Mosque expansion would accommodate growing community
Riverdale Country School/New York, Ny.
COLUMBIA — For Rashed Nizam, it’s been a long wait.
Nizam, chairman of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, said he has seen the mosque’s congregation expand in the past 10 years, and plans are finally underway to expand the facility at 201 S. Fifth St.
“I’m just praying to God that it pulls through,” he said.
The extensive expansion plans, which only recently became public, have not generated any protest from the community, unlike similar projects nationwide. The most heated controversy has been in New York, with the proposed Park 51 Islamic Community Center planned for a site two blocks from ground zero.
Click here to view a map of the planned expansion
Unlike other mosques in Missouri and around the country, however, the Islamic Center has not encountered vandalism or physical harassment. Since 2001, anti-Islamic fervor has increased nationwide. The first national anti-mosque activity after 9/11 occurred in Cincinnati on Dec. 20, 2005, when two pipe bombs were detonated outside the local mosque.
In Missouri, vandalism at mosques has escalated in the past three years. In September 2008, the sign at Joplin’s Islamic center was torched. Eight months later, a Cape Girardeau resident threw rocks at the windows of the local Islamic center. Then this past January, vandals graffitied profanity and graphic images on three walls of the Springfield Islamic Center.
“The most obvious symbol of Islam is the mosque. Logically, anti-Islams try to prevent mosques from expanding,” said Eren Tasar, a history professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Tasar, who will be teaching a course called “9/11 in World History” this fall, called anti-Islamic behavior a way to blame a broad group for the actions of the few radical terrorists.
“In times of hardship, there tend to be scapegoats,” he said. “‘Blurrism’ (confusing individual acts with entire religious or ethnic groups) has been a poor American value.”
Islam, however, has never felt like a scapegoat.
“I’ve never experienced any discrimination of any kind,” he said.
Tasar also said there have been and still are signs of Islamophobia and xenophobia across all social classes in the U.S. He said Europe’s political figures are more outward in their opposition against Islam. In the past 10 years, Belgium and France have banned the burqa, a type of female covering, while Switzerland prohibits the construction of minarets, or spires, on mosques.
“Open Islamophobia is less severe in the U.S. compared to Europe,” Tasar said.
In Columbia, Nizam credits an influx of Muslim families with his community’s growth. Worldwide, Islam is the fastest growing religion.
The Islamic Center’s facility, consisting of two buildings, a playground and a trailer, has been outstripped by its growth. The planned expansion, according to an architect’s drawing filed with city officials, would include a two-story school complex, a gymnasium, kitchen facility and a four-story apartment complex with ground-floor retail.
“It’s an informal request,” said John Sudduth, city building regulations supervisor. “Generally we’d get a formal application and an official set of sealed plans.”
While mosque officials haven’t officially petitioned the city for expansion, the center is applying for a loan to start on their long-anticipated project, Nizam said. Once they are approved by the bank, they will use an actual designer to officially start construction and receive permission from the city.
“Our community is eagerly waiting to see the change … to quickly move forward,” Nizam said.
Published at ColumbiaMissourian.com