The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) in Carmel approved the zoning of a mosque in the city Monday by a 3-2 vote. The Al Salam Foundation is planning to build the proposed Islamic Life Center at 141st Street and Shelborne Road.
The BZA made the announcement at approximately 11:23 p.m. following over five hours of testimony from the nearly 200 people that signed up to speak. According to the Indianapolis Star, 88 spoke in favor of the proposal and 88 spoke in opposition.
As a consequence of crowd sizes outpacing the seating available in previous hearings at the Monon Center, the hearing took place at the Palladium, a concert hall with seating for 1,600.
Ali Saeed, an attorney from Westfield, addressed the large crowd and the media, “Let all the gawking eyes, let all the people looking outside in know, that we are a community that actually is truly diverse and opens its arms to diversity.”
A fellow resident from Westfield and former Carmelite Sameer Habib said, “The Islamic Life Center will be an asset to the community and legitimize, with clear and solid action, that Carmel welcomes all people.”
“We are your doctors, we are your lawyers, we are your business owners. I’m husband, and a father to a beautiful daughter,” Habib said. “Please approve the ILC so my family, and so many like ours, can have a place to practice our faith.”
An eighteen year resident of the Village of WestClay in Carmel said, “For the last five years, I’m going to a prayer hall that is so cramped that you literally have to curl into a ball to avoid getting kicked in the head.”
“After trying to find a suitable location for five years, and being kicked in my head for five years, we now deserve a place to say our prayers peacefully, and comfortably,” the WestClay resident said.
According to reporting from WTHR, the City of Carmel compared the proposed Islamic Life Center to the St. Mary and Mark Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Islamic Life Center would have a land size of 4.66 acres, a building size of 18,000 square feet, and would have 102 parking spots. The St. Mary and Mark Coptic Orthodox Church has a land size of 5.57 acres, a building size of 8,657 square feet, and has 131 parking spots.
A woman from the Kingsmill neighborhood of Carmel made the same comparison.
“There seems to be a lot of criticism for the proposed Islamic Life Center,” the Kingsmill resident said, “yet while planning the new Coptic Orthodox Church, the city received no such opposition in these early stages.”
She continued, “This leads one to believe that there is deeper religious objections than the community wants to admit.”
One of those levying religious objections was Paul Knutson, a resident of Westfield.
“I am actually opposed to this site because I support ministries that are helping Christians that are facing Christian persecution around the world, and it’s almost exclusively Islamic persecution,” Knutson said.
“It’s not that I don’t like my neighbors. It’s not that I’m being hateful. I oppose the spread of Islam,” Knutson said to a few claps from the audience, before the BZA admonished them.
Michelle Pellicone, a resident of Overbrook Farms in Carmel, said, “Opposition has never been about religion, not about intolerance or fear, and to suggest so is insulting. This is about site suitability and transparency of plans.”
This theme was echoed by fellow resident
of Overbrook Farms Ingrid Muse, “Throughout this process, there have been many inconsistencies.”
The Al Salam Foundation had changed its plan since its initial proposal, as the Indianapolis Star’s Chris Sikich reported, “The congregation agreed to reduce the size of the building, shift parking away from homes, build a privacy fence, add landscaping and lower light poles.”
Opponents of the proposal raised concerns that the mosque would be too small to accommodate all of the Muslim worshippers from Carmel, Westfield and Zionsville who would want to attend services.
Despite the opposition, the BZA’s decision to approve the mosque was met with applause and cheers from the audience. One child yelled out, “We won!”
The Indianapolis Star reports that the Al Salam Foundation is fundraising for the mosque’s construction, which could begin within a year.