Islamic Society of Boston

This profile was last updated in 2018

History

The Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) is one of the oldest mosques in the Cambridge area and is housed in a building that previously was the headquarters for the “Knight of Columbus Club”. The ISB was organized in 1981 as a loose association of Muslim student organizations at Harvard University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute, Suffolk University and Tufts University.  The mosque opened in 1995 as the result of a large demand by local students and Muslim families in need of a place to worship. As the number of worshippers steadily increased over time, it became apparent that the center needed to expand to accommodate the changing population. This need led community members to develop plans for a larger cultural center that would not only provide more space for events but also expand initiatives to reach out to the larger non-Muslim community. As a result, the ISB assisted in the efforts to build the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) by selling land. Upon the completion of construction in 2004, a new board was formed to oversee both the ISB and the ISBCC. The initial period after the completion of the ISBCC brought several challenges to the ISB as membership dwindled and activities decreased. To address these issues, the ISB renewed efforts to reach out to local Muslims by initiating a new slogan, mission, and vision: bridging communities, connecting strangers to become neighbors and allies, and bonding through service, learning, and mutual support.

Demographics

The ISB houses a wide diversity of ethnic groups in its membership of around 500 individuals, ranging between Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, and North American groups. While the mosque’s population is predominantly sunni, the ISB does not define itself as a “sunni mosque” and remains open to other diverse sects of Islam. The mosque primarily focuses on serving student populations from local universities but also remains a place for other generations to interact.

Description of the Center

Situated at 204 Prospect St. in Cambridge, the ISB is adorned with turquoise and beige tiles patterned in geometric flowers on its front walls.  The tiles surround a large centered caption in royal blue that writes, “And We have sent You as a Mercy to mankind and all that exists.” A large glass door graces the center of the building, which had replaced a dark steel door after the new efforts to bring new worshippers to the mosque. The door had brought some controversy as local members were torn between wanting to feel safe and sending a welcoming message of transparency and openness to neighbors. After several prolonged conversations, the steel door was replaced with glass and immediately attracted the attention of local news media and locals. The change indeed brought forward warm gestures of acceptance and general interest from individuals passing by.

Activities

Besides serving as a space for the five daily prayers and iftars during Ramadan, the ISB provides a variety of services to a diverse Muslim community. The ISB offers classes on the study of Qur’an and Hadith throughout the week for both English and Arabic speakers.  Additionally, the mosque holds “Open Mosque Days” where local non-Muslim religious groups and citizens are invited to explore the mosque, meet other Muslim worshippers, and try on the hijab (or head-covering). These events have often generated a high-turnout of locals and government employees, such as the Cambridge Police Commissioner, the City Councilor, and the Mayor of Cambridge. The ISB has also worked with the “Yallah Vote Initiative” which aimed to increase voter turnout and political literacy. The organization also has worked on providing resources to the general community by, for example, leading a workshop for bikers in Cambridge, opening the mosque’s doors during blizzards, and lending its parking lot to other religious groups. Lastly, the mosque is developing the Islamic Society of Boston Learning Academy for young Muslim learners.

Partnerships

The ISB is active in interfaith work in the community and in educating the public about Islam. ISB has an ongoing relationship with Temple Beth Shalom and hosts monthly Jewish-Muslim dialogues on topics such as gender or dietary laws. Additionally, the ISB partnered with local Jewish and Christian organizations to assist disenfranchised individuals without homes and provide resources. The ISB also developed a relationship with churches in the area, such as the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, and previously invited local priests to visit the mosque.

In addition, the ISB had an outreach director after Sept. 11, 2001 who worked to build relationships with government agencies, schools, and nonprofits, as well as area churches and synagogues. As a result of the outreach director’s efforts, the ISB has been called into some of the work the ACLU is doing in relation to civil rights work after Sept. 11. The ISB also co-sponsored a dialogue project on race and ethnicity in Boston and was also a recipient of a grant from the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to do civil rights and civics training for the Muslim community in Boston.