In the 1980s the land on which the ISBCC stands today was an abandoned, unkempt and undeveloped plot. Heroin addicts and drug dealers would camp in this piece of land, which at one point was a housing development that had been demolished for the Inner Belt of the Big Dig project. (Due to community opposition, the Inner Belt was never built, and the land was simply abandoned.)
The city of Boston, specifically the Boston Redevelopment Authority, was looking for any developers it could find. In the late 80s an African-American Muslim organization – the Muslim Council of Boston – successfully bid on the land to build a mosque and a school; however, it simply could not raise the money for the project. In danger of losing the land, in the late 1990s the African-American Muslim leaders propositioned a flourishing, largely immigrant mosque in Cambridge – the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) Trust – to take over the project.
In 1999, community meetings for the project began. Architectural designs got drawn and money started to be raised. The project became newly named and designed as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC). It was to be the largest Islamic center of its kind in New England and in the heart of the historic neighborhood of Roxbury – Malcolm X’s old neighborhood.
The Hate Begins
Just as the project seemed to be progressing, 9/11 happened, and a hate group in the name of the David Project exploited 9/11 as an opportunity to foment anti-Muslim sentiment against the ISBCC. Bringing forward a number of spurious and guilt-by-association charges, the hate group mired the leadership of the center and the city in lawsuits and duped certain Jewish organizations – such as the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Center of Jewish Philanthropies – into believing its claims. By the mid-2000s the project began to significantly stall, and public opinion was divided.
The Community Perseveres
Yet, Mayor Menino, who was committed to the value of diversity in Boston, continued to support the project. Exhausted, the ISB Board of Trust looked for new leadership to take over the project. In 2007 the Muslim American Society of Boston (MAS Boston) assumed the management of the ISBCC.
A group of younger, energized leaders, MAS Boston immediately began building relationships with institutions and public officials of good conscience. Within a few months, the Workman’s Circle – a key Jewish institution, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, the Interreligious Center for Public Life, significant churches like Old South Church, local city councilors, and of course the Mayor stood squarely behind the ISBCC project.
The tide began to turn, and the Boston-Muslim community felt it. On June 9, 2007 over two thousand people flooded the streets of Malcolm X and Elmwood to observe the ISBCC’s minaret capping ceremony. The important relationship building with more churches and synagogues continued, and the fundraising for the project gained ground. On June 26, 2009 the ISBCC officially opened up its doors with the Mayor, several city councilors and state representatives present.
The ISBCC – Now Boston’s Mosque
Since 2009 Boston has continued to embrace its mosque. In April 2010 during a tough election season, Governor Deval Patrick met with over 1200 Muslims at the ISBCC, affirming his support for the center and the community. On October 27, 2013 the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization held a Mayoral Forum at the center, advocating for better public education and criminal justice reform. On April 26, 2013 Rabbis Ronne Friedman and Jeremy Morrison of Temple Israel and Rev. Burns Stanfield of Fourth Presbyterian offered prayers of support for the Boston-Muslim community at the ISBCC at a service addressing the horrific tragedy of the Marathon bombing. On January 17, 2014 the center’s Imam – Suhaib Webb – was invited to address a diverse crowd of a thousand people at Temple Israel at the synagogue’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Shabbat Service. On October 9, 2015 the Mayor of Boston – Marty Walsh – attended prayer services with our new Imam – Shaykh Yasir Fahmy – and spoke to the congregation afterwards. In short, the ISBCC has become an integral part of Greater Boston’s faith institutions and is seen as a symbol and voice for Islam in the region.
From time to time a hate group ironically named Americans for Peace and Tolerance, led by its founder Charles Jacobs – who previously also headed the David Project, recycles or concocts spurious allegations against the ISBCC and area mosques. By now, Boston’s political and faith establishment is well aware of him as an extremist. For instance, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the highest ranking federal official in the region, in a recent NYTimes article called the hate group “incredibly racist and unfair.” Other leading Rabbis like Ronne Friedman have also decried him in similar terms. (See Rabbi’s Friedman’s letter to his congregation “Lashon HaRa”). But no need to take our word or the Rabbi’s or the U.S. Attorney’s words for it. If you have any questions or concerns, simply come to our mosque and come see for yourself who we are.