Muslims in the St. Croix Valley and throughout the east metro will soon have a beautiful, brand new house of worship. Construction on a mosque in Afton began in 2017 and was set to open this past summer. Plans had been in the works for almost a decade. Members of the Islamic Society of Woodbury and the East Metro say they are excited to have such a spacious gathering spot, and look forward to the opportunities it offers to serve and connect with fellow residents of the St. Croix Valley and beyond.
The new mosque is the project of the Islamic Society of Woodbury and the East Metro, a nonprofit organization serving as a religious and cultural center for Muslims in the area. Since 2009, the Islamic Society has rented a 4,500-square-foot warehouse in a Woodbury office park. Though it sufficed for a while, as the congregation has grown, the interim space has felt smaller and smaller, hence the need for a better space.
“We do have dinners and prayers and things like that in there, but it’s in a warehouse, so we share walls. There is not that kind of separation or privacy, so we really cannot do much, because our neighbors can get impacted,” says Irfan Ali, who serves on the board for the Islamic Society. “That was one of the reasons for moving to Afton.”
In addition to providing enough physical space, the new mosque will also fulfill the religious, spiritual, educational and social needs of Muslims living throughout the east metro. Ali says while the Islamic Society initially looked into staying in Woodbury and constructing the mosque there, few properties of the right size were available.
“Woodbury has become so crowded, so there weren’t too many open spaces. Afton just seemed right,” Ali explains. “It has more open space, so there’s more room for us to grow and the community out there is really good.” He also says room for children’s educational and recreational activities is a top priority. “More than for us, it’s for our kids,” he says. “One of the key things is to engage the youth, so that they can have a place where they can get together and grow together.”
The facility has been built on a 29-acre property that was previously a hobby farm. The Islamic Society purchased the land in 2013 and, in 2016, was granted permission from the Afton City Council to construct the mosque. The Islamic Society raised over $500,000 to finance the construction.
The new mosque will be among the few of its kind in the state of Minn., built from the ground up. It was designed by Christopher McCoy, a Kentucky-based architect who specializes in Islamic architecture. McCoy has worked on over a dozen mosques, including four currently under construction in other states. His vision for the Afton project combines old and new. “The design is kind of a mixture of more traditional and more modern architecture that blends into the environment around it,” says Ali.
The mosque has also been specially designed to face directly northeast toward Mecca, the site to which all Muslims face while praying. The square footage totals nearly 11,000 feet, double the size of the Islamic Society’s interim rented space. The facility includes office space, community rooms and a 4,500-square-foot multipurpose hall that will be used for everything from worship services to educational activities to community outreach services and events open to community members of all faiths.
“It is obviously a place of worship, but it is also going to be a place where we do community events like dinners and different programs,” says Ali. The Islamic Society currently runs a food shelf and will continue to do so in the new space, alongside other social service programs. “There are a lot of doctors in our community, so our plan is to have free clinics and screenings and things along those lines,” he says.
More than anything, Ali says he and other Islamic Society members are excited to have a space to call theirs. Muslims have deep roots in the St. Croix Valley and the east metro, and they’re eager to integrate into and serve the local community. “I know that sometimes there can be a lot of misunderstanding on people’s part, but the bottom line is that we’re all a part of the same community,” Ali says. “We all work here and interact with each other, and our kids go to the same schools. We’re all already a part of the same community; we just happen to have a different faith.”