Proposed mosque fuels debate
By Kendra Evensen (Idaho State Journal)
POCATELLO — A Pocatello hearing officer is expected to make a decision by Tuesday regarding the Islamic Society of Southeastern Idaho’s request for a conditional use permit to establish a mosque on South Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, a public debate on the proposal has been going on for days.
The Islamic Society wants to turn a vacant building at 1513 S. Fifth Avenue into a mosque, but they have to have a conditional use permit to move forward since a religious institution isn’t typically allowed in a commercial zone. Although many have spoken in support of the mosque, others have protested the development largely due to concerns about the Muslim community’s religious beliefs.
Some associate the Muslim community with intolerance towards non-Muslims, terrorism and violence.
Pocatello resident and local doctor Fahim Rahim, who is a member of the Muslim community but is unaffiliated with the Islamic Society, points to his Facebook page. He posted a link to an Idaho State Journal article about a public hearing on the mosque. In response, one man, whose name has been omitted, wrote in one of the less inflammatory statements he posted:
“I’m against all religion, you’re all welcome to beliefs. It’s not my place to tell you what religion, if any to believe. However, ‘you’re religion of peace’ that condemns all non believers to death just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Islamic Society officials say some people are basing their beliefs on statements taken out of context and the acts of extremists from foreign, and often war-torn, countries.
Daniel Hummel, general secretary for the Islamic Society of Southeastern Idaho said it’s unfair and inaccurate to judge an entire community — millions in the U.S. and more than a billion throughout the world — by the acts of comparatively few.
Rahim said the mosque could play a valuable role when it comes to educating the public about the beliefs of the Muslim community; it would give them a place where they could go to learn more about the faith.
“We all have to create bridges among ourselves and this community,” Rahim said, adding that there are many citizens of different faiths living here and we all have to learn to coexist.
Hummel agrees. He said he would want people to consider the mosque a safe and welcoming place to visit, just like they would any other church in town.
“(I want the) mosque to be a place where people feel very comfortable coming in,” he said.
And aside from giving the Islamic Society a visible presence in the community where people could go to learn more about the faith, Hummel said the mosque would also give Idaho State University students and members of the faith throughout southeast Idaho a place to go to pray, celebrate holidays and special occasions, and reach out to the community through volunteer work.
Hummel has stressed that the Islamic Society has already been a part of the community for at least 25 years and they raised every dollar they needed to establish the mosque through local funds during that time.
Rahim said he hopes people will base their beliefs about the Muslim community on their neighbors and others they’ve associated with over the years rather than on reports of extremists who don’t follow the religion.
“Look at the people around you and the example they are creating,” he said.
Many others agree. Because of their associations with the Islamic Society, the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship — a group comprised of representatives from many local churches — publicly supported the mosque, and the majority of others have done likewise, Hummel said.
“We’ve had more positive than negative (comments),” he said.
Original post: Proposed mosque fuels debate