Andrew Dys

September 17, 2013

Rock Hill mosque finished, open soon for prayers

The mosque under construction in Rock Hill was “crowned” with a cupola atop its minaret Tuesday, with a public opening tentatively set for Friday.

As the metal basket dangling from the crane swooped in and the green painted cupola topped by a quarter moon was set atop the minaret, several Muslim men of Rock Hill’s newest house of worship in a downtown crammed with wonderful places to pray called it a “crown.”

The crown is 46 feet above the ground – as high as zoning codes would allow. It is green – a Muslim color of tradition, meant to show peace. A green crown atop the first mosque ever built in Rock Hill.

The name of the place is Masjid-Al Salaam, which means “mosque of peace.”

“This is the crown, the cap on the job, on top of a building we want to share with all in our community,” said James “Jumah” Moore, executive director of the Islamic Center of South Carolina. “This mosque is a Muslim house of prayer, yet it is open to all.”

All that remains now is for city building officials to do a final inspection in the next couple of days. If the building meets city standards for a certificate of occupancy, members of the mosque hope to hold public prayers there for the first time on Friday – the Muslim Sabbath.

Most of the mosque’s remaining work is exterior work that was delayed by wet weather in July and August, said Bill Meyer, city planning director. If the building passes inspection and there are no fees unpaid, the city can immediately issue a certificate of occupancy.

For five years, the center has rented a storefront on Cherry Road for its activities and Friday prayers. Hundreds of Muslims worship there, including dozens of Winthrop students from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“To have a place like this, for the Rock Hill community to be proud of, it truly is wonderful,” said Nazir Cheema, a retired engineer who has lived in Rock Hill for more than 30 years and raised his children here.

The cupola was carried to the roof by Tucker Ornamental Iron & Steel Works, hired by the Muslim group, in the last heavy construction of years of work.

Because Muslims do not borrow money to build mosques, it took five years to raise more than $400,000 to pay for it. Construction that started in 2009 slowed and stopped a couple of times when money ran short.

Heavy rains this summer also hampered finishing exterior work including the parking lot and landscaping.

But Sam Tucker of Tucker Ornamental, whose work knows no prejudice, was undaunted to get the cupola up Tuesday. Worker Thomas Lujan, a 21-year-old National Guard soldier, went up and down in the basket several times to get it just right.

Tucker even built a base for the cupola to sit upon atop the minaret, and painted it green to match the color.

A mosque is not easy to pay for, and it is an even tougher sell at times in this part of the country that is almost all Christian. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., a large mosque came up against huge opposition.

Past acts of Muslim terrorists – horrible acts of violence condemned by area Muslims as acts of cowardice – are still never far from any conversation.

However, any local hostility seems to have become far more subdued, if any is shown at all. Many drivers slowed Tuesday to check out the crane lifting Tucker and the cupola.

Nobody complained about the new neighbors.

“It looks great up there,” Jimmy Wiramihardja, a Muslim who has lived in Rock Hill for almost 35 years, said of the cupola.

Area Muslims worked for years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington – and even more so since – to show that they are people of peace, a community active in York County’s cultural life.

The Rock Hill mosque has professors and laborers and students, merchants and professionals and shopkeepers. There is a large group of Muslim women involved in the mosque, too.

Abdul Khanani, a longtime Rock Hill resident who runs a dry cleaning business, patiently watched Tuesday as the cupola was painstakingly put into place. He directed the quarter moon to be running in a direction that is parallel to West Main Street, for all to see.

“This is a great, wonderful day,” Khanani said. “Not just for Muslims, for this city that all of us love and call home.”

After the cupola was in place, the Muslims who watched it go up went inside to do what Muslims around the world do five times a day. They removed their shoes – a tradition handed down from Moses, the Hebrew lawgiver who was told by the same God Muslims pray to, a sign of respect before God.

Then all stood together facing northeast, toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia. They knelt together. They prayed together.

In downtown Rock Hill, in a mosque with a green steel crown, a crescent moon on top.

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