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Oxford’s Muslim Population Experiences Growth, Change

Story by Ahmed Shatil Alam
Journalism Graduate Student

When Professor Mohammad Khalid Ashfaq came to Oxford more than 30 years ago, there were only about 30 Muslims living in the city.

A young Muslim man is tying his father’s shoelaces at Oxford Mosque after prayer service. Photo by Ahmed Shatil Alam.

A majority of those Muslim residents were students at the University of Mississippi ­where Ashfaq came to work as an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy in 1985.

“As Muslims, back then, we would observe our religious rituals on a smaller scale here since the community used to be small in size with no dedicated places of worship,” Ashfaq said.

At that time, there was no mosque in Oxford, so he and others would pray in a room on campus at the Croft Institute. Fast-forward to 1997 when the local Muslim community built a mosque on McElroy Drive, beside the U.S. Postal Service Office.

Khaled Elhawy, the mosque’s Muslim cleric, said there are now about 70 Muslim families in Oxford and a few hundred students at the university who are followers of Islam.

Khaled said that the increase in Muslim residents is due to the fact that they feel safe here and like the community.

“We all love the city that embraces its several hundred Muslim populations in an amicable manner,” said Khaled, who is originally from Egypt and who has been living in Oxford since 2013.

Some of that feeling of welcome is likely to the credit of local Muslims themselves. Both Ashfaq and Khaled said that they often have discussions with other faith groups in the area —Christians, Jews and non-believers—to help them understand the basic ideologies of Islam.

Every year, members of the mosque and other local religious groups organize two interfaith meetings where they share food, fellowship and discuss faith.

“These interfaith meetings have been helping local religious groups to understand each other in a better way, respect all faiths and keep them in unity,” Khaled said.

This 360 image is depicting the Friday service at Oxford mosque. Photo by Ahmed Shatil Alam.

The Changing Face of Oxford’s Muslim Community

In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that the U.S. is home to an estimated 3.45 million Muslims — about 1.1% of the country’s total population. In Mississippi, Pew estimates that Muslims account for less than one percent of the population—about 5,000 in all, according to the US Religion Census 2010.

Though the Muslim community in Oxford is still small, it’s evolving, Ashfaq said. He left Oxford for a short time but returned in 2005 to take on a role as a research scientist on campus.

According to him, in the past local Muslims had been largely either teachers, researchers or students but now some are also involved in local businesses.

“You can see a few gas stations in the city that are now owned or operated by the Muslims,” Ashfaq said.

Along with the overall growth in numbers, Oxford has also seen an increase in countries represented within the Muslim community. The city is currently home to Muslims from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Libya, Jordan and others.

Ole Miss Ph.D. student Jahid Hasan is from Bangladesh. He appreciates the mosque serving as a center of the Muslim community.

“The city of Oxford gives me the opportunities to meet with Muslims from around the world with their diverse cultural identities,” he said.

On the first Saturday of every month, the mosque holds a family get-together where Muslims from around the city and across the globe come to share homemade food and feed their sense of belonging.

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