Turkish Cultural Center to open in Lanham amid tensions over Islam


Source: The Washington Post

By Hamil R. Harris

There were about 15 of them there at the beginning. Turkish American engineers who in the early 1990s worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and at the University of Maryland in College Park .

They lived in communities scattered throughout Prince George’s County, and as Turks and Muslims, they wanted a place nearby where they could meet and worship.

So in 1993, they joined together and purchased a 10.7 acre wooded area in Lanham from the Salvation Army for $302,000. Later they would purchase another six acres, spending nearly $1 million for the land.

On Saturday, several thousand are expected to attend the official opening of the Diyanet Center of America, which bills itself as the largest Islamic campus “in the Western Hemisphere.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to attend the official opening of the $110 million facility that was financed and built by his country.

On Wednesday, Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s head of religious affairs, toured the facility, which includes a 20,236-square-foot mosque, a cultural center, guest homes and an underground sports complex containing a soccer field, basketball arena and a swimming pool.

“I am very excited about being here,” Gormez said, adding that the land was little more than a swamp when he first saw it. “It shows that people can come up with wonderful architecture, wonderful buildings.”

Gormez said his hope is that the facility will be used as a venue for peace, and that Muslims using the center will have a greater sense of belonging to the surrounding community and the country.

The center opens at a time of heightened fears about Muslims after attacks in Brussels and Paris by members of the Islamic State and anti-Islam rhetoric by presidential campaigns. But even before the most recent terror attacks, a mosque opening has led to protests and worse.

In November, a meeting about the proposed expansion of a mosque in Fredericksburg, Va., was interrupted by protesters calling Muslim residents terrorists and suggesting that the mosque would be a site for Syrian refugees.

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