ROCK HILL — Rock Hill - a city with a rich history of downtown churches that were crucial to its growth and development - will soon open its newest downtown church without a single cross in sight.
The religious building is a Muslim mosque.
There is no mistaking the cream-brick building on West Main Street. There is a Middle Eastern arch over the front door. The minaret - a tower from which the faithful are called to prayer five times a day - rises from the southwestern roof facing busy Main Street.
York County's first built-from-the-ground-up mosque is set to open in late spring if construction that has gone on for two years, including a time where work stopped to raise money, finishes up as local Muslim leaders expect.
The mosque will replace a small Islamic Center of South Carolina, in a strip mall on Cherry Road.
As soon as prayers are ready to be said, an open house for the community is planned, said James "Jumah" Moore, director of the Islamic Center. Area religious, political and social leaders will be invited to tour the building. The public will be invited, too.
"This has always been a dream of ours - to have a place where Muslims can come together - and share it with the people of this community," said Moore, a Rock Hill native. "We believe we have much to contribute to the city."
Unlike mosques in other parts of the country that faced public opposition after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, any public outcry against plans to build the Rock Hill mosque has been muted or nonexistent.
The Rock Hill Muslim group, which has publicly denounced terrorism and terrorist acts through interviews and opening its meetings and religious services to the public and the media for several years, has openly sought public acceptance and review.
The mosque has been planned since 2007, and construction began two years ago - all of it as publicly as possible.
True Muslims, these men have said repeatedly, denounce all violence.
"This mosque is being built with the plan that it be a part of Rock Hill," said Jasiri Makadara, spokesman for the Islamic Center.
"That has always been the goal - to be a vibrant part of the religious and cultural life here."
A new religious building devoted to spiritual life and peace should be "a treasure" for Rock Hill, said the Rev. Larry Richards of Providence Presbytery, which includes Presbyterian churches in York, Chester, Lancaster, Union and Kershaw counties.
Richards was among a group of area religious leaders who helped coordinate an ecumenical lunch with York County Muslims late last year.
"This building will provide a glimpse of our similarities in faith," he said.
Muslim tradition forbids paying interest on loans, so the almost $400,000 building and property has been paid for by contributions that come from area Muslims. Because of that and a tradition that requires much of the work to be done by Muslims, construction has gone slowly.
The faithful members of the Muslim group include many who have been in Rock Hill for decades.
Small business owners from dry cleaners to gas stations are part of the group, as are college professors who have taught generations of students at Winthrop University and York Technical College and dozens of students from Asia and the Middle East.
"This building will be a wonderful place for not just us, Muslims, but all people," said Nazir Cheema, a retired engineer from Rock Hill. "Rock Hill is our home - it has been for years.
"We are proud to live here and will be proud to make our religious home in this building."
Exterior construction is almost complete, with interior rough construction awaiting city inspection. When city inspectors give the group the green light that all construction meets code - which could come as early as today - the interior will be finished in accordance with Islamic tradition.
The first floor is dominated by a large high-ceilinged prayer room for men, facing east toward Mecca, with a separate prayer room for women. The second floor will have offices.
A feature added to the design, both upstairs and down, are rooms set aside for observation of services.
"The whole idea from our inception was to make this mosque a place where all people could come and be a part of our faith," said Moore, the center director. "We want visitors when we are finished.
"We encourage people to come to this building and see that we are here for the same reasons all people go to religious services - to worship."