Building a dialogue

By BOSTON PHOENIX LETTERS  |  December 4, 2008

Work in progress
A November 21st article by David S. Bernstein makes assertions claiming misconduct on the part of the Islamic Society of Boston and the city. The article says the city violated the separation of church and state by entering into a land deal that includes in-kind payments from the Islamic center to the city, that the center does not serve the interests of Roxbury, and that the mosque does not serve the African-American Muslim community. As Muslim leaders in Greater Roxbury, we are very concerned by this article.

First, if the purchase of land through an urban-development deal that includes in-kind services as part of the payment constitutes the establishment of a state-sponsored religion, one must wonder why this was not considered a problem for the 15 other Christian and Jewish institutions in Boston that had similar in-kind components to their land deals with the city.

Next, the article claims that the cultural center does not serve the community in which it rests. The Islamic center, as it rightly points out, is only partially open. The full truth is that the Muslim American Society of Boston (MAS Boston), the organization that runs the Islamic center, has never intimated that the building is fully functioning yet.

The building was first opened for evening prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, as reported by the Boston Globe. During that month, the primary need is a worship space; accordingly, that was the first function of the building.

Outside of Ramadan, the first three events held all served a mixed, local audience of multiple faiths. The first was the Community Breakfast, bringing more than 70 people from Roxbury to build fellowship in the neighborhood. Next was the Candidates’ Forum, in which candidates for the state legislature came to address questions from more than 150 people of multiple faiths. Finally, there was a Law Enforcement Jobs Fair held for all local residents and college students, which brought in more than 300 people of multiple faiths. Furthermore, in just the last two months, the center has offered tours to classes at Emmanuel College, Harvard University, and numerous local middle and high schools, making good on its promise to promote interfaith understanding and religious literacy in the Greater Boston community.

The most disturbing assertion in the article is that the African-American community has been ignored. Here we point out that this letter is co-written by the two prominent African-American imams in greater Roxbury (who were subject to selective quoting in the article) and MAS Boston’s director. We are writing to assert that this new cultural landmark in Boston owes its inception and much of its success to the untiring work of the African-American community and African-American religious leaders whose vision is not as narrow as the article thought it might be. Rather, we at Mosque of the Quran in Dorchester and Mosque for the Praising of God in Roxbury have always thought of this project as serving the broader Boston community and continue to give it support. For the article to ignore that work and marginalize the African-American community as if we are outsiders looking in is insulting.

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