“If there is anyone who ever wondered, ‘Who are these guys and what are they doing inside that building?’ I hope they will be here,” Islamic Center of Rolla Building Committee Advisor Haitham Shtaieh said.
The committee is hosting a grand opening and open house of the new Islamic Center, which has been planned since 2007 and under construction since 2010 with the goal of accommodating a Muslim population in Rolla that has more than doubled in the last five years.
“Previously, we had people overflowing the mosque,” Building Committee member Dr. Syed Huq said. “People were praying on the sidewalks.”
Additional space is not the only improvement for the new center. The new building also boasts a warming kitchen, a children’s play area, a women’s lounge and a set of classrooms.
The classrooms will be used to teach children about their faith while their parents attend Friday services.
“It’s basically the equivalent to Sunday school,” Shtaieh said.
According to Muslim Student Association Islamic Center Representative Anan Takroori, Muslims pray five times a day and hold their largest services on Friday, similar to Sunday in the Christian religion.
While the building committee is excited to show off the structure they helped create, they are eger to open up to the community about Islam and the contributions the Muslim community has made locally.
Many of those contributions are no different than ones made by other houses of faith in Rolla. Members of the center and the MSA have participated in community outreach programs including volunteering at food banks at Christian churches and taking water and other supplies to assist in the relief efforts following the EF-5 tornado that struck the Joplin in May.
The center has also contributed to the local economy, according to the Building Committee.
The committee employed Rolla contractor Jim Larson to construct the $1.3 million facility, and Larson hired only local subcontractors to work on the project.
Committee members joked that everything but the prayer hall carpeting was bought in Rolla.
The carpeting is a special woven carpet imported from Turkey that cannot be found in the United States.
Additionally, the committee believes the new mosque will help increase the student population at Missouri S&T, specifically the population of international students who call traditionally Muslim countries home.
“Having this building makes it easier for those students and also for the university to recruit those students,” Building Committee member Ghulam Bhan said.
Perhaps this is one reason why the MSA was so active in raising funds for the center, which was financed completely through private donations.
“There have been some questions about where the money was coming from and if the university contributed money to this building, and the answer to that is absolutely not,” Shtaieh said. “Most of the money comes from these students hopping in their cars and going to other mosques across the country and asking for donations.”
According to Shtaieh, donors came from mosques as far away as Dallas, Texas.
The center is still seeking donations, as the building has very few furnishings and will require upkeep.
The student population may have been very active in fundraising for the mosque, but committee members are quick to point out the diversity that exists within the center’s members.
“It’s kind of a microcosm of the Muslim world,” Huq said.
In addition to the students, many of the center’s members are university faculty and medical doctors hailing from 22 countries, including the United States.
“Sometimes I tell people I am Muslim, and they don’t believe me,” Building Committee member Yusha Sager said. “They say, ‘You don’t look Muslim,’ but they are usually very accepting. Rolla is a very accepting community.”
Sager is more commonly known by his “American name,” Tom, but is known as Yusha, his Arabic name within the mosque community.
Sager was not raised in the Muslim faith, but said he became “enamored with Islam” during trips to Iraq in the late 1990s and officially converted to the religion in 2002.
During the interview with Rolla Daily News staff, Sager’s fellow committee members appeared surprised to learn that his conversion happened less than a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when anti-Muslim sentiments among some Americans was surfacing.
Shtaieh was one of the only committee members who lived in the United States in 2001.
“Around that time, everyone was on edge,” he said. “Me, personally, I did not experience anything like that (racism), but I knew people who did.”
Takroori and his fellow student and committee member Faraj Muhammad have come to the United States in more recent years.
“When I came in 2009, I was a bit unsure of how people would perceive me as a Muslim,” Muhammad said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised by what he found.
The pair indicated they have never felt discriminated against, and find the community of Rolla to be very accepting of their values and beliefs.
“For me, it feels normal to do anything that a normal student would do,” Takroori said. “In fact, I get a lot of respect from other students and faculty at the university for my work with the Islamic Center.”