Over the past few years, CIC board member Rev. Bruce Garrison of the Dwelling Place has partnered extensively with Al Salam Foundation. As Al Salam has struggled to be permitted to build a new mosque in Carmel, Bruce has helped take the lead organizing interfaith voices of support for the proposed Islamic Life Center. Bruce shares some of his impressions of the process.
After over four years of searching, being rejected, and facing disappointment, the Al Salam Foundation finally approached the Carmel Zoning Board meeting with a degree of guarded optimism. The first meeting was held in a room with a 300 person capacity; it was completely full, with 200 more people outside. The overwhelming response truly overwhelmed the board, and the order was adjusted to try to meet the need. But the result was that only people opposed to the mosque spoke that night. News reports led with the fact that forty people opposed and only one supported the mosque. It was disappointing and discouraging, to say the least. Due to the enormous amount of individuals who wanted to voice their opinions, the meeting was extended to February’s zoning meeting–to be held at the Carmel Palladium in order to handle the crowds.
February 26, the Palladium received over 700 people for a Carmel Zoning Board meeting that usually attracts around a dozen or so individuals. Every individual who wanted to speak was given the opportunity. There were a total of 176 speakers–88 for and 88 against. The Muslims were polite, well-spoken, and full of consideration for the views of the opposition. The opposition’s comments frequently echoed the idea: “We want diversity in Carmel; we want the Muslims to have their own place of worship–just not near us.”
In the course of the evening, Al Salam’s President, Dr. Nadeem Ikhlaque, made the following poignant statement: “Whatever the outcome, we do not consider this a victory for us or a defeat for our neighbors. If the decision will come in our favor, we will take it as an opportunity to prove ourselves the best neighbors, which is the fundamental teaching of Islam.”
After nearly six hours of speeches and deliberation, the board handed down their decision. The result was close but it landed, three votes to two, in favor of Al Salam and their proposed Islamic Life Center. Needless to say, there was a great sense of jubilation among the Muslim community and among the many representatives of other faiths who had come to support and stand with them that night.
On Friday night following the victory, Al Salam had a dinner of thankfulness at their present location. Many people spoke. The four themes that kept recurring were: We must act in a spirit of humility, we are grateful to and fully reliant upon Allah and his blessings, we must continue to be good neighbors, and we must seek wisdom as to how we can positively engage the neighborhoods around the community.
This was a monumental event in the religious and cultural life of Carmel and a historic decision on behalf of this valued Muslim community. It was a victory for the Muslims, a victory for the interfaith community, a victory for humanity.