The Islamic Society of Central Delaware opened its new community center Saturday

Dover’s new Islamic Center, dedicated Saturday, is a place of worship, a place of learning and a place for the community.

It only could have been built with the help of the community, people who provided spiritual support for its members and whose material and financial backing supported construction of the building itself, Usman Sandhu, president of the Islamic Society of Central Delaware, said before the dedication.

“Today is about recognizing those folks who helped make this happen,” Sandhu said.

“The majority -- 99 percent -- of those people are non-Muslims, and this day is about them,” he said. “We want everyone to see what a beautiful thing it is when people get together and accomplish something.”

Focus on faith

Saturday’s dedication included remarks from Mayor Robin Christiansen and members of Christian and Jewish groups who have formed an alliance with the Islamic Society.

Arqum Rashid is the resident scholar and imam. Because Delaware’s other mosque is in Newark, this new Islamic Center provides a focus for all Muslims in the southern part of the state, he said.

“This establishes a grand home where everyone can come and be connected to God,” he said. It is a connection to the Muslim faith and a way of helping non-Muslims understand their beliefs.

“It will be a way to educate people about what Islam really means and what our faith actually stands for, instead of just hearing it from the media or seeing somebody overseas talk about our religion and being the narrative for us,” Rashid said.

The Rev. Sterling Green, of the Epworth United Methodist Church, Rehoboth, said the negative energy surrounding the election of 2016 prompted his church to reach out to Delaware Muslims.

“We felt we needed to find our Muslim neighbors and to build a community,” Green said. “We could not find that in the Rehoboth area, but we met Usman and shared with him our dream and he helped us bridge that gap.”

Sandhu and his wife, Dr. Sobia Chaudri, began visiting Epworth, and church members soon reciprocated, Green said.

That relationship between the faiths has grown into an alliance encompassing Rehoboth’s Seaside Jewish Community, he added, and both contributed support to building the center.

It was a natural relationship, Green said, and one in keeping with the fact all three communities -- Christian, Muslim and Jew -- are descended from the Biblical patriarch Abraham.

“People to people, community to community and faith to faith,” George Beckerman, of the Seaside Jewish Community, said. “On ‘people to people,’ it depends on a lot of people taking the initiative in being open and hospitable to each other.” So it was not unusual that the Seaside Community would join in, he said.

Jeanine Kleimo, executive director of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, said her group has worked closely with the Muslim community.

“We are all children of Abraham, and God is God, and he’s good to us,” she said. “This is real cause for celebration.”

Dover is ready for a place like the Islamic Center, one that can be used by others in central and southern Delaware, not just Muslims. It’s a place where people can come to observe and learn, said Mohammad Iqbal, Sandhu’s business partner.

“We can sit down and just chat, like we’re doing today, or they can come and join in our prayers and see what we do,” Iqbal said. “There is a lot of misconception out there about our religion. Hopefully, this community center will bring a lot of closeness with other faiths.”

A dream realized

The building has been in the works for years.

Founded in 1995 with a membership of less than two dozen, the Islamic Society members worshipped wherever they could, including the Dover Air Force Base chapel, the Delaware Agricultural Museum and, most recently, a converted 1950s motel near Felton.

Members of the Dover Planning Commission gave unanimous approval in March 2015 for a 34,000 square-foot center with classrooms, office space and a gymnasium.

The project called for large prayer rooms, which in the Muslim faith are segregated by gender. The men worship in a large ground floor room, painted in white and contrasting blues, with thick blue-patterned carpeting.

The women pray in a similar, but smaller, upstairs room overlooking the men.

It took more than a year to get the rest of the necessary permits, but construction on 3.8 acres at 777 South Little Creek Road, once a trash dump, began in November 2016. Primary work was completed in April 2018, with interior work recently finished.

Sandhu and Iqbal, through their business, UandI Builders, oversaw construction.

Initially told the project could cost as much as $8 million, Sandhu noted costs were controlled -- and eventually brought down -- through the contributions of others in Delaware’s construction industries. That included members of Kent County’s Amish community, whose framing work saved the endeavor at least $300,000, he said.

Through such cooperation, the center was completed for about $3.3 million.