Howard County Muslim Council president Rizwan Siddiqi, left, presents the council’s prior president, Raghid Shourbaji, with an award recognizing his service as fourth president of the council.

Howard County Muslim Council president Rizwan Siddiqi, left, presents the council’s prior president, Raghid Shourbaji, with an award recognizing his service as fourth president of the council. Each of the council’s previous presidents were honored for their service during a Nov. 11 gathering at Clarksville’s Ten Oaks Ballroom to celebrate the council's 10th anniversay. (Photo courtesy of Kausar Javaid / November 14, 2012)

Ten years ago, Anwer Hasan and about a dozen other Muslims met in the basement of Hasan's Clarksville home to launch an organization that at the time was unique to Maryland: the Howard County Muslim Council.

The 9-11 terrorist attacks were fresh in everyone's mind, and Hasan was eager to present what he considered to be the true image of Islam, and to encourage local Muslims to become involved in their community.

On Sunday, Nov. 10, the organization that began so humbly celebrated it 10th anniversary with a banquet and ceremony in Clarksville's Ten Oaks Ballroom attended by about 400 people, including several top county and state elected officials.

"I'm very proud of the process we started," Hasan said. "Our intent, our vision was clear and the results are because of that vision and direction."

The work of the council over the past 10 years was lauded at Sunday's banquet by an array of county officials, including former Howard County Executive and now state Sen. Jim Robey, who was one of the first to meet with Hasan to discuss forming the council.

"You did not quit, you did what you said you were going to do," Robey said.

The first council of its kind in Maryland, the Howard County Muslim Council has since been followed by similar groups in Baltimore, Frederick and Montgomery counties, as well as the Maryland Muslim Council.

The model embraced by Hasan and the council encourages Muslims to become more involved in local government through advocacy and outreach programs, which lead to more opportunities at the state and national level.

Over the last 10 years, the Howard Muslim Council has hosted local food drives, health fairs, candidate forums, blood drives, teacher appreciation dinners and community education events on Islam.

The annual food drive brings in four to five tons of food for the county food bank, council President Rizwan Siddiqi said, and the council has already pledged to raise $50,000 for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Siddiqi, active with the council since its inception and president since July, said the council is not just to benefit the Muslim community, but the entire Howard County community.

"As a community, we (the Muslim council) owe something back," he said. "As part of our community we should be giving back."

Empowering Muslims

Looking back over the past decade, Hasan said the council's biggest achievement has been empowering Muslims.

As of today, a Muslim sits on more than 50 county and state boards or commissions, he said.

To his knowledge there were none serving in that role when the council started, Hasan said.

Shahid Qureshi is one of the council members appointed to a local board in part because of the Muslim council's advocacy.

A member of the five-person Howard County Public Works Board, Qureshi said he was appointed to the board partly because of his having served as the council's public policy chair.

He said the Muslim Council would like to have more representatives like Qureshi serving in similar public positions in the future.

"We want to increase involvement in those matters," Qureshi said.

Hasan said there was little opposition to promoting the group and its agenda 10 years ago, despite the rawness of the terrorist attacks, and much of that was due to the support from Howard County elected officials.

"By the grace of the almighty, there weren't many obstacles," he said. "Everyone was very receptive."

In the next 10 years, his hope is that similar councils can be formed in other states and have a similar impact, Hasan said.

"It will do well not just for the Muslim community, but for the community at large," he said.

The vision of the council has been to promote equality for Muslims living in Howard County and state Sen. Allan Kittleman, a west county Republican, said that is exactly what the council has done.

"The Muslim community has become an important part of the Howard County community," Kittleman said. "You have made a tremendous effect on our county."