Current Status: As of 2019, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center is still operating smoothly and thousands of congregants attend their religious services every week.
In the early 1980s, a group of Muslim college students collaborated to form the Islamic Society of Boston to unite the various Muslim Students’ Associations across universities near Boston. The MSAs at local universities were very diverse, and anyone who identified as Muslim was welcomed. As the ISB expanded in population, there was a need for a physical location to congregate at; thus, they began dedicating efforts towards purchasing and building community centers. The first community center, located in Cambridge, MA, was renovated and finalized in 1994 without much opposition. Unfortunately for the ISB, their second project was far more difficult to complete.
In the fall of 1992, the ISB negotiated a deal with the City of Roxbury, a neighborhood within Boston, that facilitated the purchase of the land where the Islamic Cultural Center was proposed to be built on. The purchase price ISB negotiated with the city was below market value. The Boston Redevelopment Authority insisted that there was adequate reasoning in granting the ISB a significantly lower price — the BRA believed that the mission and objectives of the ISB would economically benefit the local community, therefore justifying the steep discount. Nonetheless, it would take the ISB until 2002 to finally begin to build the Islamic Cultural Center; given the ISB’s vision to build a mosque, school, library, and much more within the ICC, the cost of the project impeded building plans between 1992 and 2002. The ISB struggled to garner the funds required for the construction of the project, and talks with city officials to resolve legal nuances and explain zonal development requirements only proceeded after the money was secured.
The first official lawsuit against the Islamic Society of Boston was filed in September 2004 by James Policastro, a resident of Roxbury (Policastro v. Boston. No 044279C). His concern was not the religious beliefs behind the ISB, but rather that the city of Boston has unconstitutionally subsidized religion by accepting a price that differs substantially from the market value (Albright 2006). Policastro’s lawsuit was dropped by a state judge due to nominal evidence and precedent.
Even though anti-Islamic interest groups were unable to legally challenge the project, opponents continued to mobilize against it. One particular organization that gained notoriety was Citizens for Peace and Tolerance (CTP) claiming the ISB was a radicalized branch of Islam in America (The Case Against the Islamic Society of Boston, 2016). In October 2004, CTP requested the City of Boston begin an investigation into anti-Israeli violence and ideologies. A letter by the ISB adamantly denying the accusations curtailed concerns. In response to persistent accusations, in May of 2005, the ISB decided to launch a reverse lawsuit against 16 institutions, including the CPT and local Boston media outlets on the basis of defamation and libel (Ballou 2007). During the lawsuit, heated argumentation in court and countless evidence dumps by both the ISB and the defendants further heightened the tension between the two parties; neither side was willing to admit defeat for two long years. In May of 2007, following the completion of the first stage of the mosque’s construction, the ISB dropped its lawsuit on all 16 institutions.
Despite the protracted history of the public dispute, the 24 months following May of 2007 were peaceful. Vocal outcries by a minority still persisted, but these failed to gain traction in comparison to the mass public support of the Islamic Cultural Center. As the ICC’s doors were ceremonially opened in June of 2009, many local Muslims believed they finally triumphed in their quest of having a religious facility that heralds their presence (Paulson June 2009). Perhaps what was even more surprising was the eventual acceptance by seemingly the entire community; with local residents, rabbis, and Muslims all at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the ICC was ultimately embraced by the people of Roxbury and Greater Boston, even those that were initially skeptical.
Looking back at the ISBCC in 2019, the project was definitely a success. However, there were some nerve-wracking moments; after the Boston Marathon bombings, significant hatred was directed towards the ICC — as the Tsarnaev brothers frequented the ICC, direct links of terrorism and the ISB were evoked. Nonetheless, the ISB Spiritual Board refused to concede to false narratives. Through a carefully crafted six-step plan (Mogahed 2017), the ISB was able to neutralize its reputation, rebuke any incorrect notions produced out of spite, and boost its public image. With ambitious yet situationally aware leaders at the helm of the ISB, the ISBCC continues to attract more and more attendees every year.