FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s been more than forty years since Burmese Muslims have built a mosque anywhere in the world, let alone the United States. After five years of construction, the wait is over. The first new Burmese Mosque in four decades is now open in Fort Wayne.
Thousands of people came out for the grand opening of the mosque on the southeast side of Fort Wayne on Sunday. Around a thousand of those even came from other cities and states to join in the celebration. The Burmese Muslim Education and Community Center (BMECC) started the project back in 2010.
“The name of the masjid is Masjid Noor ul-Islam, which means the Light of the Islam,” BMECC secretary Ye Win Latt said.
The organization has rented out several apartments for worship over the years, but said it quickly outgrew that space.
“We have about 7-8,000 Burmese living in Fort Wayne. About 2,000 of them are Muslims. We also have Christians and Buddhists,” Latt said.
The completed space represents the first of a five-phase project. It cost around $600,000, with the majority of the money coming from donations.
“We go from house to house to get donations. People donate from $5-10 to a few thousand dollars. We have been collecting those donations, small donations, every month in the last five years, and that’s how we got this far,” Latt said.
The first phase includes prayer space and a parking lot. Around 150 men can pray in the front of the building, and there is also a special section for about 20 women to pray in the mosque as well. Mosque officials said both spaces will eventually expand, but the space for women is smaller because a lot of women pray from home. Both men and women can wash their hands, feet, and face in specially-designated ablution rooms.
“To the Islamic community, it’s like world-shaking,” retired refugee case worker Fred Gilbert said. “It’s an example of what communities do when they come, and that is take what they bring and combine it with freedom and do what they cannot do in their home countries in many cases.”
Fred Gilbert started working with the Burmese in 1991, and said having a place to worship is critical for refugees to feel at home.
“With a lot of the news media, so many times Islam is portrayed in the negative. Like any religion, this is a positive. This is a wonderful day for number one the community and the greater Fort Wayne community. They’re a very peaceful people. The Mosque represents the best of those traditions in that we can begin to help understand that Islam is very powerful and very positive,” Gilbert said.
The other four phases of the project will come as more money is raised. Those will include classrooms and additional prayer space. Mosque officials estimate the total project will cost around $1.1 million.
“The expansion that we’ve seen in the Muslim community is just unbelievable. This is actually the fifth Islamic center in the town, and it represents the particular needs for the Burmese Muslims. Even though we say that this is for Burmese Muslims, there are Muslims from all different diverse cultural heritages and backgrounds, so this would cater to all of them and any Muslim from any background would be welcome to any of the mosques. The place of the Mosque in Islamic society and civilization is not just that of a building where people show up to pray five times a day. It actually is much more. This is a place where people come. They can start community projects. This a place where we can truly spread the peaceful message of Islam, the love and the brotherhood, not just within the Muslims, but for people of all faith,” Universal Education Foundation president Gohar Salam said.