New mosque in Kentwood testifies to devotion of growing Islamic population
March 20, 2010, 3:04AM
KENTWOOD — After about 350 worshipers prayed their last “ah-meen,” Debbie Mageed blinked back tears as she looked around at the elegant mosque she helped design.
“This is probably one of the happiest days I’ve ever had in Grand Rapids,” Mageed said at the conclusion of the first prayer service in the new mosque on East Paris Avenue SE. “I’ve always wanted my children to have this, and I almost got to the point where I didn’t think it would happen.”
Paul L. Newby II | The Grand Rapids PressMuhammad Alom of Grand Rapids joins his fellow Muslim believers in prayer and worship during the first service at the new mosque.Her daughter, Sarah, drank in the Middle Eastern style and warm earth tones her mother picked out. The Forest Hills Northern seventh-grader said she is glad to have a mosque she can show her friends.
“We have something that we can say, ‘Our mosque is just as pretty as a church,’” said Sarah, 12, dressed in a colorful head scarf and flowing prayer skirt.
Her brother Adam, 15, stood nearby in a baseball cap and pronounced the mosque “breathtaking.”
“It’ll be a new beacon for the Islamic faith in Grand Rapids,” he said.
Indeed, the first mosque built from the ground up in greater Grand Rapids promises to highlight the area’s Muslim community as never before.
The opening service on March 12 brought forth the community’s diversity, as Middle Easterners, Africans, Bosnians and Anglos such as Mageed came to behold its beauty and praise God for it.
|IF YOU GO|
|Meet the mosqueThe public may tour the new Muslim mosque.
When: 3-6 p.m. April 16
“This is a very important day for all of us, for ourselves and our kids,” preached Morsy Salem, the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader. “This building will stand forever until the day of judgment. This is the house of Allah!”
His words resonated among the hundreds kneeling on a beautiful Pakistani carpet, among three tiled pillars and under a 39-foot high dome. Outside, the gold-sparkled dome and two minarets signaled to passing motorists that a new day had arrived in West Michigan’s religious scene.
Located between 32nd and 36th streets, just north of a Bosnian mosque under construction, the $1.79 million Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute testifies to the devotion of the area’s growing Muslim population, estimated by locals at 12,000 to 14,000.
Paul L. Newby II | The Grand Rapids PressMuhammad Ghannam, 6, relaxes in his father Samir’s lap as his older brother, 8-year-old Loie, listens to Imam Morsy Salem deliver his message at the new Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute during its opening prayer service.Prohibited by Islamic teachings from borrowing money at interest, mosque leaders raised most of the funds from the local community, including non-Muslims and a Kentwood city commissioner, said Ali Metwalli, a mosque board member who acted as general contractor.
“We got children giving their allowances,” said Metwalli, an economics professor at Western Michigan University. “It’s built from the ground up with everybody’s help.”
One Muslim businessman donated the carpet and security system. He asked to remain anonymous, adding, “I think it’s my responsibility to do it, not only to this religious organization but to promote the name of the Almighty.”
Others donated materials and labor, including consultation from engineer Muhammad Sannah. Meanwhile, Imam Morsy traveled the country seeking donations. All went into creating a 20,000-square-foot building over six years.
“To start from ground zero and do that — this would not have been done without the help of Allah,” said mosque spokesman Kamal Nuriddin, invoking the Arabic word for God.
“This community is not rich,” added Debbie Mageed, a member of the mosque governing board. “To think we could raise $1.6 million is really quite a miracle.”
Largest Islamic meeting place
The mosque, which formerly rented a building on Fuller Avenue SE, will provide the area’s largest meeting place, by far, for area Muslims. The largest facility until now, the Islamic Center of Grand Rapids, meets at 1301 Burton St. SE. Three smaller mosques hold services as well.
The new structure joins about 15 others around the state built as mosques, including those in Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint, Ann Arbor and several in the Detroit area. Including those in converted buildings, about 60 mosques serve 350,000 to 400,000 Michigan Muslims.
The Kentwood mosque is a sign of a stabilizing immigrant group, similar to Greek Orthodox and European Jews in earlier years, said David Walud, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan.
“It signifies that Muslims are planting their roots firmly in the community, and planning on having a dignified existence in the area for decades to come,” Walud said.
Amenities maintain tradition
The East Paris mosque provides amenities accommodating traditional needs. They include washrooms where men and women can perform the obligatory washing of hands and feet before prayer. There are separate entrances for men and women, large shoe-storage areas and child care rooms.
A wooden screen at the back acts as a partition for women who pray separately according to custom, although some choose to not sit behind the screen. Organizers must raise another $175,000 to finish the basement, which will include classrooms and a kitchen.
But the focal point is the spacious hall where Muslims gather for Friday prayers and other occasions. Fourteen tall, narrow windows and the 20-foot-diameter dome bathe the coffee-colored carpet with light.
“You walk in here at night and it feels very serene and peaceful,” said Metwalli. “The whole idea is to give that kind of environment: tranquillity.”
“A lot of people can’t find peace outside,” added Salem. “If they come to the masjid (mosque), they can find it — spiritual fulfillment.”
Many said they found that and more at the opening prayer service. Some were amazed to see the realization of something they worked for so hard.
“This is a dream,” said Dr. Muhammad Saleh, president of the mosque board and an Advantage Health physician. “Finally we have our own house where we can pray and enjoy,” and show others “the bright side of Islam.”
Huda Halimeh, an engineering major at Grand Valley State University, was impressed. She said she saw no need for the screen separating women, but loved the openness and warmth of the prayer hall.
“It just keeps reminding me I’m a Muslim,” said Halimeh, 21, originally from Syria.
“It presents our community better,” added Alaa Abughoush, 25, a GVSU molecular biology graduate student from Jordan. “Kids can actually recognize what a mosque looks like.”
Faisal Khan held his year-old son Ali after washing for prayers. He moved to Fremont three months ago to work for Gerber Products Co. as a scientist. He said he was delighted to find the mosque, whose leaders helped him locate housing and schools for his three kids.
“I like this place,” said Khan, 38. “It’s a very good community around here for helping each other, especially (people) from new places.”
Inside the prayer hall, Mageed looked around her and marveled.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said. “We just keep looking at it and we can’t believe it’s ours.”