Day 16 – Arizona, the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix
We left New Mexico much later than expected so our 8-plus hour drive to Phoenix meant we had to break our fast on the road. But with awesome scenery to look at on the way, we weren’t complaining whatsoever.
We broke our fast with a bag of nectarines that Benyamin, the woodworker we met earlier that day, grew at his home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. His wife made us some awesome chocolate banana bread too.
We get to Phoenix shortly before 9 p.m. to find the mosque right off the highway. The place is still packed as people prepare for Taraweeh, the Ramadan night prayers.
We’re greeted at the mosque by Usama, the mosque’s president. He’s a straightshooting kinda guy that talks to us in depth about the history of Phoenix’s Muslim community.The city has around 80,000 Muslims and a huge refugee population of people from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Albania, Somalia and other countries.
He said it’s great that there are so many cool cultures in the city, but what has happened over the years is the Afghanis have formed their own mosque as have the Bosnians and Albanians, etc. etc. etc. Segmentation is a huge problem among Muslims in this country. I completely understand it may be unintentional when people immigrate to this country, they find comfort by linking up with people of similar backgrounds. But in 2010, we can no longer afford to do that. Out of the over 300 million people that live in this country, only around 7 million people are Muslims (and that’s a liberal estimate). So we simply cannot afford to divide ourselves.
On the opposite side of the highway from the mosque is the ICCP’s future home, a colossal mosque that you can see from miles away. The outside structure of the $3.5 million building is already finished and the mosque board is trying to fundraise the remaining money they need to complete it.
We asked Usama if building a mosque this vivid necessary, especially in an economic climate where many Muslim communities are struggling to afford running their places. He said the mosque isn’t in debt at all and is only building things they can afford. Plus, he said it’s a house to worship Allah, shouldn’t we try to beautify it as long as it’s well within our means?
“We want people to drive by the highway and know that Muslims are here in this community,” he said. “We have had Muslims we’ve never met before drive by, see that there is a mosque here, and then want to donate.”
This new building will be the future place where the community will worship, and Usama said the current mosque will be used primarily to expand the Islamic School for the children.
I asked him if the ICCP has gotten any opposition to their new mosque, in light of all the Ground Zero hullabaloo in New York. He said unfortunately they have been getting opposition. What’s interesting is many of the city planning boards have been incredibly supportive and cooperative with the mosque’s plans over the years, but in recent months they seem to be scrutinizing the plans even more and pushing up deadlines for them.
The current mosque has been in the neighborhood for over 15 years to little or no complaints from local residents. Now all of a sudden, a few neighbors have regularly complained to the city about the mosque’s parking situation and other issues. The city recently even tried to prohibit street parking by the mosque only on Fridays from 11-3 p.m., which is usually when the Friday Jummah prayers are.
This neighbor below, the mosque has tried to reach out to him and make peace by doing things like bringing Ramadan dinner food to him. Usama told me he’d graciously accept the food, only to call the city the next day to complain about the mosque’s parking.
I think we as Muslims need to focus less on the Ground Zero mosque and more so on places like this or other communities like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Ground Zero mosque (and I dunno why I’m calling it that) is pretty much a done deal at least from a municipal approval standpoint. So let’s not forget about the other communities across the country where Muslims need our help. Remember, there are only 7 million of us.