The Islamic Society of New Hampshire
In 1987, a Saudi Arabian student named Sheikh Ahmed Shedi began his undergraduate education at the New Hampshire College (now known as Southern New Hampshire University). He wanted to find a place in New Hampshire that could serve as a mosque for the growing local Muslim population. This space ended up being Shedi’s apartment (ISGM, 2012). Five years later, in 1992, Hussein A. Dayib from Kenya and Khurshid Alam from Pakistan took leadership of the new group and officially created the Muslim Student Association at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). The group struggled to find a suitable space for regular prayer and community organizing. They moved from Shedi’s apartment to an Audio-Visual Studio to a Dance Studio and finally to a room in SNHU’s New Hampshire hall on their North Campus in 1993 (ISGM, 2012). Two years later, the University decided to sell North Campus in a consolidation effort, leaving the Muslim Student Association stranded again. Over the following years, there was a significant influx of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries into the United States and New Hampshire. It wasn’t long until the Muslim Student Association became the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester (ISGM), a not-for-profit organization hoping to build New Hampshire’s first mosque. Mohamed Ewiess, current president of the Islamic Society, says the motive for this project comes from the Quran: “Whoever builds a mosque for Allah, then Allah will build for him a house like it in Paradise” (ISNH, 2019). That same year, in 1998, the Islamic Society purchased 2.75 acres of land on Karatzas Avenue, adding another acre in 2007, and began work on the mosque (ISGM, 2012).
Building a Mosque on Bald Hill
Trouble began for the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester (also known as Islamic Society of New Hampshire or ISNH) as soon as construction on their new land began at the start of 2003 (Hayward, June 2003). After the Islamic Society tore down the standing building, the city of Manchester insisted they couldn’t start construction until all property owners along the street spent over $500,000 in repairing Karatzas Avenue (Donahue, 2016). The city ultimately dismissed the case because the request was found to be unjustifiable, but the case raised awareness about possible financial complications for the Society in the future. They had expected the project to cost no more than $2 million, but even that proved to be a stretch. A core issue for ISNH was that a conventional interpretation of the Quran advises against taking interest-bearing loans, making fundraising extremely difficult for the Islamic Society (Hayward, May 2003). Instead, they began hosting annual fundraisers and have continued to host them for the past twenty years, bringing in about $150,000 for construction. While the fundraisers were significant events for the community, difficulties continued as they were not reaching their expected goals.
Three months after signing an agreement with a local architect, the September 11th attacks took down the twin towers, and almost all outside funding for ISNH’s mosque disappeared (Jacobs, 2017). Still, the Society had allies. For example, Bob Baines, mayor of Manchester, NH from 2000 to 2006 spoke out in support of the Islamic Society’s plan: “Manchester has always been a city noted for its ability to accommodate a multiplicity of races, ethnicities, and religions” (Donahue, 2016). The local government overall has been supportive of ISNH’s plans in an attempt to integrate this Muslim community into their own. But the overwhelming response from neighbors and citizens of the area post-9/11 until around the year 2007 was negative. In 2003, a lawsuit was filed by Milton and Sally Argerious saying the Society’s mosque would be trespassing on their property (Hayward, May 2003). Two years later, a judge ruled against the couple and dropped all charges. Frank Scarito also filed a lawsuit in 2003 aiming to prove that in allowing the construction, Manchester was failing to “protect the public health, safety, and welfare” of its citizens (Donahue, 2016). In 2006, Doug Lambert, a local blogger, targeted the Islamic Society of New Hampshire in a post. He suggested that the mosque would serve as “ammo dumps and hideouts for murderous thugs,” and he compared ISNH to a Nazi organization (Lambert, 2006). Despite the hate and attempted blocks, four years after receiving their permit, the ISNH moved forward with construction in 2007.
Since 2007, the Islamic Society of New Hampshire’s main issue has been funding. Area tradespeople took on some of the construction work, and annual fundraisers continued to raise money (Jacobs, 2017). By 2013, the exterior was complete, and now in 2019, the interior is cleaned up, and the ISNH is almost ready to receive full certificate of occupancy (ISNH, 2019). Due to the building’s vacancy over the past decade, it’s become a target. One year, two kids smashed almost all the windows causing over $30,000 in repairs. The Society says it’s also not uncommon to find evidence of trespassers on their property (Donahue, 2016).Additionally, Bald Hill, the mosque’s site, is an incredibly difficult piece of land with rocky outcrops and uneven ground. It has required extensive and expensive work to overcome. These setbacks, while individually minor, have only slowed the construction of Manchester’s mosque. Since the Society’s founding, three other mosques have been built in New Hampshire, but many members of Manchester’s Muslim community are still hopeful. Twenty years later, ISNH has raised around $1.5 million but needs another $2.5 million to complete the project (Jacobs, 2017). Today, the congregation has grown from only 25 families in 1998 to almost two hundred with citizens from over 25 countries (Donahue, 2016). ISNH moved into the first floor of three, at the end of 2018, but full completion of the mosque is still on a distant horizon (Garrova, 2018).