The Kalamazoo Gazette highlights the work of the Bilal Islamic center on the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood. For a community that has limited activities and organizations available, the Bilal Center is making positive contributions and building relationships in throughout the neighborhood.
Some excerpts from the article:
The real purpose for that mosque was to be a vehicle for community development,” said Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, 30, a Bilal member and Western Michigan University staff member in charge of an upcoming Kalamazoo exhibit on race. “The reason that it’s on the East Side is because we see that that is an area that needs a lot of development, and we’re hoping to use the mosque in a way that will lead to the upliftment of that area.”Read the full article here:
In December, the mosque purchased its first rental property, which members plan to subdivide into housing for four families.
Patricia Taylor, executive director of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, said members of the Bilal Islamic Center introduced themselves to her soon after her arrival at the neighborhood association about four and a half years ago.
“I don’t really think of their religious affiliation as much as I do their focus and determination for a peaceful neighborhood in general,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter what one’s race or religious affiliation, their goal is to have a good neighborhood, a good viable neighborhood, and part of their impact, actually, is their willingness to come into an area that is totally depressed.”
What they do
The Bilal Islamic Center hopes to improve Kalamazoo’s East Side by buying and refurbishing more housing to rent to stable families. It also aims to rid the area of drug sales and other crimes by participating in the Neighborhood Watch group.
“We tried to pick a target, a place where it was bad,” said Mateen, owner of the Little Fish Dock restaurant, at 1726 E. Main St., diagonally across the street from the mosque. “We feel that we can make a difference over here.”
Since 2006, mosque members also have been getting to know the community by inviting residents to their New Africa Nights on Wednesdays. The nights are part community potluck and part religious studies. One recent Wednesday night, about 10 men and women gathered at the Little Fish Dock to discuss needed roof work for the new rental housing, management of the new property and other concerns. They later broke for a dinner of chicken soup, spaghetti and white rice with curry and turmeric.
One visitor that night was the Rev. John W. McNaughton, a former pastor of Stockbridge Avenue United Methodist Church and current chaplain for the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Battle Creek.
“They’re very community-minded,” McNaughton said of the mosque members. “What’s good for the community they’re interested in.”