Later this month, the Augusta Planning Board will review a proposal for the city’s first mosque, put forward by the Islamic Society of Greater Augusta for a 7-acre lot off South Belfast Avenue.
The project, a 70-seat, 1,232-square-foot building and 21-car parking lot, will be judged on its merits. It will be up to the Planning Board to decide if the project adheres to city rules.
But it will be up to residents whether the mosque and its congregation are accepted into the wider community. Darek Grant, the city councilor for the part of the city in which the mosque is planned, said he has heard complaints from two residents who live in the area and want more information about the group.
“They’re actually surprised this group is in Augusta,” Grant told the newspaper. “I think that’s certainly a sensitive issue to deal with.”
It is an unfortunate reality that the idea of an Islamic place of worship in the city will make some people uncomfortable. It is also likely that those concerns do not represent the majority in Augusta.
In fact, residents should see the proposal for what it is: a sign that the congregation, which now worships in a rented office space on Spruce Street, wants to set down roots and weave itself into the fabric of the city. They should be pleased that the congregation, which was founded in 2009, wants to call Augusta home, and should look for the opportunity in becoming the fourth Maine municipality to host a mosque.
To far too many people, Islam is defined by the terrorist factions that have hijacked the religion. But no religion should be judged by its worst practitioners. In fact, the greatest weapon the United States has against enemies that use the cover of Islam to commit acts of violence is an inclusive attitude toward other Muslims. Religion should be the starting point for a discussion on understanding and common ideals, not a source of friction or mistrust.
The group behind the mosque plan has no obligation to explain itself beyond what is required by the Planning Board, and that is limited to matters of zoning and land use. But members of the Islamic Society, in interviews with the newspaper, said they are looking forward to interacting with the community.
“It’s going to be pretty open,” society member Ather Mohammed, a 37-year-old pharmacist and Augusta resident, said of the mosque. “That basically breaks down barriers.”
That kind of discussion will help demystify the religion, and declare Augusta as the type of city that welcomes everyone who is ready to make a commitment to the community.