Commentary By: Nazmul Noyim, Follow South Jersey Intern
PINE HILL, N.J. – A Muslim community in Gloucester Township has collectively purchased an unutilized school building in Pine Hill, New Jersey to use as a mosque, as their current one has become too small for the growing population.
The under-privileged members of the community donated money to purchase the building for $200 thousand, and spent approximately another $500 thousand to reconstruct the abandoned facility into a suitable mosque named “MUNA Center of South Jersey.”
The local Muslims of the Gloucester Township area currently perform prayers, Islamic studies and community events at the Delaware Valley Islamic Center (DVIC), a mosque in Clementon which was initially a house that was purchased by the community in 2003.
Due to the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, many Americans, including residents of Clementon had a misconception about Muslims and did not want an Islamic establishment in their community. And the neighbors made several complaints which led to the township denying the local Muslims the permit to establish a mosque in the community.
The permit was finally approved by the New Jersey Superior Court. During the process, journalists from the Courier Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer ran the story of religious groups being denied, and provided the platform to fairly represent themselves to the public.
“Due to the common negative stereotypes about Muslims, we were not wanted in the community but we are good people,” said Mahammad Kabir, President of the Islamic center. “As an organization, we’ve done so much charitable work for the community. We collected donations during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, and welcomed victims in our own homes. Our youth regularly volunteers in the soup kitchen in Camden. We try our best to serve the community and help the needy, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.”
For nearly two decades the local Muslim residents have utilized the previously abandoned house, but it has been challenging over the years. The Muslim population has grown significantly over the years and the prayer house is not big enough. There is a huge issue with parking for the mosque attendees. Every year there are two Islamic holidays that require all Muslims to gather for prayer, and the current mosque is not suitable for that.
The new mosque, Masjid As-Salaam, could solve many of the problems the Muslim community have been facing over the years. The mosque will be open to many more Muslims in the community who are unable to attend the weekly Friday prayers at the current location due to the inconvenience. The facility is also open to the public that wants to be more knowledgeable about the religion.
“Once the mosque is fully ready, we will be having an open house for the general public to come in and ask questions and get to know what is going on,” said Minhajul Azad, a leader of Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA) youth of South Jersey. “We want to build a good relationship with the community and inform them of what we do.”
This new facility is still being renovated for use and members are hopeful that the facility will be ready soon. About $700 thousand has already been spent towards the mosque, $200 thousand to purchase the building, $500 thousand more towards renovations, township fees, and other related costs. And more money is needed to complete the job.
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