After years of overcoming legal challenges and government obstacles, more than 200 people enthusiastically gathered on Saturday to inaugurate the Center for Islamic Life in Carmel.
“My heart beats so fast without fear or sadness but really with a feeling of joy and pleasure,” said Nadeem Ikhlaque, founding president of Al Salam, from a podium at the site of the future center. “In my 54 years of life, I have never had this feeling, but today I have – standing in front of you.”
leaders of Carmel, the Al Salam Foundation, Muslim members and those of other religious communities and the public inaugurated the city’s first mosque near West 141st Street and Shelborne Road. The center will be under the aegis of the foundation, which is an Islamic non-profit organization.
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“We practice our religious rituals – daily and weekly prayers, night prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan,” Ashhar Madni, chairman of the Al Salam Foundation, told the crowd.
“The other half of our faith is doing good deeds. … While we worship our creator, we must also serve his creation.”
The road to this point was not a straight line and showed the shock that can occur as cities become more diverse. While city, community and religious leaders broadly supported the project, many Carmelites from different cultural and religious backgrounds in nearby upscale neighborhoods protested it, saying they were largely concerned about property values. .
Center members told IndyStar on Saturday they look forward to being a good, inviting neighbor.
Children made large spiral balloons that floated above the crowd in a tent where a roster of speakers and imams thanked God and members of the Carmel community, voiced their aspirations for the space and prayed. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and Congresswoman Victoria Spartz, both Republicans, attended along with members of the Hindu and Jewish communities. Faisal Khan, a board member of the Al Salam Foundation, spoke, as did Jerry Zehr, a retired pastor of the Carmel Christian Church and founder of the Interreligious Alliance of Carmel.
US Representative Andre Carson, who is one of three Muslims in Congress, and State Senator Fady Qaddoura, the only Muslim in the Indiana General Assembly, also spoke. Both are Democrats.
What will the Center for Islamic Life look like?
A series of renderings showed what is planned for the Center for Islamic Life, which will feature a minaret. It will include worship spaces, classrooms, offices, a gymnasium and a kitchen. Parking will be outside. Khan said construction will take place over the next two years and the grand opening is scheduled for late 2024, although it depends on the availability of supplies.
The mosque will serve northern areas including Carmel, Westfield and Zionsville. Center member Sadaf Kheiri said it would particularly provide much needed space for Jummah – which is a congregational gathering for prayer – on Fridays and during holy months. It will also be a community center for potlucks, Quran study, basketball games, interfaith meetings and open houses that will welcome people of all faiths, she said.
“With the support of the mayor, it’s really – for a person like me – it shows that hey, we’re here, I don’t need my kids to be afraid to be who they really are and show that they are Islamic and of Muslim faith, and we are accepted,” Kheiri said.
“People when they don’t know who you are or they don’t know much about you, they assume. That’s why I keep saying I want to make sure we have open doors to anyone who just wants to come in and know who we are – come in and ask questions.”
The path of the construction of the mosque
The genesis of the mosque began in 2012, the year of the establishment of the Al Salam Foundation. The previous year, Ikhlaque had bought a house in Carmel, but he had no place of worship within 30 minutes. At the time of worship and prayers, the journey was difficult, especially on working days.
So a group of about six people with similar desires came together, forming the foundation in a small rented space off 96th Street. The members grew rapidly and more space was needed.
The Al Salam Foundation sought to build a Muslim place of worship in 2018. The group found five acres in the western side of the city in what is largely a residential area. They sought approval from the Carmel Zoning Appeals Board.
The city’s zoning department recommended approval. The city’s zoning ordinance supports places of worship under similar circumstances, as religious uses are considered compatible with neighborhoods. In practice, city officials at the time said churches were regularly allowed to move into residential areas, including at the time the Coptic Orthodox Church two miles to the south.
But unlike meetings on approvals for other places of worship, public meetings on the proposed 28,000-square-foot mosque were filled by Carmel residents. Many of those who opposed the construction of the mosque lived in nearby neighborhoods, saying they feared for impacted property values and increased traffic.
Ultimately, the plank approved the mosque construction project, prompting a lawsuit that stifled but did not stop the process.
Councilman Miles Nelson, who was not on Carmel City Council at the time of the proposal and subsequent meetings, said he was happy to see the town grow and diversify as a result.
“The city is changing for the better, not to say it was bad in the past, but I think cities are changing and Carmel is still improving,” Nelson said.
Over the past decade, the Carmel has hosted various places of worship, including a Jewish Synagogue, a Greek Orthodox Church, a Mormon Temple, and an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church.
“The intention was one thing – that we wanted to do something to please God beyond ourselves,” Ikhlaque told IndyStar of what initially united Al Salam.
“We work for our families, give our children a good life. But doing something – which we call it ‘endless charity’ – even after you die, this place will exist and continue to be the source where people can come to worship as well as continue to portray the religion of Islam to the community and to people of other faiths.”
IndyStar Archives contributed to this report.
Rachel Fradette is a general assignment reporter at IndyStar. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @Rachel_Fradette.
Contact IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at 317-444-7339 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @domenicareports.