Leaders of the Dar-us-Salaam community in College Park have been looking for years for a new home, a place for a school and a mosque close enough to be convenient for members living in several counties. They’ve scouted hundreds of spots and looked closely at a handful, and now they think they’ve found what they’ve been looking for in the rural western section of Howard County.
The 66-acre former home of the Woodmont Academy, a Catholic school in Cooksville, looks just right to the Muslim community leadership, with buildings already in place and plenty of undeveloped land for parking and a new mosque to accommodate thousands of worshippers in the decades to come. To many of the people who live nearby, however, it seems all wrong, a poor fit for a rural community weary of battling what they consider encroachments on the quiet way of life they’ve chosen.
Some remember the “Stop Woodmont Academy” signs sprouting on lawns 12 years ago, when the school staked out a spot in a residential area a few miles from where the project was eventually built on Frederick Road. Now there’s a “Preserve the Woodmont Academy Land” Facebook page; a recent routine homeowners association meeting turned into a session on Dar-us-Salaam that drew a couple of hundred people; and residents talk of fighting a project that to them seems too large for an area of horse farms and homes.
“That’s not what rural, country land on wells and septic was created for,” says David Yungmann, who lives in the Carriage Mill Farms community in Woodbine, about a mile west of the Woodmont site. “We’re constantly defending the rural environment, the rural zoning, which is in law.”
Minhaj Hasan of Catonsville, a board member and project manager for Al-Huda Inc., which runs Dar-us-Salaam, is aware of the nascent opposition and says the organization’s plans may be misunderstood. He says the project is more modest than the rather grandiose descriptions that appeared a few months ago in an Al-Huda newspaper.
“They are rural-type people, they want a quiet place — we understand that,” says Hasan, who graduated from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia. “We want to keep it green, we don’t want to pave over it.”
As residents are taking steps to organize possible opposition, the project is in its early stages.
The corporation has not filed any plans with the county, but Hasan and other representatives have talked with Planning Director Marsha S. McLaughlin and members of her staff. They have an engineer studying whether the project would work, and they have a contract to buy the property for $8 million, contingent on getting zoning approvals by the spring.
The Dar-us-Salaam community is now trying to raise money to buy the land, pursuing a local, national and international effort, according to the organization’s website. Hasan declined to say how close the community is to the goal.
The project was announced in Al-Huda’s newspaper, The Muslim Link, in August. The headline said the new center could be the “Largest Islamic Project in America,” and the article described plans for “three seven-story buildings” and a five-sided mosque around a circular courtyard. Another Muslim Link article now posted on the “Preserve the Woodmont Academy Land” Facebook page mentions an underground parking garage, and says the project “could change the Western Howard County landscape for years to come.” A Muslim Link article last month reported that Dar-us-Salaam was hoping to win approval for a mosque that could accommodate 2,500 to 5,000 people.
One of those newspaper articles here:
Imam Safi Khan said the decision to move to a much larger property in a rural area was dictatedin large part by Dar-us-Salaam’s long term vision to “build a community that can showcase Islamin action.” Dar-us-Salaam’s current projects include religious, social, media, youth, health, and business services and entities.
“We have to look at our community’s growth in terms of the next 50 years to 100 years, not just 10 or 20 years down the road. This is an investment in the future of the community, for the Muslims who are here long after we are gone,” Imam Safi Khan told about 200 community members who came to a Sunday, August 5 walk-through and town-hall meeting about theproperty.
A conceptual drawing of the future campus is available on the project’s website http://www.homeoftheheart.org and features three seven-story buildings and a large five-sided masjidaround a circular courtyard. The concept plan also shows a stream and garden going around theproperty, walking and bike paths, a 10 acre farm, a lake, underground parking, and many trees.
From their website:
Dar-us-Salaam’s new home is in northern Howard County (14196 Frederick Road, Cooksville, MD 21723), far enough from the congestion of Washington DC and Baltimore city to maintain a safe, peaceful rural character, yet close enough to be able to reach major cities like Columbia in about 20 minutes.
The small town where the Dar-us-Salaam campus is located – Cooksville – is just off I-70, about 15 minutes from Ellicott City, Maryland. In 2010, CNN ranked Ellicott City as the #2 best place to live in the nation .
Howard County is regarded as one of the best places to raise a family in the United States, ranked #17 in the nation by Forbes magazine in 2008. Howard County is also ranked high in the following areas:
- 3rd highest median household income level ($101,672) 
- 8th and 9th most educated population in the nation based on the percentage of residents who hold bachelors and advanced degrees, respectively 
- 2nd most technologically advanced county in the United States 
- 3rd most digital county government 
- Best public library system in the nation 
How will this small congregation afford an $8 million dollar tract of land, and how did they negotiate a $2 million dollars discount? At least one video on Youtube is soliciting funds from Indonesia.
The future of America is not free: