Islamic community leaders expect the area Muslim population to continue growing, likely increasing by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, said Dr. Tariq Akbar, a member of the UEF board and its past president. About 6,000 to 7,000 Muslims from around 18 nations now live in Allen County and northeast Indiana.
As in the past, some growth will come from refugees, said Akbar, a gastroenterologist with Lutheran Medical Group. It also will come from students arriving to attend college in the area, as well as from professionals moving here for medical, university and other jobs.
“We chose to settle here because of what Fort Wayne has to offer — the school systems, safety and parks,” said Ahmed Abdelmageed, a UEF board member and an associate professor of pharmacy and director of experiential education at Manchester University’s College of Pharmacy in Fort Wayne.
Islam also has experienced a growth in converts, especially among African-Americans, said Sabah Al-Saud, director of the Fort Wayne Islamic Center.
When Muslims arrive here or consider moving to Fort Wayne, one of the first questions they ask is whether the city has a full-time Islamic school, Salam said.
“In fact, we lose people who are professionals who come and want a full-time Islamic school,” Saud said.
Currently, there is no full-day Islamic school. The UEF, 2223 Goshen Road, offers a Sunday School program for ages 6 through Grade 12, and about 200 youngsters attend weekly, Salam said. They also have 10 to 15 children on a waiting list.
Salam, Akbar and Abdelmageed believe Fort Wayne could have a full-day Islamic school within five years. The school would function just as other local religious schools, where students take all of the normal academic classes but also study the Muslim faith. The school would be open to Muslims and non-Muslims, they said.
The UEF also hopes to expand at its current location to create a larger Islamic center that can accommodate more people for prayer gatherings and other events, including interfaith events, Salam said.
As many as 300 people attend Friday communal prayer now at UEF, which fills the current space and parking lot, he said.
In the future, local leaders believe Muslims will continue to worship at the several mosques and Islamic centers around Fort Wayne rather than at one central location. Members of some immigrant and refugee groups prefer to pray in their own language or don’t know English, local leaders said.
During the next five years, UEF leaders also hope to expand efforts to educate Fort Wayne residents about the Muslim community, Salam said. At the same time, they also want to educate Muslims about the importance of being involved in Fort Wayne life.
Muslims should use their knowledge and skills to help their neighbors, both Muslim and non-Muslim, Salam said. For example, he would like to see the Muslim community aid people in need by starting a soup kitchen and medical clinic program.
Local Muslims also are involved in social-service work in Fort Wayne and overseas, such as collecting clothing and medical supplies for Syrian refugees, Saud said.
Within five years, local Muslim leaders believe community involvement also could include running for political office.
“I would like, in five years, that people see Muslims as a peaceful, law-abiding part of the community,” Salam said.
Saud likens the situation to that of other groups who immigrated to the United States, such as the Irish, Italians and Jews. As with those groups, he hopes Muslims also will be sewn into the multicultural tapestry of American society.