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By Manlio A. Goetzl

Until last month, Turkey Said and members of Cambridge's growing Islamic community say they had to use basements and various college classrooms around town to meet and pray together.

Now, the approximately 2,000 Muslims in Cambridge and the surrounding community have a building of their own, one which members say will be used as both a social and religious center.

The Islamic Society of Boston opened Jan. 18 on Prospect St. near Central Square in Cambridge. Leaders say they hope the center will allow the area's Islamic community to congregate finally in a central location.

"It is the first time in Cambridge history, that together we will be able to meet and practice Islam as it should be," said Said, the vice president of the Islamic Society of Boston. "The center brings everyone together."

Members of the Islamic faith traditionally pray five times each day. Previously, if Cambridge Muslims wanted to pray in a religious setting, they had to travel to one of Boston's four area mosques, which are located in Dorchester, Quincy, Roxbury or Wayland.

The Islamic Center, which was funded entirely by private contributions, contains two worship halls, a kitchen and other offices.

At the opening of the Islamic Center in January, Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 expressed his hope that Muslims will use the Center to teach the city about their faith.

Reeves also said that he was pleased that the Islamic community had chosen Cambridge as the site for the new mosque.

"The city of Cambridge was not complete," Reeves said. "Now by opening the Islamic Center we are complete."

Members of the Islamic community say they hope the center's establishment will promote education and dispel negative Muslim stereotypes, which they say are ubiquitous in the local media.

"Muslims are portrayed in the media as only being terrorists," said Sameh Ahmed, a graduate student at Northeastern University, who worships at the center. "The American public is slow to understand that being a Muslim does not mean you are a terrorist, but it means you are a good neighbor, a good person."

The President of the Islamic Society of Boston Saoud Ahafi says these negative stereotypes are promulgated in the media because of a lack of understanding of the basic tenets of Islam.

"Our job is to help the Boston Globe, the New York Times understand more about Islam," said Ahafi, who is originally from Libya. "They misunderstand Islam, because they do not know anything about Islam."

Ahafi said that Cambridge was the logical choice to open up an Islamic Center, because of the city's history of tolerance and diversity.

"Cambridge is very unique and very diverse," Ahafi said. "Our goal was to have a center in Cambridge, it was our number one priority."

Ahmed, who is originally from Cairo, Egypt, adds, "This area is one of the most receptive places to Islam in the United States."

Members of the new center say they hope that they will be able to have good relations with their neighbors.

Ahmed, noting that there is a Jewish synagogue down the street, says he hopes that in the future, the two places of worship will be able to establish a cordial relationship.

"We don't have a history of bad relations around here between Muslims and Jews," Ahmed said. "Having inter-faith dialogue is important."

Muslims at the Islamic Center say they are also paying close attention to the peace process in the Middle East, in hope of arranging speeches on the process at the center.

Ahmed says that he and other members in the local Muslim community hope peace will come to the Middle East, but they are not optimistic about the current negotiations.

"Peace will only come when everyone wants it to," he says.

Although the center will make an effort to come to grips with some international issues, Said, who is originally from Israel, says that area Muslims prefer to focus their attention on local problems. "We don't like to bring the conflict from there to here," Said said.

The Cambridge Islamic Community is presently celebrating Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During Ramadan, which began last Wednesday, Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed by abstaining from food, drink and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset.

Ahmed says he hopes that the hundreds of Muslim students at Harvard and other area colleges will come to the center to celebrate Ramadan and other future events.

"We hope that it will be a central place for Muslims at each school to come and pray," he says.

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