NEW TAMPA – Muslims in Tampa city on the west coast of Florida are overjoyed with the community’s acceptance for their new mosque which was widely welcomed as the only mosque in the area.
"Contrary to how some people may think, our country and our community is amazing with how accommodating people are," Mahmud Ahmed, a New Tampa resident and a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa (ISONET), told Tampa Bay Online on Thursday, January 3.
A devout Muslim, Ahmed was feels fortunate to live in a community that respect religious differences.
He also is gratified with how tolerant the greater New Tampa community has been in accepting members of the Islamic faith and of the Dar-us-Salaam mosque.
The 7,500-square-foot mosque opened in August to be the first mosque in the area.
Set on a 7-acre site, the $1.6 million house of worship was paid for in full by donations from members of the ISONET as well as other local Muslim worshippers.
The mosque, built to accommodate 800 people, is open for prayer five times a day.
Tampa welcoming atmosphere was not the same in different American states.
Requests by Muslim residents to build mosques have repeatedly been denied on different grounds ranging from local opposition to zoning problems.
But Muslims see the repeated denials of their worship places as a reflection of the growing animosity against their minority since the 9/11 attacks.
In the last five years, there has been "anti-mosque activity" in more than half of the US states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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.
The leaders of Dar-us-Salaam, which in Arabic means House of Peace, hope to foster a better understanding of Islam and create a positive image of its followers.
"Islam means peace and submission and if you want to build a peaceful, cohesive society you need to understand the religion," said Ahmed, who emigrated from Pakistan 36 years ago.
The new mosque was also intended to fight anti-Muslim misconceptions which have been viral since 9/11 attacks.
"Unfortunately, however, there is a misconception by some that Muslims are terrorists," he said.
"But there are bad apples everywhere."
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.
A report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender said that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll had found that 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.
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