The day is sunny and hot, the hamburgers are on the grill, the kids are jumping on the moon bounce and about 400 people are milling around the brand new Dar Al Noor mosque in Manassas, Va.
Neighbors and members of the congregation are here – even Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is coming. James Dade, a non-Muslim who lives nearby, is manning the grill. As he hands a burger to a Muslim friend, he turns and gives this assessment of his new neighbors.
“They’re very friendly, very helpful, very community-oriented,” he says, noting that his best friend attends Dar Al Noor. “If there were more Christians like my friend, we wouldn’t have any problems in this world.”
It is a happy appraisal on this happy Sunday afternoon in July – the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new mosque. Sheikh Rashid Lamptey, the new imam, can barely contain his excitement as he waits for the governor to arrive.
Lamptey is serving a growing mosque in one of America’s fastest-rising religions – with more than 2 million faithful to date. The imam plays a dual role: He’s the face of Islam to his congregation and to Americans who might be wary of Muslims.
“Look!” says Lamptey, who is slim with dark skin, in contrast to his white robes and a perpetual grin on his face. “Everyone is here: the politicians, the security men, the people who protect us. We have their trust, they have our trust. This is what we want to establish – the trust, so we can work together towards a more peaceful community.”
A few moments later, the imam introduces Kaine. The governor greets the crowd in Arabic, eliciting applause from his Muslim onlookers, then speaks about America as the bastion of religious freedom.