"Really I don't think it's hard [to practice Islam in Bartow County] because our mosque in Cartersville has been involved with activities in the community, such as some of our members go and serve food at the children's homeless shelter. Children at any given time would be there because of the situation at home, with the parent, whatever the reason, they don't have a place," said Amjad Tausique, representative for the Islamic Center of Cartersville GA. "Last year, we participated with all the other mosques around the metro Atlanta area providing 200-plus turkeys to Hosea's Feed the Hungry program.
"When you get to the bottom of this whole thing, and you're working with trying to serve along with the other people, it's easy. And sometimes you may find people who out of their ignorance may not know what Islam and Muslim is all about, but once they get to know you, they start to understand and start to develop respect of you as well, knowing that not all of what you hear is the case or what you see in the media doesn't necessarily mean that every Muslim is like that," Tausique added. "Our participation in the community has increased and that has helped us come out of our cocoon and serve the community and be part of the community as well."
For Marian Barber, volunteer coordinator of Flowering Branch Children's Shelter, a 13-bed facility currently housing nine teens in Cartersville, the local Islamic center's help, consisting of healthy meals for the children twice a month, is greatly appreciated.
"They have been very generous and very, very dependable, reliable and certainly willing to work with us," Barber said. "Whatever the faith is -- we've got all different faiths that help us here. ... I certainly think when people are involved here -- whether it is someone that moved here from England or we had a guy recently that was raised in an orphanage in Hungary and he came and taught the kids how to make authentic Hungarian goulash -- it's very good to educate our kids."
Barber added that Islamic Center of Cartersville GA representatives either provide prepared meals, treat the teens to restaurant dining or provide nutritious food, such as chicken, rice and vegetables, for the youngsters to prepare themselves.
"Our kids are teenagers here, so we are trying to teach them independent living skills, so having someone that will bring in all the items to prepare a meal and let our kids be the ones to prepare it -- they bring a healthy meal to the shelter, to our kids, it frees up time for our staff to do our things instead of having to cook," Barber said. "If they bring the items for our kids to cook, it's wonderful for our kids to learn independent living skills of how to prepare a meal on their own."
Following the month of Ramadan, which wraps up today at sunset, Islamic Center of Cartersville GA participants are gearing up for a Friday celebration Tausique said is similar to Christmas, including gifts for children, prayers, fellowship and a lot of food.
"Ramadan is a special month where people fast all day long without eating or drinking and don't have any relationship with their spouses during the daylight hours and it is supposed to be a month when a person feels more close to God, and they would be doing a lot more charity, a lot more praying and the end of the month is basically to celebrate that God gave you an opportunity to be able to enjoy the month of Ramadan ... and be thankful that God gave us an opportunity to be able to participate in Ramadan," said the Pakistan native who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years and in Georgia since 1989. "Islam is a religion that means submission to the Lord God, and I would add that it is the willful submission to the will of God -- if one willingly submits and follows the commands of God as described in the Quran and as shown in the teachings of the prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. Islam believes in all the other religions that came with the same message of submission to God.
"The holy book Quran that the Muslims read from talks about the other prophets, such as Jesus and Abraham and Noah and Moses and Isaac and Jacob and Paul, peace be upon them all, and the Quran is a book that talks about these great prophets in detail. The chapter in the Quran called Mary ... is about the mother of Jesus, peace be upon her, and how [pious] of a woman she was and she was submitting herself all the time to God. Islam to me really means submit to one God and be obedient."
The center, now active for about three years, serves American-born Muslims as well as natives of Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq and other countries, and hosts five prayers each day. Most of its participants, including people who have converted to Islam, now live in Bartow and Cobb counties.
Their next religious observance is November's Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which Tausique said is in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son and submit to God's command. Abraham, who had already given sufficient proof of his love and devotion to God, instead was given a ram to sacrifice.
"The Muslims celebrate that occasion by sacrificing an animal and distributing the meat to the poor and the needy and keeping some for themselves," Tausique said.
Islamic Center of Cartersville GA, also known as Masjid Quba, is located in the shopping center behind Lowe's at 71 Maple Drive in Cartersville. It also holds Quran reading and writing classes for children and Quran studies for men, women and children.
"We welcome folks. If anybody in the neighborhood wants to come visit us and talk, if they have any questions, we'd be more than happy to respond and answer," Tausique said. "Come get to know your neighbors."
-- Some information from the Associated Press was used in this report.