In the quiet Northeastern Wisconsin city of Neenah (population 26,000), about 100 Muslim families meet regularly at the Fox Valley Islamic Society. Friday prayers are held every week in the forty-year old masjid, one of the oldest mosques in Wisconsin. Families meet together for a monthly celebration, and once a year, the masjid opens its doors for an inter-faith celebration.
Now, the growing community has embarked on a new phase, with construction of a larger, updated masjid in its initial stages.
Dr. Mamadou Coulibaly, president of FVIS, says the new mosque has been in the planning stages for about eighteen months, though discussions have been going on for many years. “We made up our minds early last winter,” he says. “This is a new experience for us, fund-raising and dealing with the construction firm. But we have now passed some major hurdles,” both within the community and in finding a construction company to work with. Bayland Buildings Inc., a design/build company based in Hobart, Wisconsin is handling both design and construction.
The land for the new masjid has been purchased and initial plans have been drawn,” says Brother Bashar Amin, secretary of Fox Valley Islamic Society. The community held off on beginning construction “until we got our finances ready,” Brother Bashar says. FVIS is fund-raising “from within the community,” and hopes to “get outside donations too. We are working on fund-raising from inside and outside,” he says.
The current mosque in Neenah, which serves families from Oshkosh, Appleton, and the entire Fox Valley, was constructed as a mosque,” Brother Bashar says; however, it “looks like a house. Right now, maybe 100 people can fit” into the current masjid, which includes both a basement and first floor. The basement level is used for Sunday School and offices. “The first floor is mainly for the prayer hall,” Brother Bashar says.
The proposed mosque will be a larger, 8,000 sq. ft., two-story building, which will include a “half second floor for ladies’ prayer,” Brother Bashar says.
The new masjid will have capacity for a 360-person men’s and 150-person women’s prayer space, as well as a children’s area and office. The community plans to “finish the basement and the mezzanine prayer area for the sisters in phases inshallah,” says the Fox Valley Islamic Society website, where a fund-raising flyer and detailed plans for the new mosque are available.
FVIS hopes to break ground on the new mosque this fall, Dr. Coulibaly says. Currently, he says, “we are doing bore holes to size the depth of the bedrock” at the site, “because we want to have a basement.” FVIS has already obtained a “wetland alleviation” permit from the DNR.
In the meantime, Fox Valley Islamic Society will continue to offer “evening and weekend madrasas (Arabic term for school), lectures on Muslim life, youth groups, Sunday school, Eid prayers and celebrations, funeral prayers, Shahada for new Muslims,” according to its website. “We are a welcoming organization for Muslims who visit or who make their new home in Northeast Wisconsin, and we engage in crucial outreach and service to the Fox Valley community at large.”
Dr. Coulibaly emphasizes that the community views all of its activities as a form of outreach. “We host visits for anybody in the community who wants to see the mosque or learn about Islam. We host students from UW-Oshkosh and Oshkosh West High School.” The high school group recently consisted of “almost 100 students who came to learn about Islam. We also host people from other congregations, sometimes youth,” Dr. Coulibaly said. “They come to see another religion before the confirmation,” a Christian rite of affirmation of one’s religious commitment.
Along with the plans for the new mosque, FVIS plans to open a Muslim charter school. Currently, the FVIS Weekend Islamic School (WIS) provides Islamic education to the Fox Valley through its Weekend School program. “WIS has a long standing history in the area, having served” the Muslim community in the Fox Valley “for over 30 years,” the website says. WIS is “operated by a body of volunteers with diverse backgrounds and races” who “perform the instructional and administrative tasks.” Weekend school classes “are taught in English and Arabic by a highly motivated team of volunteers,” says the FVIS website.
The Fox Valley’s Islamic community continues to grow as Muslims moving to the area from other parts of the state are joined by refugees from Syria, Somalia, and all over the world. Reversion is an important part of community growth. In addition to the madrasa and weekend school, FSIV offers instruction for reverted Muslims.