February 5, 2013

Plans Emerge for First Ithaca Mosque

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After almost 30 years of planning and fundraising, Ithaca’s Islamic community has raised enough money to build the first mosque in the area — something it hopes to see happen within the next three months.

“We’ve been trying to raise money for the mosque since the 1980s,” said Ahmed Ahmed, a senior research associate in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Ahmed said that the Muslim population in Ithaca and at Cornell consists of approximately 400 people. Fundraising within the small community — which he said is made up of “mostly students” — to build a mosque was difficult, he said.

Now, with funds in place, Ahmed said that community members have decided to purchase a small building or piece of land, perhaps near The Shops at Ithaca Mall, to establish their mosque.

“If you start even with a small building, you can go to the [big mosques] in big cities and ask them for donations to increase the space. If we don’t have a project, they won’t give us anything,” Ahmed said. “This is the aim — to start anything [so that] at least we can start with something.”

The mosque will not only provide a common prayer space but also allow community members to connect to each other, said Sana Siddiqui ’13, president of the Muslim Education and Cultural Association, a campus organization.

“It’s been a huge problem [not having a permanent place of worship]; you get disconnected from other Muslims,” Siddiqui said. “If you stay isolated, it’s difficult to connect to the larger community.”

Adam Abboud ’14, vice president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice, echoed Siddiqui’s sentiments, saying that Ithaca has been “long overdue in establishing a mosque.”

Abboud said that he hopes the space will “encourage interfaith activities among Muslims, Jews and Christians” — and allow community members, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to learn about Islam.

“The aim is not only to have a mosque but also to get an Islamic center,” Ahmed said.

A mosque would not only provide a permanent place for prayers but it would also provide spaces for learning about Islam, according to Ahmed.

Ahmed said that although Muslims can pray at Anabel Taylor Hall on Cornell’s campus, the mosque would serve as a center “so that people of [all ages] can come and learn about Islam.”

Students said that they have strongly felt the absence of a mosque in Ithaca strongly.

“As an Ithaca native … I didn’t have a place to go pray,” Siddiqui said. “I’ve been in Ithaca for nine years now. It’s a problem for families that live here. The closest mosque is more than an hour away, so I completely sympathize with their effort [to build a mosque].”

Abboud agreed, saying that students need a place to gather to find religious guidance.

“I find it difficult not having an established mosque close to campus. Unlike many of our peer Ivy institutions, Cornell Muslims do not have a chaplain or mosque to turn to for guidance in both the spiritual and personal realms,” he said.

The process of planning a mosque has faced its ups and downs through the years. Although the Islamic community launched its effort to build a mosque almost three decades ago, it was slowed down in 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to Ahmed.

“[The efforts to build the mosque] slowed down a little bit after September 11 … because Muslims at the time were afraid to be involved in anything. After that, gradually, people learned that the government would not do anything with them,” Ahmed said.

In 2010, the community reenergized its effort to build the mosque with the help of younger members of the Muslim community, according to Ahmed.

While initially only two or three people were involved in planning the mosque, now, “young people are involved with us. At least 10 people [are involved in the planning] now. … With young people, they have good ideas, and everybody is giving input,” Ahmed said.

In addition to the mosque’s lack of funding, community members could not use a mortgage to fund the mosque because of an Islamic law that prohibits the taking on of Riba, or interest.

“We have to get [the] mosque [to be built out of] pure money. That’s why we need to collect almost the whole thing until we buy it,” Ahmed said.

Finding a suitable space for the mosque near the University was also difficult. Spaces near campus are expensive, and zoning laws designate many buildings for residential use, according to Ahmed.

Ahmed also said that few locations are able to accomodate the mosque’s parking demands, adding that he thinks the site would have to provide at least 15 parking spaces for its visitors.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee