The volcanic opposition that erupted following the Al-Salam Foundation’s initiative to buy a piece of land for a mosque was an utter surprise. Such protests are seen against nuclear dump sites in one’s backyard but not against places of worship. This woke up the sleeping fervor of supporters, and thousands of letters to the Board of Zoning Appeals started pouring in. Numerous interfaith groups stood in solidarity with the local Muslim community.
After five years of struggle, many failures and intense effort, Carmel’s Muslim community finally found a home at Shelborne Road and 141st Street that is just right for their place of worship. Earlier, a number of landowners jacked up the price once they found out that the land was being bought for the mosque. Despite being one of the highly-educated, affluent and blessed ethnic groups of Carmel, Muslims have been praying in an approximately 400-sqaure-foot room for five years. Many of them own houses 10 times bigger than their mosque. Many times, they were rained out in the middle of their Iftar dinner in the open during Ramadan.
In an effort to reach a win-win solution, Al Salam has bent backward to accommodate the concerns of the neighbors, and many of them have already been addressed. The size of the project is significantly reduced. In comparison to other churches, Mormon temples and nonprofit facilities dotting Shelborne Road, the Islamic Life Center is neither out of place nor a huge project. The January issue of Carmel Monthly depicted the before and after pictures of wonderful transformation of Carmel over the last 20 years. If any of the objections raised against Islamic Life Center were equally applied to various projects, we would not have accomplished any of this progress that has made Carmel a world-class city known for its arts, entertainment, diverse culture and roundabouts.
In fact, a worship center is not a commercial building. It’s a part of our civic fabric and should have a natural place in close proximity of residents. As a real-estate professional, I know that developments such as the ILC enrich the lives of residents. They put the city on the map as one of the best places to raise families. The first question I often get from various incoming Muslims: Is there a mosque nearby? Traffic flow is not a valid concern. Today’s solution is roundabouts; tomorrow we may be riding self-driven cars. Granting of the variance should simply be a formality as the project complies with all the regulations and enjoys the recommendation of the city staff.
Sad were city councilor Ron Carter’s comments on the WFYI radio program, “No Limits,” on Feb. 1. He said that the land would not fit Al Salam’s vision. The 14-acre parcel is too small, and the community did not do a good job in finding an appropriate place of worship. It is not his place to say that the community is ignorant of its own interest and insult the collective intelligence of the community. He called the mosque a commercial building and advised the BZA to mask the religious nature of the appeal, which is the very heart of the matter. The views sponsored by Carter are termites that can hollow the meaning of civil and religious liberties.
The Islamic Life Center will add value, charm and diversity to the community. It will foster tolerance, peaceful coexistence and civic participation. It will attract scholars, leaders and philanthropists from all around. It will inspire and educate the coming generations. In fact, such institutions are helpful in combating extremism.
It will showcase our community as a bouquet of flowers where different colors exist side by side. Carmel is not a cactus which thrives in desert and pricks those who get close to it. Turning Al Salam down will eclipse the positive image of Carmel and engulf it in a national controversy while the region is trying to attract major businesses like Amazon. The denial will be a devastating blow to the sense of belonging of Carmel Muslims.
Maya Angelou, the great author, poet and civil rights activist, educator and philanthropist, once said, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The Islamic Life Center is a matter of our identity. It’s a blueprint of our lifelong dream, future of our children and our gift to the Carmel and surrounding communities.
Al Salam is to be celebrated and not just tolerated. Any relegation will harm the social integration of the growing community of Carmel. Please support our dreams and right to worship.
Ali Akhtar Khan, Carmel