Mahmud Ahmed feels fortunate to live in a nation founded on religious freedom.
As a devout Muslim, he also is gratified with how accepting the greater New Tampa community has been in accepting members of the Islamic faith and of the Dar-us-Salaam mosque. The mosque, at 15830 Morris Bridge Road, opened in August.
The 7,500-square-foot, $1.6 million house of worship is set on a 7-acre site and was paid for in full by donations from members of the Islamic Society of New Tampa (ISONET) as well as other local followers of the faith. It is the only mosque in the area.
"Contrary to how some people may think, our country and our community is amazing with how accommodating people are," said Ahmed, a New Tampa resident and ISONET member, who noted that of the one billion Muslims throughout the world, a thousand of them live within his community.
"Unfortunately, however, there is a misconception by some that Muslims are terrorists," he said. "But there are bad apples everywhere."
The leaders of Dar-us-Salaam, which in Arabic means House of Peace, are intent on fostering a better understanding of the Islamic religion and creating a positive image of its followers.
"Islam means peace and submission and if you want to build a peaceful, cohesive society you need to understand the religion," said Ahmed, who emigrated from Pakistan 36 years ago.
The mosque, built to accommodate 800 people, is open for prayer five times a day whereby an Imam or other spiritual leader recites passages from the Koran. Men and women enter through separate doorways and are required to wash their hands, feet and face prior to kneeling in worship.
There are no religious images on the walls inside the building's outer gold dome and when praying, worshippers face toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a place Muslims consider sacred.
"The purpose of washing is to leave your worldly self behind so as to be pure of mind and pure of heart," Ahmed said.
Muslims, he added, believe in God, but "in one God only."
Those interested in visiting the mosque are welcome to call Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa, at (813) 514-1414.