Lower Sacramento Road, a main link between Lodi and Stockton, is surrounded mostly by farms. But the stretch between Harney Lane and Armstrong Road is also the future home of the 10,200-square-foot California Islamic Center.
The lot sits on 18.65 acres on the east side of Lower Sacramento Road, just south of the “S” curve near Harney Lane. Right now, there is little more than a large, concrete slab.
Eventually the center will feature a prayer hall, a community center where weddings and other gatherings can be held, an educational center for children to do their homework, and a basketball court.
While it may take years for it to be completed, the California Islamic Center reflects the dramatic growth of Islamic communities in the Central Valley. Four new Islamic structures are planned in San Joaquin County alone. That trend reflects steady national growth of Muslims across the country.
It is a striking irony: At a time when Islam continues to draw controversy across America, its practitioners and mosques are expanding. And sometimes that growth itself has sparked conflict.
A part of American life
The Central Valley is a microcosm of the growth of Islam as a whole. The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase in the next 20 years from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to new population projections by the Pew Research Center.
In the United States, for example, projections show the number of Muslims more than doubling over the next two decades, rising from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030, in large part because of immigration and higher-than-average fertility among Muslims, according to Pew research.
There are no absolute numbers regarding San Joaquin County’s Muslim population, but Taj Khan, a supporter of the California Islamic Center and Delta College trustee, estimates there are 10,000 to 15,000.
“More and more, (Muslims) are coming because this is their home now,” said Naheem “Nick” Qayyum, treasurer of the Lodi Muslim Mosque on Poplar Street. “The United States has always been (considered) a good place to live. We need these places of worship. In Lodi, we need a new mosque to take the pressure off this one.”
Although the California Islamic Center is far from completion, its board of directors is searching for an imam. An imam is a mosque’s spiritual leader.
The center’s website has a detailed job description for the position. The imam will lead daily prayers, give lectures for the Islamic education of the community on a weekly basis, teach children’s Quran classes, conduct funerals and assist with burials as needed, raise money, and provide counseling and guidance.
Modesto is getting an influx of Muslims fleeing the Bay Area’s high housing costs. Stanislaus County has nearly 2,000 Muslims, according to Ahmad Kayello, imam for the Modesto Islamic Center.
So Modesto needs a new mosque, he said. They want to replace the 1,000-plus-square-foot mosque in Modesto to one measuring 10 times as large at the same location. The city of Modesto has approved the expansion, but the mosque is waiting for the recession to ebb before raising the money needed to construct the new building, Kayello said.
Expansions in Morada, Tracy, Manteca
Instead of brand-new projects, the Morada, Tracy and Manteca buildings will replace existing mosques no longer large enough to serve their Muslim populations.
The Madina Center in Morada will replace the smaller Islamic Center of North Stockton on North Pershing Avenue. The Madina Center site has a few tractors and a Port-a-Potty on bare land off the eastern Highway 99 frontage road north of Shippee Lane in Morada. When completed, it will contain a 13,820-square-foot multipurpose building and 2,800-square-foot multipurpose hall, plus a prayer hall, office and classroom.
Project engineer Amin Mahmood said construction has started, but there hasn’t been enough money to complete the project. Mahmood said he doesn’t know how long it will take before the Madina Center can open.
The Tracy Islamic Center is scheduled to move into roomier quarters when funds can be raised.
Muslims from nationalities worldwide have settled into San Joaquin County, local Muslim leaders say. The Lodi Muslim Mosque on Poplar Street attracts mostly Pakistanis, while the Stockton Islamic Center has members from places like Palestine, India, Fiji and Yemen, said Mohammed Saeed, vice president of the Stockton Islamic Center.
Many Muslims immigrating into San Joaquin County have agricultural backgrounds, Saeed said. A majority become U.S. citizens, he said, after waiting the requisite five years from getting an immigration visa.
The Modesto mosque is multicultural in nature, Kayello said. It includes immigrants from places like Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“In the Valley, you’re seeing more (Muslim) folks moving from the Bay Area,” said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Sacramento.
Globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades — an average annual growth rate of 1.5 percent for Muslims, compared to 0.7 percent for non-Muslims, according to the Pew report.
If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion, the Pew Center reports.
In the decade that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many communities fought the construction or expansion of mosques and Islamic centers. Lodi, Morada and Tracy have experienced those challenges.
The San Joaquin County Planning Commission approved the California Islamic Center on Lower Sacramento Road in 2005, but the Board of Supervisors rejected the project a short time later due to parking and traffic issues.
During a public hearing before the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in 2005, opponents of the Lower Sacramento Road project cited issues like traffic and the destruction of the area’s rural atmosphere.
However, Muslim leaders at the hearing said they felt the board’s denial was politically motivated. A neighboring property owner said during the 2005 hearing that he was afraid of potential terrorism by Muslims in light of the 9/11 attacks.
County commissioners approved revised plans for the center in 2009 after the architect removed a school from the plans and placed the main building farther away from neighboring property.
There were also traffic and water concerns regarding new Islamic centers planned in Morada and Tracy. In fact, the Morada Area Association, a private group of residents and property owners, sued Madina Islamic Center developer Masjid Umar Farooq and San Joaquin County over the county approving the project.
A settlement was reached in late 2009, allowing the mosque to be built on the eastern Highway 99 frontage road, about 150 feet north of Shippee Lane.
“We have no opposition to the cultural aspect of it,” said Morada Area Association President Ernie Boutte. “There will be hundreds of new cars, and ingress and egress issues. But we have many churches on both sides of Highway 99.”
Boutte said the Morada group was upset that the county didn’t require a full environmental impact report on the Madina Center.
The settlement forbids lighting that would affect neighboring homes and prohibits outdoor speakers, a kitchen or a morgue.
Now that the Morada Area Association has settled with the Islamic center, Boutte said he wants the center to become a part of the Morada community by joining the association as dues-paying members, and allowing people of other cultures to rent the Madina building for meetings and other events.
Muslim leaders throughout San Joaquin County say they enjoy living in America. Many are highly successful.
The Modesto mosque has about 20 doctors and nurses, Kayello said.
Elkarra, the Council on American-Islamic Relations director, said that Muslims are part of the community — just like everyone else.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.