Interesting Religious Relationship in Tredyffrin . . . Islamic Mosque, Jewish Synagogue & Baptist Church are Neighbors

My husband and I were in Istanbul last year on vacation and visited several beautiful mosques, including the Blue Mosque. The city was fascinating and by complete coincidence we arrived in the midst of Ramadan, Islam’s most religious holiday season.  Seeking cultural diversion, this trip will remain a highlight in our vacation memories, in no small part by the generosity and kindness of the Turkish people. 

So it was with great interest that I read the following AP story — I actually read it in an Irish newspaper this morning.  On the eve of  the ninth anniversary of September 11th, I think it is a good time to take pause and to be mindful of the reasons this country was founded . . . including religious freedom.  Tomorrow should be a time of remembrance . . . of the day, and the many lives that were lost.  How appropriate that this story would be read around the world today.

New mosque opens peacefully in US suburb – next door to synagogue, near Baptist church

Written by Kathy Matheson, The Associated Press
 Friday, September 10 2010, 6:02 AM

BERWYN, Pa. – A new mosque recently opened in this well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, but not many people noticed. That was fine with leaders of the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge. Amid a tense national climate for U.S. Muslims, they did not seek publicity for the happy occasion, only continued peace with their neighbors: a Jewish synagogue next door and Baptist church across the street.

The Muslims’ good relations with other faiths and the town at large offers a stark contrast to American communities torn by anti-Islamic acts, including arson at the site of a planned mosque in Tennessee and a threatened Qur’an burning in Florida.In New York, debate rages over a planned Islamic centre and mosque near ground zero. And everywhere tensions are heightened because Friday’s joyous Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr falls a day before the somber ninth anniversary of Sept. 11.

But in Tredyffrin Township, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, community members say a tradition of religious tolerance, combined with an educated population and small-town friendliness, have yielded years of harmonious coexistence.”We have much more in common than not in common,” mosque president Mohammad Aziz said. “We are blessed with very good neighbors.”

Township officials conceded some trepidation among residents when the Islamic Society sought construction permits in 2008. The growing Sunni group planned to build on land behind the small house it had used as a mosque since 1994. Most concerns were standard zoning issues like parking, traffic and stormwater runoff. But the concept of a mosque was jarring to some, despite Muslims having long worshipped at the site, said Judy DiFilippo, a township supervisor for 20 years until her retirement in January. “It was something brand new to the community. Even though they were using an existing building, it wasn’t an obvious mosque,” DiFilippo said.

The plans were approved; construction and fundraising began in earnest, capped by the mosque opening on June 5. DiFilippo said there have been no problems, which she attributed to an “underlying theme of tolerance that just comes with this community.”

Yossi Kaplan, a Lubavitch rabbi at Chabad Jewish Center next door, said he was approached by people seeking his opposition to the project — but waved them off. The two faiths were enjoying solid relations, to the point where they shared parking lots and Muslims helped with tasks that Jews cannot perform on the Sabbath.

The rabbi expected nothing less from his neighbors, regardless of religion. This is America, Kaplan said, and this is how it’s supposed to be.”We’re just good friends. We’re really good neighbors,” he said. “There’s never been any issues.”

The United States has seen a 58 per cent increase in the number of mosques over the past decade, from 1,200 to roughly 1,900, according to Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and a researcher on American mosques. Yet many U.S. mosques are repurposed existing buildings, retrofitted to accommodate ritual washing areas and separate entrances for men and women. Sometimes they require odd configurations for prayer so worshippers can face Mecca.

Thus the new $1.5 million mosque in Tredyffrin is truly an American Dream for Aziz. Since joining the congregation in 1998, he said, it has more than doubled in size as technology professionals arrived in the area from India and Pakistan. The mosque has a prayer hall, library, multipurpose room, bathrooms with washing areas, WiFi and — most important — more space for the 60 or so families who worship there.

Except for dome-shaped accents around the vertical windows, it looks more like a community centre than a house of worship. There are no minarets and no dome — cost-conscious omissions that Aziz said should help it blend in and attract younger generations. “American mosques should take their own form … (and) be appealing and open to people, not just Muslims,” said Aziz, 57. “It is built for my children and my children’s children.”

Last week, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsored an event for community members to tour the mosque, learn about the faith, observe evening prayers and share dinner. “If you get to know your neighbours, you are less inclined to be fearful of them,” CAIR-PA Executive Director Moein Khawaja said.

About 50 people came, including the Rev. John Loring, pastor of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley, just across the street. The congregation was founded in 1711 by Welsh immigrants seeking freedom to worship in Pennsylvania, then a colony that emphasized its welcome to settlers of all faiths.

“Respect for all religions is an important part of who we are,” Loring said. Sally Bovais, 68, of Phoenixville, came with about 10 members of her nearby Presbyterian Church. She said such events were important “to put a face to Muslim people.” “The stereotype is really very dangerous,” Bovais said. “They espouse love and peace, and raise families and are involved in their faith. That’s part of the thread of our nation.

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11 Comments

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  1. I read that the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge is hosting a Medal of Honor Grove clean-up tomorrow in honor of 9/11. I thought that was a good idea until I read that that Warren Kampf is going to help. Why does such a sacred place on a sacred day need to be marred by politics.

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    Exasperated Reply:

    Why do we care what you think of Warren Kampf participating. The purpose is the event, and if you want to make it about the participants, shame on you!!! Do you want someone running for office who would avoid community service? And if the FF thinks that including WK in their volunteer corp announcement will catch some publicity — it worked. Now go out there and support what you thought (and still is) a good idea!

    [Reply]

  2. Thanks.

    This was mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Local. If interested in helping tomorrow, here’s the information:

    The Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge is hosting a Medal of Honor Grove cleanup day Saturday.

    Warren Kampf, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in the 157th District, is planning to work in the grove that day along with 20 to 30 volunteers and 50 students from Immaculata University.

    For more information, visit http://www.freedomsfoundation.org.

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  3. Pattye,
    You made my day with this uplifting piece about religious tolerance in our community – found in an Irish newspaper, of all places.

    It was especially meaningful to me because I visited the Ground Zero site today while in NYC visiting family. The site was abuzz with activity. Finally, a 30+story tower is in place, about one-third its final height.. And while the memorial site has been argued about and remained in limbo, for many years, it is now scheduled to be finished by the 10th anniversary next year.

    It is hard to believe nine years have passed. The events of that day are still horrifying clear. I lost a cousin on that day, killed by falling debris as he ran from the crumbling north tower – right after he’d called his family to let them know he was okay.

    Just weeks before, I had returned from a trip to Ireland. My Irish relatives flooded their American friends and family with calls and emails expressing their sadness and concern. At the time, it seemed as if all of Ireland was in mourning, so it is no surprise that an uplifiting story about our community should be considered newsworthy on the eve of 9-11 in an Irish newspaper.

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  4. Great local press. I’m glad to live in an area that is not so fanatical about our own religions that we can’t accept others. Diversity is more important to who we are as a local population then we realize day to day.

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    flyersfan Reply:

    so where are the moderate Muslims, except for one whose name escapes me, who speaks out about radical Islam?
    It is nice that in Tredyffrin we all get along. But I am skeptical about the rest of the world. I believe Islam wants to conquer the world. It is a generational battle, and we have to have space for religious tolerance in protecting the nature of our great country while not allowing our country to be slowly overtaken by enemies using our own laws and “nature” against us. I know this will get some koombay ya love your neighbor folks up in arms, but I think we need to be vigilant.

    Like that Imam in NYC,. he is cunning and evil. Making threats against us, ostensibly telling us “for our own good” that we have to let the mosque be built or suffer from his self styled loonies… Huh?

    Still, here in Tredyffrin, it is peace. I wonder what those kids are learning about in their mosque. Hopefully the right things.

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    CJ of the Main Line Reply:

    considering there are 1.5 Billion Muslims in the world, and close to 2 million of them live in the US, I would venture to say that 99% of them are moderate Muslims who not only have no interest in terrorism or extremist views, but live a very peaceful normal life.

    I have known several Muslims. Friends with some, worked with some, went to school with some. NONE of them were anything less then respectful to my religious views. NONE of them were violent. And although they were religious, NONE of them were fanatical.

    “Islamophobia” = “Fear and/or hatred of Muslims, or of the religion of Islam, and/or a desire to limit the civil liberties of Muslims.

    “Islamophobia is often exhibited by a person attributing the actions of a few extreme, violent, fundamentalist Muslim terrorists to the entire population of Muslims or to the religion of Islam.”

    I think your Islamophobia contributes to the thoughts you have that all Islam wants to conquer the world.

    Islamic based attacks on our US soil are not the only attacks. There have been plenty of Christin attacks on our soil. Tim McVeigh.. can’t forget about him. But he was an extremist… yep, they exist in the Christian religion too. How about the KKK… they terrorized black people and Jewish people on our soil… they wanted to rid the country, even the world of Jews and Blacks. Hitler was a Christian too, or at least raised that way until he self proclaimed an odd form of atheism.

    My point, we can be vigilant in protecting our country from extremist, but extremist come in all all religions, so pinpointing one is simply narrow-minded.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you for your thoughtful, reasoned remarks; I fully support your viewpoint.

    flyersfan Reply:

    I am more concerned with Islamofascism than phobia.

    Question as posed by the NYC Council Chairman to Raouf:

    Why do Muslims make up nearly all the worlds most dangerous terrorists?

    So while there are psychos in all walks of life, we should not dilute our concern nor vigilance to protect our country, all the while understanding that part of that protection is freedom to peacefully live and pray, not prey, among us.

  5. I agree with Pattye that our vacation in Istanbul was one of the best. The predominant religion in Istanbul is Muslim and the city has about 4000 mosques. Turkey is also a NATO ally. This trip was our first real exposure to Muslims and their religious practices and brought us a better understanding of who they are. If we could only share our excellent experience with those spreading hate the problem would be solved.

    In addition to the Blue Mosque Pattye mentioned there is an even more impressive attraction and that is the Ayasofya Camii or Hagghia Sophia built in 532AD as a Christian Church. It was the largest building in the world for a long time. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 after Constantinople fell to the Turks. Today the building is undergoing restoration to uncover the Christian mosaics (that were plastered over back in the 1400’s) in order for this historic site to represent the interests of both religions. I recommend seeing this amazing religious landmark that has been visited by Richard the Lion Hearted, Barack Obama and Jeff Benson.

    On a local note this link http://tinyurl.com/22l2np3 will take you to the AP article on a site that shows some photos inside the mosque in Berwyn. The AP article has gone world wide and is published on many sites including the LA times.

    [Reply]

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