Sept. 17, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
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Muslim Staffers Have Faith in a Tolerant Hill

“In Islam, women’s beauty is considered sacred, so we have to cover everything except our face, hands and feet,” she says.

For her, it has served as a sort of coat of armor, too, protecting her from temptation. If she’s at a party, for instance, people don’t encourage her to drink alcohol because they see she’s Muslim and know it’s not allowed in the religion, she says.

Abushanab wears a loose-fitting black pantsuit to cover her athletic frame. Her olive skin and dark, straight hair peek out from behind her plain white hijab. She has an ornate Salvatore Ferragamo designer scarf for special occasions. She talks about senioritis and Green Day and has political aspirations.

“I pray that God leads me in the right direction,” she says. “He kind of did that with the Hill. I met the right people.”

As she walks, the veil slides down slightly onto her forehead. She pushes it back with a flick of the hand. And to her, she says, incorporating religion into her everyday life is as casual as that hand motion — others may notice and view it as an inconvenience, but for her, it’s natural.

“It’s part of you. You don’t feel that it’s foreign,” she says. “It’s something I can do without affecting any of my work.”

She and Williams, who work in the same office, often pray together there behind the desks. Muslims must pray five times a day — once in the morning, twice in the afternoon and twice in the evening. Along with her wallet, day planner and Metro card, Abushanab packs a prayer mat adorned with meandering pink thread and an embroidered mosque.

“Everybody takes off 10 minutes during the day to talk to their friends or get a snack. I pray,” she says. “It kind of re-energizes you, in a way, gets you back in focus.”

Her one regret is that between work and school, she doesn’t have enough time to participate in the Muslim community.

Abushanab didn’t make it to the recent Jummah, but the three women Williams met at Cosi showed up, joining the 70 or so congregants, including Suhail Khan, a fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement and once a senior political appointee in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Williams calls Khan an “O.G.” (“original gangsta,” in hip-hop vernacular). But if he’s a gangster, he’s more Al Capone than Ice-T, with a sharp, dark gray suit and tie and slicked-back black hair.

Khan, who started his career working for ex-Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) in the ’90s, says he can remember feeling like the only Muslim on the Hill — until he met Asim Ghafoor, then a legislative aide to Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas).

“We started praying together in each others’ offices,” Khan says. “Then we started praying once a month in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee room.”

As the service grew, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) gave them permission to use the basement room on Fridays. What started as a humble prayer service is now a vibrant Jummah that sometimes draws more than 100 devotees.

“I’m just proud,” he says, surveying the room. “There’s really a sense of community now. This is a perfect embodiment of our American ideals.”

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