In another time, the opening of a new mosque in Johnson County, Kansas, may not have attracted hundreds of people from a wide array of backgrounds. But some say these are extraordinary times.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, incidents that reflect bias against Muslims grew by 57% last year.
Crowds streamed into the new classic masjid, Arabic for mosque, at the Islamic Center of Johnson County.
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach did the official honor of cutting a ceremonial ribbon for the construction project, which was conceived a decade ago.
"It’s important to Overland Park because these are great friends,” Gerlach says. “They’ve worked well with the city, are great community builders, and it makes us a stronger community building this mosque here.”
Zafir Hawa, a local cardiologist and trustee of the Islamic Center, estimates Johnson County is home to about 5,000 Muslims.
Mary Baker of Olathe Bible Church says her church has had a long relationship with ICJC.
“I pray for God's protection over this mosque,” Baker says. “I think it’s extremely important in this day and age to build bridges between communities, so we can learn how we share values in spite of differences between the two faiths.”
Members of the center have received some negative voicemail and social media messages. But they have been spared property damage or physical threats seen by some members of the Muslim community in other cities.
Several members of the FBI were present at Friday’s ceremony.
Officials with the mosque consulted with the FBI before construction of the new building about security measures. Both the exterior and interior perimeters are equipped with special lights and panoramic surveillance cameras.
Special Agent in Charge Darrin Jones says the FBI is engaging with many different communities.
“In order for us to do our job, we need that outreach,” he says. "When things happen or we have questions or people have concerns, we want them to feel very comfortable giving us a call or reaching out.”
On the heels of a well-attended Muslim-Jewish dinner Thursday night in Kansas City, Marvin Szneler, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, says he’s gratified to see such support for this new building.
"We want to do all we can to support our Islamic brothers and sisters," Szneler says. “Their success in this country will only make this country better for everybody.”
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter for KCUR 89.3.