Connect with us

News and Views

USA Today: Muslims in USA face fears, bias to build, expand mosques

Published

By Bob Smietana The Nashville Tennessean
When Muslims want to pray in Rutherford County, many go to an office building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard that houses the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

There’s usually enough room for evening prayers until Fridays when about 100 people gather during the week’s main service. On warm days, it can get uncomfortable.

“During prayers, it gets so hot that the air conditioning doesn’t work,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the mosque’s board of directors. “This building was not designed for this kind of use.”

Like many American mosques, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro faces a dilemma. As the number of Muslims in the United States grows, mosques know they must expand as well. But those plans to expand often run into hostile resistance.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Opponents, like some in Murfreesboro, try to use zoning laws to block mosque building or expansion. That has left some local Muslims wondering if they are second-class citizens when it comes to religion.

“These people who go out and oppose mosques, they are opposing American values,” said Yasser Salet Arafat, who is helping organize a proposed mosque in Antioch. “You are betraying America by standing against our basic values, by saying you cannot have a mosque, you cannot be a Muslim in the United States.”

Of the estimated 330,000 houses of worship in the United States, only 2,500 are mosques. Fewer than 200 were built new, said Omar Khalidi, librarian for the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT.

“The vast majority of American mosques were buildings built for other purposes,” he said.

Those kinds of converted buildings worked for first-generation Muslim Americans. But they don’t work as well for their children, Khalidi said.

While immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s were content with a place to pray, their children want more from the mosques. They want their mosques to have the same kind of amenities that many churches offer.

That has led many Muslim groups to design new mosques modeled after megachurches.

“They have gone over to the Baptist church model,” he said. “…If you have a gym, if you have a basketball court and maybe even a swimming pool or other facilities, this will be more attractive to young people.”

Arafat agrees. He and other organizers of the Islamic Center of Tennessee hope to convert a movie theater at 5400 Bell Forge Lane in Antioch into a mosque with a prayer hall, a library, classrooms and other meeting space. There are also plans for a gym. It would be the fifth major mosque in Middle Tennessee, serving an estimated 25,000 local Muslims.

“Look at the churches,” Arafat said. “They’ve got multipurpose spaces where you can go and play and have activities and have classes and prayer and worship — everything. The only thing you do in our mosques is pray.”

Building new mosques has become increasingly difficult since 2001. Over the past three years, at least 18 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have run into fierce opposition. Mosque foes cite traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.

More than 400 people flocked to a recent public meeting on Staten Island to protest the sale of an empty convent to a Muslim group there. A proposed mosque near ground zero in New York has drawn thousands of protesters. According to a poll from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, more than half of voters in New York City oppose the project.

Hundreds of opponents packed a Rutherford County Commission meeting in mid-June to protest the Murfreesboro mosque. Similar resistance helped derail a proposed mosque in Brentwood earlier this year when mosque organizers withdrew their request.

When supporters of the Murfreesboro mosque held a vigil June 24 at the Rutherford County Courthouse, mosque opponents showed up. Don Westcott held up a sign reading “Tolerance is not surrender of principles and truth.” The Smyrna resident said he has Pakistani friends who’ve been persecuted for their Christian faith. That makes him suspicious of American Muslims.

“If we can stop it here, that’s another brick in the wall against Islamic spread,” Westcott said.

But the Rev. Russell Richardson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, disagrees. Richardson’s congregation has a new building next door to the proposed mosque site on Bradyville Highway.

“If we infringe their freedom — we infringe our freedom,” he said.

Grace Baptist held a seminar recently on how to witness to Muslims, led by Rev. Raouf Ghattas, a former missionary to Syria.

Ghattas told Baptists at the meeting to always treat Muslims with respect. “If you cannot respond to them out of love, it is best to keep your mouth shut,” he said.

Richardson echoed that message.

“If we can bring them to a decision for Christ, that is wonderful,” he said. “And if we can’t, we will still love them.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, said that mosque opponents are misguided. He said that the constitution protects all faiths, even unpopular ones.

“The minute you allow the government to decide which religions are kosher and which are not, you are in big trouble,” he said. “That’s way above their pay grade.”

The trend in mosque construction matches what’s happening in other faiths, said Steve Newton, an architectural consultant for LifeWay Christian Resources. Newton, who has worked on church building projects for about 20 years, has seen a trend toward building cafes and larger lobbies to give people more places to gather.

“We are seeing a much greater emphasis on space where people can connect in intentional but unstructured ways,” he said.

In the past, Newton said, congregation members lived near one another and built relationships in the community, away from church. Now people drive past local churches to find one that fits their needs and their sense of mission.

A new building also can draw people who drifted away from the faith, says Kevin Jaques, director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies program at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Jaques said only one out of every five American Muslims attends the mosque on a regular basis. Many Muslims come only for the major holidays, in the same way that some Christians show up at Christmas and Easter.

Over the past 10 years, he said, mosques have tried to reach out to so-called cultural Muslims.

“Around the year 2000, the crisis of the American Muslim community was that the second- and third-generation Muslims were leaving because the mosques were oriented around the way their parents had done things back home,” he said. “They weren’t accounting for American culture and customs. There’s been an attempt to create ways to pull those kids back.”

Source: USA Today

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mohammed

    July 7, 2010 at 11:27 PM

    Visit their website, Islamic Center of Tennessee, http://www.theictn.org and make your donation today.

    For around $20.00 YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

  2. Abu Mansur Ilyas ibn Yahya

    July 11, 2010 at 12:37 AM

    I like the idea of building new masajid in America, but I don’t like the idea of going to the Baptist Church model. Let’s keep the masjid sanctified as a place of worship first, and a community gathering place second. I don’t like the idea of young people thinking of the masjid as a place to play first, and pray second.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

..
..
..

Ramadan Video Series

MuslimMatters NewsLetter in Your Inbox

Sign up below to get started

Trending