New mosque in former Merriam church has sign vandalized in first month

The Shawnee Mission Islamic Center, 4849 England Street, opened on Sept. 18 in Merriam. About a month later, the education-focused mosque experienced its first act of vandalism.

The Shawnee Mission Islamic Education Center opened in September at the site of a former Korean church in Merriam, at 4849 England Street.

Although the mosque can only accommodate about 6o to 70 people for Friday prayer as a result of COVID-19 restrictions against large gatherings, SMIEC board member Farrukh Jamal said the mosque is planning programming and educational classes that will begin once it is safe to do so.

Community donations were the main funding source for the renovation of the church, which needed to have pews removed and carpet laid. Jamal said, despite the challenges of opening in a pandemic, it has been worth it.

“It turned out to be a very good project, it took a long time, but with the community coming together and everything, it was really nice,” Jamal said.

Education-centered mission

Officials say education will be the main focus of the center, and the adjoining mosque will offer General Education Development training and English language instruction classes once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

While educational programming is on hold, the mosque is open for prayer. Due to COVID-19, people are to bring their own prayer rugs and maintain social distancing. Photo courtesy of Shawnee Mission Islamic Center.

The mosque also intends to help local youth by providing some of the following services:

  • counseling to high school students to prepare for college
  • guidance on applying for scholarships
  • tutoring for English, math and science

Jamal said the mosque is also interested in starting a lecture series to discuss what courses to take in college and how to be well-equipped for the workforce after college graduation. The goal, he says, is to connect retired community members to youth who might need help in school, free of charge, she said.

“It doesn’t have to be Muslim kids, it can be anybody who needs any kind of help,” Jamal said. “Education is the main element of this mosque.”

While the pandemic is preventing SMIEC from being able to host these programs, Jamal, who is an English teacher, has been holding private English lessons from her home. SMIEC does not have a timeline on when the programming will open up to the public as there is no telling when the pandemic will be over, she said.

Despite vandalism, mosque hopes to ‘accommodate everybody’

Police examined surveillance footage but could not make out the face of a person seen defacing SMIEC’s sign. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

The mosque became aware of an act of vandalism on its sign in late October after Merriam Councilmember Jason Silvers called them about it.

Someone spray painted a partly illegible message that included the word “Trump” on the sign, which sits along 49th Street.

Jamal said the mosque informed the Merriam Police Department. Officers reviewed surveillance footage around the time of the alleged incident and were able to see a person defacing the sign, but the suspect’s face could not be identified.

Jamal said the mosque chose not to pursue the case.

“We decided that these things happen when people don’t know [about Islam], there’s a little fear in their heart or their mind or something,” Jamal said. “We didn’t want to make a big deal of it. The police had been notified and the proper steps had been taken, and we just dropped it.”

Other mosque’s in the Kansas City metropolitan area have received great community support, Jamal said, and SMIEC hopes to gain similar support in Merriam over time. Once the mosque is able to, likely in a post-pandemic world, she said SMIEC would like to invite neighbors, the city council and other important people to the mosque for food, drinks and celebration.

Additionally, Jamal said while SMIEC can’t provide educational classes and other programming due to the pandemic, when the classes are available they will be open to all — not just to Muslims.

“A mosque is a place that is always open for everybody,” Jamal said. “The needs of the community, regardless of the religion or race or whatever, is to be met by the mosque. We hope to be able to accommodate everybody.”