The Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica, NY has an incredible history on how their mosque was built and became a fundamental component to Utica’s community. The mosque was formerly the Central United Methodist Church which slowly began going out of business due to the continuous lack of members who would attend. Eventually in 2006 the church was left abandoned and repurchased by the city until 2008 when the Bosnian residents purchased the vacant space. The city was prepared to spend thousands of dollars to have the church rebuilt to its former state being that it played an important role in bringing people together, however at this same time Utica’s Bosnian population begun to increase dramatically. They were looking for a place to build a mosque and the abandoned church was ideal for them to set up, so they bought the church from the city for 1000 dollars and begun building. It took until around 2012 for them to complete the project with help from contractors in multiple areas like Boston, as well as participation from nearly all of the Bosnian community present in Utica at that time. Currently the mosque is open to anyone who would like to come and visit.
Before the Transition
Ron Johns a member of the former Methodist Church attended the church until around the 1980s, he had been going from birth until age 17 and according to him the church was usually full with downtown residents with an atmosphere common to most churches in the area. Around the time he stopped going he noticed a decline in the number of members. In 2006 the Church was left abandoned and repurchased as city property, and in 2008 the local Bosnian population purchased the abandoned church to renovate into their new mosque. The Observer Dispatch actually covered two stories about the Bosnians moving into Utica and renovating the church in 2008, one about when the city was considering selling the church to the Bosnians in March 2008 and another covering when they began the rebuilding process. According to him Utican residents were initially skeptical about having a mosque in the middle of their town, but fortunately the Bosnians made it open to everyone and held tours when it was opened which led to a more seamless blend into the community.
Joining the Members in Prayer
As a muslim myself I decided to go visit the Bosnian Islamic Association mosque located in Utica on February 22nd to join in on the Juma prayers, or Friday afternoon prayers. My first impression on the mosque was that it came off as a comfortable environment and a typical place for Muslims to join each other in prayer. The integration of the crescent moon and star, which is the unofficial Islamic symbol, in their architectural design was unique as well as the Mimbar which the Imam stood to pray. More people arrived than I originally anticipated, and there was more cultural diversity than expected as well. The Iman preached about destiny and how as Muslims we should have faith in the path Allah has set for us even though we might not might not favor it or believe it is right. We followed this by the group prayer in which I felt welcomed to participate in even though it was my first time visiting this mosque. Following the prayers I had an opportunity to talk to some of the members about the Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica, this was when I learned that they have 3 locations in total and that their Utica location is their primary mosque. Through visiting the mosque I was able to see firsthand how members of the community come together, and how the mosque serves as a cultural and ethnic boiling pot.