opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Carmel needs a mosque

Carmel, Indiana, is typically known for its affluence. Last year, Time Money’s annual Best Places to Live evaluation ranked it as No. 16 in the nation based on its “thriving” economy, low unemployment and “picturesque” scenery.

Now, in 2018, the actions of some Carmel residents are appearing in headlines, highlighting discriminatory treatment of Muslim citizens who are attempting to build a new mosque and religious center. Although some citizens of the 16th-best community in the country would not welcome a mosque, the Al Salaam Foundation should be allowed to build a mosque in Carmel.

Based on the nature of standards established by city officials, which typically allow houses of worship to exist in residential areas, and on the city’s reception of religious centers of other faiths, it would be difficult to deny that the Carmel residents who oppose the mosque are being unjust to their Muslim neighbors.

Without the center, Muslims from Carmel, and neighboring Westfield and Zionsville, who affiliate with the Al Salaam Foundation — the organization driving the plans for the mosque — have been meeting in an Indianapolis office space that is not properly equipped to accommodate them. 

Members of the Al Salaam Foundation and the faith community it serves are pursuing a very reasonable goal. Carmel residents should be reaching out to help them achieve it rather than hindering its progress. 

Dan McFeely of Carmel Economic Development and Community Relations told the Indiana Daily Student in an email that more Carmel residents had actually reached out in support of the project than those opposed.

The issue does not appear to be blanket contempt for all non-Christian faiths. Though Indiana  is 72 percent Christian, religious centers in Carmel for other faiths such as Judaism, and lesser known Christian subsidiaries like Greek Orthodoxy and Mormonism  did not encounter equivalent opposition when they built their own worship centers in recent years.

In fact, increases in the diversity of Carmel’s religious representation were seen as helpful to the community’s image in the eyes of potential international investors. 

I will, of course, object to the notion that economic profit should be the primary motive for religious acceptance, but the context this attitude illuminates throws the discrimination the Muslim community faces into even sharper contrast with Carmel’s treatment of other faiths. 

As the Indianapolis Star reports, Carmel residents’ concerns about the new mosque focus on “property values hurt by additional traffic and calls to prayer from the minaret, something not actually in the plans.” 

Much like the nature of stereotyping itself and the biases it produces, the basis of these comments is not fact but fear. People who live in neighborhoods composed of $700,000 homes are irrationally worried that a culture unfairly discriminated against by many Americans will infringe on their way of life. 

As far as I can tell, it is in fact these concerned citizens whose actions are infringing on the way of life of the area’s Muslim residents, not the other way around. 

This behavior is not uncommon in the landscape of American sociocultural history, but it does appear to be part of a particularly negative surge in contemporary attitudes. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the primary Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in America, shows in their April-June 2017 quarterly report that “the number of bias incidents,” defined as “cases in which there was an identifiable element of religious discrimination,” increased by “24 percent compared to the first half of 2016.”

The solution is simple. The Al Salaam Foundation should receive nothing but approval for its plans, and those who oppose the mosque should educate themselves on the reality of the matter. 

This article has been updated to reflect that City of Carmel itself is not taking steps to discriminate against Muslims, but that some citizens have exhibited discriminatory behavior.

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