CAIRO – In a historic move, a North Dakota Protestant church decides to sell its building to a local Muslim group to establish their Islamic center, agreeing together to host the Christian worshippers on Sundays and alternate days.
“We went from rentee to renter,” Don Medal, the Council Chairman of Grand Forks’ most liberal Protestant Christian church, United Church of Christ, told Grand Forks Herald on Saturday, June 23.
Cooperation between the church and the Muslim community started several decades ago.
It started by the move of UND’s Memorial Union and in the Lotus Meditation Center, a private nonprofit group on campus, to host Muslim Friday prayer.
Over the past year, the Muslim group has been renting the UCC space for Friday prayers.
A month ago the decision was taken to buy the space.
The deal was brokered by Nabil Suleiman, an assistant professor of civil engineering at UND and the spokesman for the group that has agreed to buy the UCC building.
The church decision was taken in a trial to find other sources for the church which older and more established members have passed on in recent years to be replaced by younger members.
Collecting rent the past year from the Muslim group helped, but wasn’t a long-term answer.
“Budget-wise we could not afford the building and it was much more important to stay together as a congregation and keep the pastor than to keep a material thing like the building,” Medal added.
Mills will continue to pastor the UCC congregation, as well as its yoked parish partner, Zion Congregational UCC in Manvel, ND.
US Muslims are estimated at between six to eight million.
Finding a solution for both congregations, either the mosque or the church, few changes were urged to the building to accommodate them both.
“We felt it was a big plus to have it continue to be a place of worship, versus being torn down and turned into housing,” Medal said.
“Or a restaurant.”
Changes include asking UCC members to leave their shoes at the door before going in for Sunday morning worship, according to Medal.
There may be other changes, such as the main cross being removed from the sanctuary, he said.
The new deal between the UCC and the Grand Fork’s Muslim community solves a growing problem for mosque permits all across the United States.
All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.
At least 18 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.
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