Friday, September 5, 2008

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center Arrives in Roxbury

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

The first thing I saw when I walked into the open house on August 30 at what I like to call The Mosque, though it is also a community center and will someday house a school, were the nuns from St. Margaret's all lined up like the girls in the Madeline books. The neighborhood was invited and maybe 30 -40 showed – Byron Rushing and Chuck Turner among them.

Our hosts were quite gracious and while we noshed on pastry, yogurt, oj and coffee (“what do they eat”, one of my family members asked – Food! And it was all from Stop and Shop), we heard the ISB’s story of the history of the building. The details of all the political intrigue landed like so many much wah, wah , wah , wah on my ears. I’d wrested myself from my garden, which is my church, out of curiosity about the building, its owners, and their religion. Though I do know a little about Policastro’s lawsuit against the Center, the BRA, and RCC what is more interesting is that ISB, in exchange for a reduced sale price, is required to sponsor and provide “a variety of educational and cultural programs and services to the local community in Roxbury.”

We were repeatedly told that the building will be open to the community and that we are welcome to join in prayers and other services – something that I’ll be taking them up on. Would I have to wear a head scarf and perform ablutions – as a Muslim would – if I did attend prayers? No on both counts – it’s a come-as-you-are-kind of place. Inclusive cultural events and comparative religion study groups were also suggested.

Ramadan began this month and we may be invited to the Eid celebration – well, we are technically invited to everything. And it helps that, at least rhetorically, the Center so far seems to be devoted to inclusion and not exclusivity.

The building itself isn’t bad. An original plan for stairs leading from the sidewalks to the building was canned once they realized that students heading from Roxbury Crossing T stop to Madison Park would take the short cut and use the stairs to cross through. On the amazing side, only once in the 2 years construction was delayed did the building get tagged. Impressive, given that a neighbor keeping track of tags in the neighborhood and has counyed 52 overall in a much shorter span of time.

The building provides only 58 parking spaces, another 58 to be built when the school is constructed. Sure hope they’re all riding their bikes and taking the T to services. We didn’t climb into the minaret this tour but hopefully will on another one.

There’s a jut-out on the northeast side of the building to make the direction of Mecca obvious – due East leads to Ireland, we were told.

In the mosque itself, men pray on the first floor, women above them on the mezzanine and there’s a separate and private room for women with small children and babies.

Entering the building for prayers, men and women repair to separate washrooms to remove their shoes and wash up. All genders purportedly being equal in the USA, men and women can enter through the same door. Or not, if they prefer, in the spirit of more traditional mosques which have separate entrances for each gender.

Salam alaykem.

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