In a world where religions often operate in a vacuum, Vermont seems to be where faith crosses lines and believers meld. Maybe it’s the size of our small state, or the smaller size of our congregations, but interfaith gatherings and initiatives are more common here.
So it should come as no surprise that the Islamic Society of Vermont has started a GoFundMe page to purchase the former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints building on Swift Street. The society must raise $500,000 in order to buy the building and establish a new mosque and Islamic Center. They have three months to reach their goal. The total purchase price is $1.1 million.
The society is currently under contract to purchase the 19,000 square foot brick building at 400 Swift Street, which sits adjacent to the Temple Sinai Congregation. The could-be neighbors show great enthusiasm about future collaboration.
“We are thrilled that they are going to buy the building and are excited about the possibilities of all the ways we can work together in the future,” Rabbi David Edelson of Temple Sinai said. “The Muslim community and the Jewish community face a lot of the same pressures and prejudices, so it is nice to have them here with us so that we can work together in South Burlington and in Vermont.”
Islamic Society Board of Trustees member Azhar Karim shared similar sentiments.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to have the Jewish Temple Sinai right next to us,” he said. “We are already in collaboration with other religious groups at the state and national level, including the Jewish community. However, we believe that having them as a next door neighbor is really going to help us make the bond between Muslim and Jewish communities even stronger. We have a few ideas on how to make this bond better once we actually move there, for example hosting joint events at each other’s location, such as potluck dinners, seminars or lectures.”
Edelson echoed these thoughts, as well.
“We want to do joint events with them,” he said. “We want to celebrate our respective holidays, here and there, together as much as we can and we want to work together on common issues that we face.”
Currently, the Islamic Society’s mosque and headquarters are located on Hegeman Avenue in Colchester and the building is for sale. The mosque has been open since 1999, and counts roughly 300 active members. The current building is both too small for the growing Muslim community in the area and not secure enough, Karim said. The new space would offer room for 700 worshipers.
“The new space is bigger than our current space, and it will have better classrooms for our weekend Islamic school,” he said. “There is a big enough space available to have recreational activities for our youth and, more important than anything else, is that the new space is better secured and safer. The current settlement is a very old building, requiring many expensive upgrades and not a very secure building.”
There are an estimated 4,000 Muslims living in Vermont.
The Islamic Society of Vermont looks forward to welcoming all members of the South Burlington community and surrounding areas to its center.
“We gather every last Saturday every month for a community potluck dinner and everyone is invited to come with their families, bring a dish or two or none, and just spend some time chatting with each other, enjoying the delicious and diverse cuisine from all over the world,” Karim said. “We encourage and welcome our neighbors and everyone to join this monthly event; it is open for everyone.”
In its mission statement on the GoFundMe page, the society also hopes to provide interfaith programs that connect Muslims and people of other faiths in order to build mutual respect, understanding, help each other and inform the values of religion and culture.
“Those who live in South Burlington know what a wonderful, inclusive, safe and peaceful community it is and ISVT feels blessed to have this opportunity to be a part of it,” Karim said.
The GoFundMe campaign, which is currently trending, was up to $15,000 of the $500,000 goal on day 11. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/appeal-for-donation-buying-a-church-to-mosque.