Rock Hill’s ‘mosque of peace’ nears completion

Herald columnistFebruary 22, 2013 

After years of planning, construction and the hard work of fundraising without being able to borrow even a dollar, Rock Hill’s first mosque is just months from opening its doors.

The name of the mosque – Masjid Al-Salam – was voted on by the membership and announced this week.

Translation: “Mosque of Peace.”

But this building on Main Street just west of downtown is not just opening to Muslims. The Islamic Center of South Carolina, which is building the mosque, wants it to become “a part of the spiritual life of Rock Hill.”

“This building will be something for all people to be proud of,” said longtime Rock Hill resident Nazir Cheema, a retired engineer and member of the Islamic Center’s building committee. “This is a house of worship. A house of God. We always will welcome all.”

The group has used a storefront on Cherry Road for years as a worship site. The hardest years, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington – when Muslims were generally viewed with suspicion or worse because of the acts of extremists – are behind them. Overt hostility seems to be waning, or done.

Scores of Muslim students, most from other countries, attend Winthrop University. They are practicing members of the Islamic Center, and the college’s allure to foreign students is hoped to be one way to keep the Mosque thriving and filled with young people who need a place to pray, gather and find community.

Unlike some other places around the country – Murfreesboro, Tenn. and a spot near Ground Zero in New York City, the most vivid examples – the Rock Hill mosque has not faced much, if any, public opposition.

“In all the years of the project, I don’t recall any opposition directed toward the city or the City Council,” said city spokeswoman Katie Quinn.

There have been no disputes, no requests by some to have public officials try to block the mosque. The building in its years of construction has had only a couple minor incidents of vandalism; none in more than a year.

But, like many churches, the mosque will have a security system.

“Our neighbors have been gracious, wonderful,” said James “Jumah” Moore, executive director of the Islamic Center. “We haven’t heard anyone express any concerns with us being here. We are right out here on Main Street for all to see.”

There has been support for the mosque and its few hundred area Muslims from several religious groups in York County, especially the Catholic Oratory, Providence Presbytery and individual churches. The county’s Christians and Muslims have eaten together and held many events together.

The York Baptist Association has not taken any position on the mosque, said the Rev. Mike O’Dell, missions director of the group that includes tens of thousands of York County residents from member churches. O’Dell said he has not heard complaints from members about the mosque.

“I think now, so many years after 9/11, people realize there are radicals in Islam, but that is not who these people are here in Rock Hill,” he said.

In rural western York County, a small Muslim group has kept to themselves, yet generally flourished, for more than three decades. Called Holy Islamville, that group of several dozen Muslims has taken on more of a public character since the 9/11 attacks to make sure that residents and neighbors have nothing to fear.

There have been events with law enforcement attending, including several visits from the York County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. There have been meals with Christians and public service projects with Boy Scouts.

Islamville tradesmen – most of the men are plumbers, electricians and carpenters, while many of the women work in nursing and other fields – built a Habitat for Humanity House in 2010.

In the Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers from Rock Hill, which has been in Afghanistan since August, there is a Muslim sergeant on his second deployment who has lived in York County for decades.

Most of the noise against area Muslims – specifically Islamville – came from media hack jobs and other groups that apparently cannot accept that Muslims do not want to destroy the same America that Christians and Muslims live in and thrive in each day.

“We are proud of the Rock Hill group that has worked so hard to build a mosque,” said Ali Rashid, one of Islamville’s elders and leaders. “This is another step toward showing that the similarities among people are far stronger than the differences.”

The Rock Hill Islamic center’s membership, including its women, chose the name Masjid Al-Salam after much discussion about being a part of Rock Hill’s strong religious life, said group spokesman Jasiri Makadara. Having “Peace” in the mosque’s name is a promise to the residents of York County that this mosque will be, like all churches, a sanctuary of love for God and fellow man.

“We believe that our mosque here will strengthen Rock Hill’s vibrant religious life, add to it, and be a place that all would cherish,” Makadara said.

Construction has taken years because Islamic religious law does not allow borrowed money and the paying of interest to put up religious buildings. There have been construction stops and starts as the money dried up and was replenished.

“We are still in the process of fundraising, but hopefully, sometime in the late spring, we can open our doors,” Makadara said.

The Islamic Center will hold a grand opening and public reception when the building is finished, he said.

The mosque is two stories plus a minaret, or tower. The top is just over 46 feet from the ground – as high as zoning codes will allow.

The building features a marble-tiled entranceway, prayer rooms for men and women, and ablution stations for washing before prayers – the actual and symbolic purification that prayers of all religions espouse.

There are classrooms, office space, a kitchen.

Some of the tiles were donated by a non-Muslim Rock Hill resident who saw the construction and wanted to help.

Except for having the men and women separated at services, the building looks a lot like any Christian church. On both floors, there are rooms that were built with windows so non-Muslims can attend services and watch.

“We want everyone to be able to observe what we do and see that it is prayer,” Moore said.

Instead of bells as some downtown Christian churches have, the mosque will have an outdoor speaker. Just like mosques around the world for Islam’s billion-plus people, the speaker will issue a call to prayer five times a day.

For Muslims such as Mohammad Hossain, a professor at York Technical College who serves as executive secretary for the new mosque, completion of the building is fulfilling an important task for area Muslims.

“Rock Hill is our home and has been for many, many years,” Hossain said. “This is a community of fine people. We will have a place to hold services, a place that Muslims and all people in Rock Hill will look at with pride and accomplishment.”

Over the coming months, finish work inside the building will include paint and carpet, molding and ceiling tiles. Exterior landscaping and grading must be done, plus a sign has to be put up out front.

“Masjid Al-Salam,” the sign will read.

The words “mosque of peace” will finish the job.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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