Woodland mosque may face forced closure

By Lauren Lundeen

On 145 W. Winona St., in the Woodland neighborhood, sits what looks like any other Duluth church. Inside, all of the pews have been removed, tape lines the floor in a diagonal pattern, and there’s a podium in the far right corner. Actually, this isn’t a church at all. It’s the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports (ICTP).

The ICTP, also known as a mosque or masjid, was established in 2007. However, come September of 2010 it might just become another vacant building. If the ICTP doesn’t raise a target amount of $200,000 to pay off the deed to the building, they will lose it.

“I think monthly expenses are $3,500 every month to run the mosque, to pay electricity, to pay the heating. We need to pay it off otherwise it would be taken from us,” said Muhammad Haris Vohra, member of the ICTP.

The ICTP is the only one of its kind north of the Twin Cities. More specifically, it serves Northeastern Minnesota, Northwestern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, according to the ICTP website.

“It’s the only place for an Islamic Center within 200 miles. Even Two Harbors, or to the Canadian border you won’t find anything,” Vohra said.

Losing the ICTP would mean that Muslims would have to travel a greater distance to a different center. It would also mean losing something very personal.

“A mosque is something very personal to a Muslim. Why do you go to church? Because it’s a place where you pray to God and offer your services,” Vohra said. “It’s exactly the same thing, the same feeling for Muslims. They need to have a place to worship God, because that’s an environment around you, and you’re connected emotionally and internally, morally as well.”

In order to raise funds to keep the building, the ICTP has been looking toward donations. However, as of July 2009, only $8,000 had been raised, according to their Web site. With this, the ICTP has been trying to establish themselves more in the community, and have found that raising the money is difficult.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, build a place in a community,” said Nik Hassan, former president of the ICTP. Hassan also said that establishing and keeping the building is hard in this economy.

Losing the center would be difficult. If the ICTP lost their building, Muslims would have nowhere to go but to mosques in the Twin Cities.

Ghada Ahmed, former member of the ICTP who now resides in the Twin Cities, said, “In the Twin Cities they have 10 centers, and if they lose one they have nine. If they lose one in Duluth, they have none.”

Ahmed still looks to help the ICTP. It’s one of the places she always visits when back in Duluth. Ahmed pointed out that, like Hassan, the ICTP needs to build a place in the community and reach out to others outside the ICTP.

“If you think of the percentage of Muslims that live in Duluth, they are so small of a community and they can’t hold the responsibility themselves. We just can’t go out; we don’t have any means to go and say, ‘Hey, we need help.’ We don’t have that channel of community. We are just talking to each other inside the masjid, and that’s why people don’t know,” she said.

Looking outside the Muslim community is a way for the ICTP to raise more money. Other religions, or people in the general community, might not have any knowledge of the ICTP’s building situation.

If the ICTP reached out to the Woodland community and Duluth community as a whole, they may reach their target money goal, according to Zerleena Khan, former ICTP member who now lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“I personally think with the right amount of events and strong management, they can secure this building. I think the community should support this effort because this ICTP facility is an effort to create better understanding between different religious communities,” Khan said.

Khan might not live in Duluth anymore, but she still cares for the center that holds personal meaning to her.

“The problem of sustenance is that the community is still small to survive with charity earning. And the community needs to have strong following within their group before they can digress for help from outsiders. But, maybe hosting more events that highlight the Islamic, Arabian and Asian culture,” she said. “The key is to be able to communicate with the Duluth community to be a stronger organization.”

One way to become more involved in the community is through the Muslim Student Association at UMD. The MSA is a part of the ICTP but is just for students at UMD. The MSA can reach out to non-Muslim students. In addition, the MSA offers a place for prayer at UMD, but they still take pride in the ICTP. If the ICTP were to close, a sense of belonging might be lost.

“That mosque is kind of a sense of belonging, that venue inside that mosque, having nothing at all you’re like, ‘OK around me there’s no place I can go and devote myself to my religion’ or I can go and feel like ‘OK, this is someplace I can meet other people of my same belief,’” said Gibran Hashmi, president of the MSA.

The ICTP is a place where many Muslims go to worship. To lose the center would be to lose a sense of community in Duluth; a sense of belonging, as Hashmi said.

It’s not just Duluth and the students at UMD that are effected. It expands to two other states. If the ICTP doesn’t raise enough money to keep the center, students and ICTP members will be affected.

“If the ICTP starts to own the masjid, then we can move on. If we can get over it, everything is going to be fine after that,” Ahmed said.

If the ICTP does not reach their goal they will either have to relocate or close. To the people who are a part of the Muslim community and the ICTP things wouldn’t be fine.

If you're interested in donating to the ICTP visit their website for more information.

Related article: It all comes down to prayer at the Woodland mosque

Location of the ICTP: View 145 W Winona St in a larger map

Video by Lauren Lundeen

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