A Visit to the New Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute (with video)

Dustin Dwyer
Monday, April 12, 2010

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The Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute in Kentwood, Michigan serves a diverse Muslim community in the Grand Rapids area.

The call to Friday prayers. It happens every week across Michigan, and across the world.

Ali Metwalli has heard the call many times. But he’s still getting used to hearing it in this place, the new Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute. It sits southeast of Grand Rapids, with a sandstone colored fa ade, pointed arches and a domed prayer hall. Inside, you can still smell the paint.

“When we first bought the land, the community said there is no way that we’re going to be able to build a project like this one,” Metwalli says. “So, I’m still cannot believe it. Every time I walk in, I try to say, ‘It’s reality. It’s reality.’”

It’s a reality that’s been six years and $1.8 million in the making. This is the first mosque in the Grand Rapids area that was built specifically for worship. Other mosques make do with buildings that were made for something else. The community at this mosque used to worship in a rented gym.

Islam also has strict rules about borrowing money, so Metwalli says mosque leaders have paid for everything in cash.

And there have been lots of sacrifices.

“I know one that was planning to finish up his own basement and he postponed it for two years cause he was giving the donations instead of building his own,” Metwalli says.

Fundraising was also difficult because Grand Rapids has a relatively small Muslim population. At least when you compare it to some cities in Southeast Michigan.

But the Muslim community in Grand Rapids is also incredibly diverse, and you can see that diversity at the new mosque. (story continued below)

(Video and production: Mercedes Mejia; Contributor: Dustin Dwyer; Photographs: Rodrigo Gaya)

Metwalli estimates that there are people from up to 25 different countries here. Arabs, Persians, Africans, Americans and Bosnians. Lots of Bosnians actually.

Alen Ganic came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1997. He says at home, he prayed almost entirely with other Bosnians.

“This is what I love about the United States, and this is what I love about America, about diversity,” he says. “You meet people from all over the world. And this is why I love this mosque because there’s people as you’ve seen today from all over the world.”

But there’s also still room for individual cultures. Ganic is helping to build a smaller mosque next door for the Bosnians. He says it’ll allow for more prayer services, and it’ll also be a place where Bosnian parents can pass their language and traditions to the next generation.

But for the most part, the Bosnians will still meet in the large prayer room at the main mosque.

Kamal Nuriddin is the building manager for the mosque. He stands in the busy hallway after prayer, and tells me how he came to Islam after being raised Catholic in Philadelphia. It started in the ’70s for him with the Black Power movement and the Nation of Islam. He says his first experiences worshiping in this faith were all with other black people. And that was great.

“But the bigger picture is that we are a part of this concert,” he says. “This wonderful blending of the human family.”

He sees that blending at the new mosque in Kentwood. But it’s not the only place he’s seen it.

“I made Hajj in 2006 with my wife,” he says. “And we saw the same tapestry of humanity – this mass of humanity all coming together to worship God. And, really, to me, that’s the crux of it.”

Nuriddin says if more people could see each other this way, Christians Muslims, whoever – just see each other as brothers and sisters in this mass of humanity, we wouldn’t have many of the problems it has today.

Contact Dustin Dwyer at dtdwyer@umich.edu.

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  • Aysha Jamali

    This was interesting. It's nice to see that this Muslim community was able to achieve their goal and do it without having to deal with loans and interest. I'm curious to see what their previous prayer area looked like and any sketches they might have for their future plans.

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