It won’t be the first mosque in Johnston County, but for now it’s the only one.
On Saturday morning, the Islamic Center of Smithfield will open up in a vacant Pentecostal church, taking over the four-acre property and parsonage on Brightleaf Boulevard with future plans for a worship and community center and school. Helping to open the mosque will be local Christian clergy, hoping to strike a welcoming and respectful tone for two faiths of similar origins in a shared community.
Crosses have been removed from the former church’s facade and steeple, and Ali Mohammad, an organizer of the mosque and a Smithfield business owner, said they’ll be handed over to the group of pastors as a show of good faith.
“We want to be friendly with all our neighbors and let them know we’re there,” Mohammad said. “It’s open faith; we’re brothers.”
The last Johnston County mosque was in Selma, but it folded a few years ago after a series of break-ins and the imam left for Goldsboro to help open an Islamic center there. Mohammad, who owns several local strip malls and businesses that sell speakers and security systems, said he let the county’s Muslim community meet in one of his vacant store fronts, but that it was always considered temporary.
“One of our dreams was we could start a bigger Islamic center so our kids can play, we can create a small school, we can create a place for all these families to get together and hang out,” Mohammad said.
He said the group started looking for properties last year and came across the empty Pentecostals of Smithfield property, which includes a church building and a home. They bought the four-acre property last month for $230,000.
Pastor Jim Melnyk, who leads St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, will be one of the Christian church leaders taking part in Saturday’s ceremony. He said Christianity and Islam share common origins and scriptures and that he felt it was important to participate in the mosque opening as a sign of mutual respect.
“I see it as an important statement of community, that we take each other’s faiths seriously,” Melnyk said. “I want to acknowledge how important it is to build bridges in the community when we’re living in a time that is so anxiety ridden and there’s so much mistrust going on in the world around us. It’s important when we can find common ground and share our community.”
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: The News & Observer