Construction has begun on a 20-acre campus near Annapolis that will house an Islamic high school, a television station, athletic facilities and eventually a college, according to project directors.
Mohammad Arafa, executive director of the Islamic Society of Annapolis, said the Mekkah Learning Center will be the first Islamic high school in the region. Work will progress on the $8 million project only as fast as donations permit; religious law forbids the society to take out a loan with interest.
The school will complement two established Islamic schools in the region, Al-Huda School in College Park and Al-Rahmah School in Baltimore, each serving a few hundred students up to the middle-school grades. Arafa said he has the support of 22 Muslim leaders across Maryland.
He envisions the campus as a means "to help our children to be Americans and Muslims without having to compromise their identity" and as a place where Muslims and non-Muslims can gather to bridge their differences. . .
Arafa cannot predict when classes will begin on the site, southwest of where Crain Highway meets Interstate 97. The next wave of fundraising will pay for grading work and a septic system. School organizers hope they can offer classes in fall.
The first building will house a prayer hall, assembly rooms and space for two ninth-grade classes, one for boys and one for girls. Arafa hopes to add one grade each year, eventually serving 250 to 300 students. Plans call for 171,000 square feet of building space.
If all goes as planned, he said, the school will be a place "where you can give me the child at 3 years old and he can finish with a PhD."
Shama Farooq, civil rights director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Maryland and Virginia, said Arafa is probably correct in predicting that the school will draw students from the broader Baltimore-Washington region.
"Obviously, people are sending their children to Islamic middle schools, and they're trying to find Islamic high schools as well," she said. "I know of people who drive their children 30, 40 miles to private schools."