Islamic Society of Boston
The Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) is a mosque and cultural center for Muslims in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The ISB offers daily, weekly and annual programs for Muslims including Arabic and English classes on religious and secular topics as well as a religious school for children and holiday programs. The society also organizes trips and summer camps for children and classes on Islam for new and non-Muslims. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center is a related mosque and cultural center in Roxbury, Boston.
Aims and activities
According to its website, the Islamic Society of Boston was established to serve two main purposes.
First, the ISB intends to help local Muslims to “preserve their Islamic identity” and to “observe their obligations as Muslims.” The Islamic Society of Boston strives to “embody the 'middle path' to which the Qur’an calls—a path of moderation that is free of extremism.” Towards this goal, the ISB offers a number of activities for Muslim living in the Boston area that help them “to make positive, effective, and organized contributions towards the well being and enhancement of the social and cultural environment in which they live.”
Secondly, the ISB strives to act as an information resource by promoting a comprehensive and balanced view of the Islamic religion. It intends to raise awareness of “the Islamic point of view on issues of contemporary relevance.”
The society was founded in 1981 by Muslim students as a consolidation of Muslim Students' Associations at Harvard University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Suffolk University, and Tufts University. The organization's first location was a hall reserved at MIT where they held prayers and weekly seminars and classes. In 1991, the ISB purchased a Cambridge building as a community center and in 1993 purchased a second location and began to renovate it. In 1994 they opened the second location as a mosque. The ISB has also purchased a rental property to provide income for the annual operating expenses of the center.
Reports of ties to radical Islam and terrorism have been controversial and disputed. The society had brought suit in 2005 for defamation against individuals and institutions issuing press and other reports of these ties. However, it abandoned the suit in 2007 when "one after another of the allegations made by the Islamic Society [in its suit] collapsed." According to prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who served as defense counsel in the suit, documents revealed in the discovery phase of the lawsuit confirmed the accuracy of reports tying the Islamic Society of Boston to radical Islam and terrorism.
Boston Marathon bombing controversy
The ISB came to national attention when newspaper reports noted that it had been occasionally attended by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an Islamic extremist since 2009, and, less frequently, by Dzhokhar, the two brothers accused of committing the Boston Marathon bombings. Boston "authorities believe the Chechen brothers ... got their ideas largely online." The organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) has alleged that several former members of ISB are convicted terrorists and claims that the mosque teaches "a brand of Islamic thought that encourages grievances against the West, distrust of law enforcement and opposition to Western forms of government, dress and social values." However, APT itself has been labeled a hate group by American Muslim and Jewish organizations, which allege that it has consistently targeted the Boston Muslim community through smear campaigns and guilt-by-association tactics. US Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz has labeled the APT group and its claims "incredibly racist and unfair." William A. Graham, dean of Harvard Divinity School, has said that "the phobia about it that is generated by a lot of the fearmongers in our community is highly exaggerated" and the mosque has been praised by Christian religious leaders as "an American Muslim institution, well respected in Cambridge, contributing positively to the community at large."
In the summer of 2009, the ISB opened a new building in Roxbury, called the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, on land purchased from the city of Boston adjoining the campus of Roxbury Community College. The ISB agreed to compensate the city for some of the cost of the land through community service by donating books to and sponsoring lectures about Islam for the college, as well as a 10-year agreement to maintain local parks; in exchange they were able to purchase land valued at $401,187 for $175,000. The building project was surrounded by controversy, such as concerns about the land purchase deal and the dual role of Boston Redevelopment Authority Deputy Director Mohammad Ali-Salaam as both the official overseeing and managing the sale on behalf of the city, and principal fundraiser for the Islamic Society of Boston. Issues related to the legality of the sale and the public's access to information surrounding the sale were the subject of two lawsuits, both of which have failed. The facility can accommodate 3000 individuals in its sanctuary, includes an Islamic school for children, an Islamic library, a morgue with burial preparation facilities, administrative offices, a media center, store, a women's gymnasium, a kitchen, a hall for events, and an underground parking garage. Opening events included an interfaith breakfast with appearances by Boston mayor Thomas Menino and the local heads of many Christian denominations, as well as a Muslim congressional representative.
The ISB is active in dawah, or educating the public about Islam. As part of this, the community engages in an interfaith project with Temple Beth Shalom in Cambridge. The organization participates in civil rights work with the ACLU, and has received a grant from the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) for civil rights and civics training for the Muslim community in Boston.
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- Boston Herald October 23, 2003
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- Dorell, Oren. "Terror suspects, fugitives and radical speakers have passed through the Cambridge mosque that the Tsarnaev brothers are known to have visited", USA Today )April 24, 2013)
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- "Praised as beacon, mosque project stalls amid rancor; allegations said to harm funding for Roxbury center". The Boston Globe. December 18, 2005.
- Official website
- Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (Roxbury location) web site
- Overview at Harvard University Pluralism Project website