Kentucky's Libyan community prays for homeland
Members of the Lexington Muslim community pray at the Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.
March 31st, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Kentucky's Libyan community prays for homeland

Editor’s Note: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt. Watch “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” airing at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET April 2 on CNN.

By John Sepulvado, CNN

Lexington, Kentucky (CNN) – The parking lot in suburban Lexington begins filling up around 1 p.m. Men park their compact cars and file in through one side of a ranch-house-style building. Women leave their large SUVs and head through another door.

As they remove their shoes, the men talk about the conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East – especially in Libya. Several young boys crawl on the red carpet, while the women, wearing brightly colored headscarves, read quietly to their daughters in the back of the room.

One at a time, the adults take to their knees and pray to themselves. The girls continue reading while the boys quietly whisper and laugh.

Then a tall man wearing a white cap and rimmed glasses stands at the front of the room. As Ihsan Bagby begins to talk, even the restless children fall quiet at the Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

Bagby, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and one of the mosque’s rotating imans, speaks with a call-and-response cadence often heard in Southern Baptist churches.

He begins with a message tailored for the Libyan congregants, many of whom are political refugees opposed to Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

"We're not going to falter because the task is hard, just because it looks difficult. ... No, no! Don't focus on that!" Bagby says. "We think of all the people who are struggling simply for the right to participate, and it's something that we as Muslims should believe in, and we ask Allah to pour out to them ... success in this world."

His voice rises and falls as he preaches the importance of sabr, an Islamic principle that combines patience and steadfastness.

Click on the play button to hear Bagby preach and learn more about the Muslim community's prayers for peace in Libya:"A true Muslim has to have sabr," Bagby says. "It is a sin for us to retreat. We can apply this to all of our challenges in life. And Allah knows that we live in a time when in which we are tested.

“Here in this country, the King hearing, and the loud voices that are speaking up in state assemblies, in politicians’ speeches, in talk radio, in TV ... we hear all types of terrible things. It's going to be a challenge for us, as a Muslim community."

Bagby looks down for a moment, then raises his head and his voice.

"But the key is simple: Allah is with those who have sabr, who don't give up."

While Muslims in Tennessee, New York, Florida and Michigan have faced protests over of their religion, the congregants – part of a small, thriving, tight-knit Libyan community in Lexington – say they feel embraced by the local community and comfortable practicing their religion.

"I love Lexington," says 30-year resident Ibrahim Bakoush. "I would tell anyone to come to Lexington, it's a great place. Come on over. I've been telling people to come here for 25 years ... mainly because I was alone at first," he says, smiling. "But seriously, I have always felt welcome here."

Even Bagby, a University of Kentucky scholar once labeled a "dangerous professor" by conservative author David Horowitiz, recently said in a newspaper interview that Muslims in Kentucky have been spared from popular backlash seen in other states.

"The community has not been under any real threat here and has not experienced any violence," Bagby told the Lexington-Herald Leader. "Overall, I think the experience of Muslims in Kentucky has been very good."

Home for refugees

In the early 1980s, Wafa Nashnoush's family was on the run. Married to a Libyan opposition leader, Nashnoush says her family was being hunted by Moammar Gadhafi. The family moved from Egypt to Europe to the U.S., then back to Europe during a 3-year span.

"Europe at the time was full of pro-Gadhafi mafia and gangs, and he was hunting opposition groups," says Nashnoush. "And the Middle East – one day you are safe, then the next you are threatened."

Wafa Nashnoush has lived in Lexington, Kentucky, for three decades.

By 1986, she had given birth to three sons in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Nashoush says the family's constant migration was exciting, as she met many people and saw different cities.

Rapper's music spreads freedom for Libya message

"But once our kids were approaching school age, we needed to seriously consider a home for our children," she says. "Lexington was the right size, away from any Libyan gatherings where Gadhafi’s men might be hiding."

The Lexington residents, meanwhile, have been extremely supportive, Nashnoush says.

"Even after 9/11, while there was a backlash across the country, in Lexington, people would come and ask us if we were OK, if we felt safe, if we needed a ride home from work," Nashnoush adds. "Lexington is a warm and inviting community."

Word about Lexington has spread. Nashnoush estimates there were a few dozen Muslim families here in the mid-1980s. Today, various estimates put the number of Muslims in Lexington at about 2,700.

Many in the community, including Nashnoush and Bakoush, say the University of Kentucky – along with a diverse and tolerant population accepting of different religious practices – attracts Muslims to the community.

Some Lexington Muslims have been contemplating expanding the local mosque and possibly building an Islamic center similar to those that have drawn protests in other cities. Nashnoush says she believes the community would accept an expansion of the Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

"If we had the resources to build a bigger mosque or build an Islamic center, I doubt the non-Muslim residents would oppose that," Nashnoush says.

You can listen to the CNN Radio Reports podcast on itunes or subscribe to the podcast here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Kentucky • Libya • Mosque • Muslim

soundoff (111 Responses)
  1. mehmet

    The pure justice of the Qur’an does not spill the life and blood of an innocent, even for the whole of humanity. The two are the same both in the view of Divine Power, and in the view of justice. But through self-interest man becomes such that he will destroy everything that forms an obstacle to his ambition, even the world if he can, and he will wipe out mankind.

    April 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Ron

    One big question to ask any and all people of the Islamic faith... Do you believe 100% in your holy book the Koran ? If you do then you have no business living beside or in the presence of Jew's or Christians.
    According to your holy book its your obligation to kill all of the above mentioned people.
    Then you go on to say, Islam is a religion of peace.
    Do you have any explanation ?

    April 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Frederica

      Ron, everyone has an agenda for dominance and there is a time for conquering. You can't conquer everything and everyone all at once. It takes time and one needs to wait working at it. It's just we are such species that all our attempts to create utopia by our own hands create a hell on earth. The Bible predicts all of men's such attempts and dominions will be crashed to pieces at the end by Jesus Himself.

      April 4, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Frederica

      At the end, mankind will realize all the ambitions and greed were nothing but follies. Every human being is accountable before God on how he lived on earth. Everyone needs salvation by believing the Divine Savior Jesus.

      April 4, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  3. Frederica

    American hedonists' stupid blasphemies will make any normal people radical. A nation on a trap of equality and freedom of speeches because people have lost character.

    April 3, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  4. Larry

    Sick world we live in, it is not any one race world it is here for all mankind if it wasn't do you think it would have so many differant race. Are you people saying that anyones god would be so stupid as to put so many differant race on this earth then say hate each other. Stupidity runs ramped thoughout all race I guess. These people come to America to et away from the stuff that people say that happens to them in their old countries the same way we did when we left England over 200 yrs. ago. So many people hate and have no reason or know even why just that they was told to do so. You say we are a great nation and are made up of great people and then look at what you do to others.

    April 2, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  5. Susan of Libertyville, IL

    I am so disappointed in this day in our great nation, any community would try to limit their citizens' right to worship. The values our nation was founded on are hard to live up to. These values require Americans to respect personal freedom – especially freedom of religion. Because these values are difficult, we must try very hard to live up to them, to try to understand our neighbors andin so doing we will all be stronger.

    April 2, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  6. Allocer

    Once again, Reality spreads his idiot comments. Please, troll in fox news, your useless trolling doesn't belong here.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  7. Frederica

    Libyan population – 6.5 million. Number of infidels there – 200,000.

    April 1, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Reality

    Required "thum-ping" for the noon prayer:----------------–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.
    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism .

    April 1, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Larry

      Is there such a thing in ur world, as respect for others. Do even have a clue on what is going on in this world today or is it just ur running off at the mouth problem that u have if it is then I think u can get that cured by stopping and thinking before u speak.

      April 3, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  9. Frederica

    I'm glad Muslims can eat chicken.

    April 1, 2011 at 5:51 am |
  10. Frederica

    @Thurston: Outsiders can tell better, many times.

    April 1, 2011 at 5:50 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.