Aly Farag envisions the new Muslim Community Center of Louisville that's being built on Old Westport Road near Lyndon as a place where political candidates could discuss their views at public forums.
Ideally, that would happen before the presidential election season ends next year, and center supporters hope the complex will be finished by next summer. But about $750,000 still needs to be raised to complete the $5 million project.
In the meantime, organizers have reached a milestone after years of planning with the opening in August of the Islamic School of Louisville in much larger quarters in the center complex, which also has a mosque, at 8215 Old Westport Road.
The grade school moved from a house on the property, which center supporters bought 10 years ago for $480,000.
The school is starting with an enrollment of about 50 to 70 and has a capacity of about 150, Farag said. "The kids are happy, the parents are happy," principal Naima Abuazza said.
The school wing also provides a roomier space in its dining area for Friday prayers, which had been held in the basement of the home, and which will move to the mosque when it is finished.
Although there are several other mosques in Louisville, the Lyndon-area community center will serve as the most comprehensive "mirror and face of Islamic culture in Louisville," said "Farag, a community center leader and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Louisville. "We would like people to know who we are."
Muslims see themselves as being part of American society, and they want their children to feel free to bring friends to their homes and to the center. Others also are free to visit the center without wearing head scarves or following other Muslim customs and traditions, he said. The aim is to be welcoming, he said.
Farag also stressed that the school is open to anyone, just like other private schools in the city — such as Kentucky Country Day and Louisville Collegiate — and that it is going through a process to become accredited. Islamic studies are part of social studies, and otherwise the subjects are the same — science, English and math.
On a recent Friday, students were studying with their teachers in classrooms as men began arriving for prayers, led by Farag. Some of the older female students, teachers and staff gathered in the back of the room.
Farag exhorted everyone to practice "right conduct," to be kind to one another and "take a stand against evil."
School-related signs on the wall read: Smile, Do Your Best, Respect Each Other, Love to Learn, Make Friends and Be Patient.
In Katie Kavanaugh's third-grade math class, one small group was working on geometry and the other on telling time. The old school complex had three separate buildings, and students had to go outside to go from one to the other. "Now, we're all in one building," she said. "We're all together."
"We don't have to deal with behavior issues," she said. "You don't have kids misbehaving because education is so important" to the school's families. "The worst problem is someone not turning in homework."
Second-grade teacher Judy Graf showed off posters students had made depicting different cultural traditions in different countries, including Mexico and Canada, for an International Day to be held last Saturday.
Most of the exterior work on the overall center is finished, but some interior work remains to be done. Large religious gatherings are being held at other sites, including the Ramada Louisville on Bluegrass Parkway in Jeffersontown.
"We control the pace of construction, based on the funds available," said, Dr. Ammar Almasalkhi, a pulmonary and sleep specialist who is the center president.
With the school relocated, "It's a big lift to the people that donations are showing fruits," he said. "God willing," it could be the start of a final "upward movement" in giving to finish the project.
Dr. Siraj Siddiqi, a center founder who's from India, said he's been impressed with the American spirit of volunteerism and that he hopes others would likewise "pick up some good things from here."
The center will be "open for anyone who wants to come," he said.
Center supporters had a booth at the recent Festival of Faiths based at the Henry Clay building downtown, and there was an announcement after prayers about completing a food drive for Dare to Care.
Down the road, Siddiqi would like to see a viewing gallery at the center for people who would like to watch Friday prayers and a free medical clinic and community garden at the site.
"One day, it will happen," he said.