Editorial: Interfaith support for Hampshire Mosque

  • From left, Rachel Gordon of Greenfield, Hampshire Mosque member Nicollet Jackson of Belchertown and Gale Kuhn of Montague are served dinner by MeriamElgarf, right, of Springfield and other members of the area Muslim community during an interfaith fundraising event, “Neighbors Together,” on Nov. 19 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, December 01, 2017

An impressive gathering of more than 300 people at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley last month gave a significant boost to the Hampshire Mosque, while building community across faiths.

Equal parts fundraiser and friend-raiser, “Neighbors Together” on Nov. 19 attracted Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others who don’t fit a particular religious category. Together they contributed more than $25,000 to help the mosque near its financial goal so it can open its new place of worship in Hadley.

Among the organizers was Peter Blood, of Amherst, a member of Mount Toby Friends Meeting in Leverett. He met Naz Mohamed, clerk of the mosque’s board, at an Interfaith Opportunity Network event focused on racial and climate justice, and was invited to participate in Muslim prayers at the Jones Library, the mosque’s temporary quarters for nearly three years.

“We’re still cousins. We still come from the same blood, the same DNA. Thank you for reaching out to help this dream happen, because the Muslims in our community deserve to have a beautiful place to worship together,” Blood told those at the event, which included a silent auction, an international feast and a presentation about Islam.

Mohamed described the evening as “an opportunity to form new friendships and strengthen old ones, build interfaith fellowship and deepen our bonds as a community. We are truly blessed to be living in a community where our hearts are full of love, care and openness, and we don’t hesitate to show it in words and actions.”

Area Muslims have worshipped in Amherst for more than a dozen years, starting during 2004 in the Echo Hill neighborhood. The Hampshire Mosque moved to the Carriage Shops 18 months later. A planned site on Harkness Road was abandoned in 2010 after neighbors objected to increased traffic on the rural road.

The mosque was among the tenants displaced from the Carriage Shops in 2014 to make way for the One East Pleasant project. Since then, the mosque has had its Friday weekly communal prayer in the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library.

The mosque in April 2014 purchased the former Adventure Outfitters building at 451 Russell St. in Hadley for $570,000 and has invested a total of $1.5 million in renovations.

Mohammed Abdelaal, chaplain of the Hampshire Mosque, said its architecture is complicated and requires separate prayer spaces for men and women, as well as separate areas for prayer with and without shoes, and an orientation toward Mecca for Muslims to face while praying five times a day.

The mosque turned this fall to the community to help raise $45,000 needed to repave the parking lot — the final step before the site can be used. The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst responded by sponsoring a GoFundMe website that raised nearly $9,000.

The Rev. Cynthia Frado, interim minister of the Unitarian Society, said she created the “Prayer, Praise and Parking” fundraiser because she knows that their faith prohibits Muslims from using interest-bearing loans. She also was moved by an opportunity to counter xenophobia and fear.

“As an American who cherishes religious freedom and as a person of faith who respects our Muslim brothers’ and sisters’ right to pray in their own spiritual home, I am compelled to help them manifest their dream. We are all made stronger when we support one another in our diversity,” Frado said.

Mosque members say while they have faced unexpected challenges in readying their new place of worship — including repairs needed for mold and water damage — that also has been an opportunity to share their faith at events like “Neighbors Together.”

“It’s a real blessing that we’ve been able to have some hurdles because we wouldn’t have some of these community-building opportunities,” said Marcus Simon, of Northampton, a member of the mosque. “It’s more about this perspective of humanizing Muslims and Islam in a culture where that is not happening.”

Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton was among the faith leaders at “Neighbors Together.” He said, “I really believe that, at its best, our society allows different faiths to plant roots and flourish. If a mosque can grow and thrive, we all can grow and thrive. Our differences are to be celebrated, not exploited.”

Those are words that speak to our common humanity, no matter what our faith.