Utah’s largest mosque is taking shape, complete with ‘female friendly’ features

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Imam Shuaib Din tours the site of the half-finished mosque going up in West Jordan at 984 W 9000 South on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, as he hopes more donations are made to be able to continue construction.

A new mosque with a surprisingly original look and feel is rising in West Jordan.

Its domes will be pyramidlike triangles, rather than the spheres most common to mosques. The women’s section will be nearly equal in size and on the same floor as the men’s, separated only by a glass door.

It will be the new home of the Utah Islamic Center, which has been meeting in a rented Sandy warehouse tucked behind a strip mall since 2007. At 350 members (250 men and 100 women), the congregation has dramatically outgrown those quarters.

“We ran out of capacity,” says Mehwish Javeed, a member of the mosque. The mosque was so cramped “that sometimes the men had to meet outside by the dumpsters.”

The woman from Pakistan has never seen any female area like the new one, Javeed says. “It is a two-domed mosque, which is unheard of. Most only have one — for the men.”

This mosque is “female friendly,” says Imam Shuaib Din. “It is designed so sisters can use the main entrance and do not have to use a side entrance. Plus, there will be a women’s lounge.”

The soft-spoken imam is similarly proud of the design innovations.

“We wanted the exterior to blend in with local architecture, while maintaining the unique features of a mosque,” Din says. “This is an American mosque, not a Middle Eastern mosque or a South Asian mosque.”

Spiritual and physical needs

A mosque is “a place of worship, a sanctuary where we connect with God,” Din says.

But, in the Prophet Muhammad’s time, it was also used to help the poor. People would bring dates and other food, then leave them at the mosque for those in need to take home. All the classes used to happen inside the mosque.

Slowly, over the generations, mosques have become very exclusive, open only for worship, Din says, “which is wrong.”

Some U.S. mosques do not allow women to enter, he says. “Women are welcome and not just in a tiny corner but on the main floor.”

Apart from regular worship services, the Utah Islamic Center has had many outreach programs, including a free backpack giveaway to children in need, “Meet the Muslims” programs (attended by more than 4,000 non-Muslims), a food pantry and a refugee-assistance program.

Because of these activities, the prayer hall is smaller than the social hall.

These activities will continue and expand, Din says. “We have struck a healthy balance.”

Eventually, the exterior will be painted light blue, with turquoise rugs from Iran on the inside.

The whole building is square, including its minaret, rather than cylindrical. At 14,356 square feet, it will be Utah’s largest mosque.

It will make, Din says, “a bold statement.”

Cutting costs

In 2014, the Utah Islamic Center bought land in West Jordan at 984 W. 9000 South and launched a building fund for the new mosque. Three years later, the center hired an architectural firm to design it.

“I didn’t know much about their religion,” says architect Russ Naylor, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It’s been a pretty steep learning curve for me to understand what a religious facility was like for them.”

In his first conceptual design, he drew the mosque parallel with the Jordan River, which runs beside it.

“I was told the main prayer hall had to be oriented toward Mecca,” the architect says. “We had to rotate the building.”

He learned the need for separate spaces for men and women to worship — and places for them to take off their shoes and wash their hands and feet.

Initially, Muslim leaders had planned circular domes, but those are expensive, Naylor says. So they cut them all back to pyramids.

One area the group “did not cut corners is the security system,” Din says. “With all the crazies in the world, we wanted a place where worshippers and visitors alike would feel safe.”

The project’s total price tag is $3.2 million, Din says. “We had saved $900,000 before we broke ground. In 2019 alone, our local Muslim community has donated $600,000, bringing the total donated amount to $1.5 million.”

But here’s the problem: Islamic guidelines do not allow Muslims to take out an interest-based loan, so they must rely on donations and pay the tab in full. So without more contributions, Din says, construction may have to pause in a month or so.

If they are able to raise the remaining funds, the mosque is slated to open in March or April 2020.

Naylor is proud of his work, he says. “It will be a unique building.”

And Din is particularly pleased.

“We feel confident that it will serve not only the Muslim community,” the imam says, “but our non-Muslim brothers and sisters as well and add a new flavor to the religious landscape of Utah.”