting in earnest.”

In 2002, he relocated to Chicago, where he and Ms. Russell now live with their child.

Mr. Nero said Saturday’s visit to the local mosque was his second, the first being 22 years ago under “unfortunate circumstances,” when Samar El-Okdi – the girlfriend of fellow musician Chris Neal – was killed during a carjacking. 

Ms. El-Okdi was part of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo community. Mr. Neal was a musician in one of Mr. Nero’s earlier bands, The Rivermen. He also is a longtime friend of Mr. Nero and Ms. Russell, and is a frequent Birds of Chicago collaborator.

Mr. Nero said he misses a lot of things about Toledo, including its Middle Eastern food.

“Growing up in Toledo, I became a bit of a Mediterranean food snob and didn’t know it,” Mr. Nero said.

His passing reference to red cream soda in “American Flowers” wasn’t lost on mosque congregants, who bought the Birds of Chicago a 12-pack for the road and also sent the group off with such gifts as a photographic print of the Islamic Center and some books.

Mr. Nero told The Blade he was “overjoyed” to get Imam Deeb’s invitation.

“I felt like I owed a debt of gratitude to them,” he said.

Ms. Russell told Imam Deeb she immediately picked up on “the love that permeates these walls” when she walked inside the mosque.

On Saturday, Imam Deeb invited the Birds of Chicago to headline the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo’s 2020 cultural festival, an event which has drawn 10,000 people in the past. Mr. Nero and Ms. Russell said they would be honored to accept.

Ahmad Deeb brings youthful passion to role of imam

By Nicki Gorny 

October 12, 2019

If loneliness is the problem, Ahmad Deeb knows where he’s looking for the solution.

“I truly believe that religion is the answer to loneliness,” he said.

“Religion done right,” he clarified. “Religion understood properly. And it’s not like, ‘Here’s a book, you’re not going to be lonely anymore.’ No, no. What I mean by that is a faith-inspired community that’s built upon principles that even those without faith recognize and can relate to. If loneliness is an epidemic, and religious institutions are not finding creative solutions for people to have a sense of connection and belonging, then we’re doing something wrong.”

It’s a key part of the vision that he’s bringing to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, where he’s just about two months into his new role as imam and religious director. He brings a focus on what he describes as intentional community — not one that’s simply of and for Muslims, he said, but one that’s an integral part of the broader region.

A Millennial who grew up in Orlando, Fla., and who is currently wrapping up a graduate degree in Claremont, Calif., his background isn’t quite like that of any other imam who’s delivered a khutbah in Toledo. He’s actually the city’s first American-raised, American-educated imam.

Islamic Center President Nadia Ashraf-Moghal said that’s well in his favor.

“I think if someone is speaking to you in your own language, in your own style, with your own accent, you can just kind of relate to them better,” she said. “If someone has grown up in the same environment and the same culture, they can understand where you’re coming from a little bit more.”

That’s not to put down the other faith leaders who have served and continue to serve Toledo’s Muslims, she and others took care to clarify.

“It’s just something new for us in Toledo to experience,” she said. “I think it’s much appreciated.”

Islam in America

Two-thirds of imams serving mosques in the United States were born in a different country as of 2011, according to a multiagency study published at the time. Of those who had at least a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies, 94 percent had earned it abroad.

Munir Shaikh said it’s likely those numbers are beginning to shift.

Mr. Shaikh is the director of academic affairs at Bayan Claremont, the graduate school through which the local imam is completing his graduate thesis. Bayan Claremont only began enrolling students in 2011 — the same year that the study was published. And it remains one of just a few Islamic higher education institutions that offer accredited graduate degrees.

He described an interest among students and among the institutions they go on to serve for graduate instruction that reflects their unique cultural context in the United States. It’s not the theology is different between a foreign and domestic institution, he said, but sometimes the conversations to which a graduate must bring their spiritual perspectives are.

Take race, for example. It’s the sort of topic that’s going to “shape the conversation that Muslims are having in America” perhaps to a greater extent than it is in another country.

“People practice their religion in a cultural context,” Mr. Shaikh said. “So different dimensions of the faith tradition are going to be emphasized in different ways in different cultural contexts.”

“More and more mosques are looking for imams who are conversant in the cultural milieu of America, and who are comfortable engaging issues in a very authentic way,” he said. “There is a great respect and appreciation for anyone who wants to serve in religious leadership. But there’s probably a preference for imams who were raised in the U.S. and who have a natural affinity for addressing issues and feeling like they’re part of a broader collective identity of Americans.”

Imam in Toledo

On a recent Friday at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Imam Deeb was elaborating a pretty simple point in his sermon: Love your neighbor.

It’s Islamic, he said, drawing easily on a set of verses and hadiths that he explained in a conversational vernacular. He knows it might be strange to greet your next-door neighbor, let alone invite them to dinner, he said. But that’s the challenge he left with the congregation.

The imam grew up with the values and principles of Islam. His father is a well-respected imam, and his grandfather is among the oldest living scholars in Syria. (“So high expectations that I can never live up to,” he joked.)

But he described his own journey of truly connecting to his faith, including a turn toward agnosticism at the University of Central Florida, where he began to grapple with questions about his faith and his identity. In a campus culture where he said it would have been easier to be irreligious, he began digging into the tough existential questions that would eventually lead him to Cape Town, South Africa, where he enrolled in seminary.

That was a formative experience, an opportunity to understand and appreciate that way that Islam is woven into the broader fabric of Cape Town and South Africa. It wasn’t just the lengthy history that Muslims traced in South Africa, he said, but their service and their civic and political engagement and their love of neighbor throughout that history that he saw blurring the lines between identities as a South African and as a South African Muslim.

For a young Muslim who himself still negotiating his own identity — American? Muslim? Muslim-American? American-Muslim? — it was revelatory.

“I think it just gave me a case study,” he said. “It showed me how this can be done, and we can do it in America.”

After obtaining a degree in Usul al-Deen, or foundations of religion, he headed to Allentown, Pa., then to Ohio, where he served as director of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent while he began his graduate degree program at Bayan Claremont.

He left the Islamic Society about a year ago to work on his thesis and travel abroad, around the same time he started conversations with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, which Dr. Ashraf-Moghal said initially reached out in hopes of bringing him on in a supplementary role, before they knew their then-imam would be stepping down to return to Boston.

In his new role, Imam Deeb, 26, said his vision is for an intentional community — an outward-facing, community-serving center. “It’s Muslim-led, it’s Muslim-informed, but it’s not for Muslims, period,” he said. “It’s for everyone.”

He still sees the value in a religious institution, even as he recognizes the negative connotation that organized religion carries for many. In a world experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, he sees mosques and churches and synagogues positioned to supply a sense of connection and belonging that seems to be missing.

He thinks about it in terms of an African proverb, the same he shared in his first khutbah to his new congregation in Toledo in August.

“Those not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth,” he quoted. “And it makes you really wonder, maybe we haven’t done enough to speak to the concerns of people around us, that they want to burn organized religion because they haven’t felt its warmth for a very long time. I want to reintroduce faith in a manner that speaks to people and cultivates real love and compassion and ultimately service.”

Islamic Center’s International Festival celebrates area’s diversity

By Mike Sigov 

September 14, 2019 

Chad Schleh took off his shoes and stepped onto a blue carpet where Muslims pray in front of a minbar, the stairs where an imam stands to deliver a sermon.

He then stood by a mihrab, a niche that indicates the direction of Mecca and listened to a guide talk about Islam.

The 29-year-old bank officer formerly of Lima and now of Toledo was one of about 300 visitors who toured the prayer space inside the dome of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg on Saturday during the 19th annual International Festival hosted by the center. The event continues Sunday.

Said Mr. Schleh once the tour of the dome was over: “One of the main reasons I moved to Toledo and stayed here is because of the diversity of this community… Events like this offer a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and to bring the [greater Toledo] community together.”

The festival showcases about 25 ethnicities, reflecting the diversity of the religious community, according to organizers. There was food, music, shopping, center tours, and camel rides, as well as children’s games and activities.

The Saturday program also featured a talk by Hisham A. Hellyer, an author and academic. His Saturday presentation was called The Soul of Islam: An Introduction to Islamic Spirituality – From Makkah to Capetown. The world’s fastest growing religion, Islam is practiced by 1 percent of Ohio’s population, event organizers said.

As Mr. Schleh and the rest of his 10-member tour group exited the mosque, Carol Henderson of Perrysburg was just outside, taking pictures of a pair of camels that were brought to the center grounds for the rides.

“I loved the camels. But the food is – oh my God – it’s so good and there are so many choices. And the jewelry is so beautiful I am going to go back to buy some,” the retired health-insurance professional, said, adding that she was also very impressed by the festival volunteers, who she said were “nice, wonderful, and very helpful.”

Houda Abdoney of Sylvania Township was among a dozen volunteers working in the kitchen.

“We are busy today, cooking and presenting Middle Eastern and Pakistani foods like fatiyre (stuffed meat pie), zalabia (deep-fried sweet food), samosas (crispy stuffed triangles), and, of course, grape leaves,” Ms. Abdoney, who is a children’s services facilitator, said.

“We are here to welcome our Toledo-area community, to introduce our cultures, to share the differences in our beliefs and traditions, and to celebrate them together. It’s so much fun,” she said.

One of 11 mosques in Toledo, the center is the largest mosque in the region and a spiritual home to 300 Muslim families from 23 countries; it has been on Schneider Road since 1984.

Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Parking is $5 per car. The Islamic Center is at 25877 Scheider Road, Perrysburg.

Some 150 volunteers at the festival will have helped the expected 10,000 visitors over the two days, which is 2,000 more than last year, according to organizers.

Said Ahmad Taouil, vice president at Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and the festival chairman: “We grow every year. It is important, because it shows continued support from our community.”

Islamic Center celebrates holy day, welcomes new imam

By Nicki Gorny

August 11, 2019

Men, women, and children poured into the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo on Sunday, drawn by the melodic loudspeaker call of the takbir. They filled the prayer hall, then an overflow room, plus a social hall where more would convene after prayers for brunch and conversation.

President Nadia Ashraf-Moghal estimated a turnout of 2,500 for Eid al-Adha, the second of two holy days on the Islamic calendar. The postponement until next year of a unified service downtown accounted for some of the larger-than-usual crowd, she said. Imam Ahmad Deeb helped, too.

“They wanted to meet him, because they knew he was coming,” she said. “I feel like the community is very excited to see this new breath of fresh air.”

Imam Deeb arrived from overseas earlier this week as the mosque’s new imam and religious director. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he most recently served as director of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent. He takes over for Imam Talal Eid, whom the community sent off on a positive note earlier this summer so he could return to his family and Boston hometown.

Imam Deeb, 26, is the youngest and first U.S.-born imam to lead the Islamic Center. Ms. Ashraf-Moghal said the board sees this as an asset as it continues to look toward the future, including the role it plays in the lives of American Muslims in northwest Ohio.

“We really wanted to get a spiritual leader who talks to them in their language,” she said.

Imam Deeb delivered the Eid Khutbah on Sunday. In his first opportunity to address his new community, he reflected on themes central to his vision and related them to the mass shootings that shook the United States just last weekend.

“Smile. Meet someone you don’t know,” Imam Deeb encouraged toward the end of his remarks. “And recognize that these are the cornerstones of community, and that community is the most important thing in a time like this.”

Eid al-Adha is the second of the two most holy days on Islam’s religious calendar. It follows Eid al-Fitr, which marks the culmination of the holy month of Ramadan and which this year fell in June. Eid al-Adha specifically recalls the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice even his own son in submission to God. It’s typical to donate meat to food pantries or through international aid organizations on Eid al-Adha, reflecting the sacrifice of a ram that ultimately took the son’s place in the Qur’an.

The date of Eid al-Adha aligns with the conclusion of the hajj, the pilgrimage that millions of adherents make each year as one of the five pillars of the faith.

For worshipers at the Islamic Center on Sunday, prayers led into a community celebration that spilled onto the mosque’s lawn. Families ate brunch while children waved balloon animals, watched magic tricks, and enjoyed entertainment provided by the Toledo Zoo, Imagination Station, and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, among others.

Haitham Saleh, 6, and his sister Yasmine, 4, were so excited for Eid al-Adha that they went to bed early Saturday and woke up early Sunday, their parents, Nagy and Mirna Saleh, said after the prayers. 

Esmat Safi and Entesar Alwazaify said over brunch that their children — Rashid, 6; Saeed, 3; and Shahrazad, 1 — were excited for the holiday, too. 

Their family usually celebrates at the Unified Eid at the SeaGate Convention Centre, where a service typically brings together several area mosques for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Mr. Safi said. Organizers cited conflicts with the venue in postponing it until next year, instead encouraging the community to celebrate at any of the several mosques and community centers that held their own services. The Islamic Center typically holds its own prayers and celebration. 

Mr. Safi said they didn’t mind the change in venue this year.

“This is a good place for us to be,” he said.

He said they thought the imam made a good impression in his first sermon, too.

“We like him so far,” Mr. Safi said. “I think he will have a good impact on the youth.”

Islamic Center of Greater Toledo lights up in red, white, and blue for Independence Day

By Allison Chen

July 3, 2019

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo has illuminated itself in red, white, and blue this week to highlight Muslim Americans’ shared patriotism and pride in America this Fourth of July.

The Islamic Center’s board decided to celebrate the holiday with the colored lights that were installed in May during Ramadan, the Muslim month for fasting, said Najwa Badawi, the Islamic Center’s public relations chair.

“The illumination represents that we would uphold the values in our constitution as Muslim Americans,” she said. “Islam, in our faith, reinforces one nation under God.” 

On Eid, a holiday which marks the end of Ramadan and began on the evening of June 3, the center was illuminated in green — the holy color of the Islamic faith. 

The illumination is visible to thousands of cars each night, with its location near I-75. Passing motorists and cars have honked in support of the illumination, Ms. Badawi said.

“People seem to really like it. All responses have been positive so far. We have received calls at the center thanking us,” she said

While the lights’ installation and illumination were “not cheap,” Ms. Badawi said the center’s leaders believe the cost is worth it.

The office will be closed on Thursday, but the center will remain illuminated that night and each day afterward through Sunday. The Islamic Center also plans to continue the Independence Day Illumination in future years.

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