Celebrating differences: Many faiths work toward opening Hampshire Mosque

  • From left, Rachel Gordon of Greenfield, Hampshire Mosque member Nicollet Jackson of Belchertown and Gale Kuhn of Montague are served dinner by Meriam Elgarf, right, of Springfield and other members of the area Muslim community during an interfaith fundraising event, “Neighbors Together”, on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. Hampshire Mosque has already raised and spent 1.5 million to acquire and renovate their new home on Russell Street in Hadley. Well over 300 people attended the benefit event to finish the last bit of work on the new site. Gazette Photo/ Kevin Gutting

  • Peter Blood of Mount Toby Friends Meeting offers a reflection during an interfaith fundraising event, “Neighbors Together”, on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley to help open the new Hadley location of the Hampshire Mosque. Gazette Photo/Kevin Gutting

For The Recorder
Monday, November 20, 2017

HADLEY –– Peter Blood is a Quaker, and Jesus Christ is the prophet whose teachings he follows.

That does not stop Blood from wanting to help those who follow the Prophet Muhammad, and identify as Muslim, find a place to worship.

Apparently, many others feel the same drive to help, regardless of their religious background.

Blood and his wife, Annie Patterson, along with other Quakers, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists –– and people who don’t fit any particular category –– came together Sunday evening to throw a fundraiser to help the Hampshire Mosque open its doors at 451 Russell St.

Representatives of 42 businesses, artists and nonprofits helped sponsor the event.

The fundraiser took place at the Wesley United Methodist Church and included a silent auction, a feast with many international cuisines, a presentation called “Faces of Islam,” and a detailing of the new mosque’s architecture and features.

By 4 p.m., the church was teeming with hundreds of people.

While it will not be known until later in the week if the fundraising goal was met –– $45,000 to make the final parking lot renovations at the mosque –– Blood and Patterson said the diverse and large attendance was a good sign.

“We have brought in a lot of support financially. We put the word out through Interfaith Opportunities Network, and people volunteered their time and went to different businesses to let people know about (the event),” Patterson said. “This is about the community coming together, because we know we’re stronger together.”

Like the food and the people, the items auctioned off at the event were also diverse. A 19th-century hand-hammered Kashmiri vase, Zephyr rugs, watercolor paintings and a hand-carved set of African candleholders were some of the items up for grabs. The auction also included some less tangible entries: a gardening consultation, a quiet retreat at the Marian Center in Holyoke and a week of Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts workshops.

Starting prices for bids ranged from $10 to over $400, but Blood said many people asked to donate even if they weren’t buying anything. According to the Rev. Cynthia Frado of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, almost $9,000 was raised from the online campaign preceding the event.

“We’re still all cousins. We still come from the same blood, the same DNA. Thank you for reaching out to help this dream happen, because the Muslims in our community deserve to have a beautiful place to worship together,” Blood told the crowd, asserting that it was God who told him to help the Hampshire Mosque.

The Hampshire Mosque opened in the Echo Hill neighborhood of Amherst in 2004, but moved to the former Amherst Carriage Shops downtown a year and a half later. In 2014, the mosque was displaced from the Carriage Shops and has been using the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library for its prayer space ever since.

The Hampshire Mosque community has already invested $1.5 million in the former Adventure Outfitters building across from the Hadley Stop & Shop, but needs the final $45,000 to resurface the parking lot in order to get an occupancy permit from the town. Mosque members, like clerk of the mosque’s board Naz Mohamed, say the permanent space will help the Hampshire Mosque expand its 20-to-25-family community, welcoming Muslims from throughout the Pioneer Valley and western Massachusetts, and even from southern Vermont.

According to Mohammed Abdelaal, the chaplain of the Hampshire Mosque who is also the Muslim adviser at Amherst College, there are certain challenges involved in building a mosque.

“Designing a mosque is a very complex thing,” Abdelaal said. “The design of hospitals is very complicated, the design of courthouses is very complicated. I would add to that the design of mosques.”

Mosque architecture must achieve minimum functional requirements for worship: separate prayer spaces for men and women, orientation toward Mecca, where Muslims face while praying five times a day, a floorpan that allows prayer, sermons, classes and events. There also must be an area for prayer with shoes and prayer without shoes –– considered more pure, according to Abdelaal.

“Of course, on top of all of this, you have to meet all code requirements, all building requirements, accessibility requirements and technical requirements –– fire, mechanical, plumbing, all of it,” Abdelaal said.

Lucy Frasier, a junior at Mount Holyoke College who was raised Christian and is a convert to Islam, was one of the speakers during the evening’s “Faces of Islam” presentation. She said she found an “inner peace” when learning about Islam while in school. Frasier now looks forward to the Hampshire Mosque opening at a permanent location, and she plans on attending when it does.

“I’m really happy, very impressed and very touched that all these people came tonight,” Frasier said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to come together and appreciate different beliefs and backgrounds, and to come to a greater understanding of each other.”

Rabbi Justin David of the Congregation B’Nai Israel in Northampton was contacted by Blood and asked if he would help raise money for the opening of the Hampshire Mosque. David instantly agreed, and said he would have gladly helped even if Blood never approached him. Despite being Jewish, he had a similar opinion to Blood’s, a Quaker, and Frasier’s, a Muslim, about the evening’s symbolism.

“I really believe that, at its best, our society allows different faiths to plant roots and flourish. If a mosque can grow and thrive, we all can grow and thrive,” David said. “Our differences are to be celebrated, not exploited.”