Until now, it’s been easy to miss the Muslim community in Longview.
As workers, students and families from North Africa and Pakistan have moved to the town over the past few decades, the Islamic Community of Longview has congregated in a member’s apartment to pray and celebrate holidays.
But now that construction is underway on a small mosque on the northern edge of town, the revelation that there are Muslims in Longview planning to worship out in the open has drawn nasty resistance from some future neighbors.
“We’re not acquainted with that culture, and we have children and we have concerns, yes we do,” longtime resident Elizabeth Owens told the Longview News-Journal late last month. “I understand everybody has to worship, but why do they have to bring it to a Christian community? I think that’s terrible.”
Owens planted red signs in yards up and down the street, and on the construction site, with the word “Jesus.” and an ad for the local First Baptist Church. Another resident brought his worries about the mosque to a Longview City Council meeting in late January. Saleem Shabazz, an Islamic Community spokesman, said even before that, a man dropped by the construction site to intimidate workers.
“There are some people here that are just anti-Muslim,” Shabazz said this morning over the phone. He said the resistance to the mosque is coming from people who want to tell him about this country’s Christian roots, and that organized Islam isn’t what Longview is about.
Plenty of others, including Longview police and local Jewish leaders, have jumped in to support the new mosque, Shabazz said. “Even though they might not believe in Islam as a religion, they believe in the right of people to worship.”
It’s hard to argue Shabazz is some kind of outsider in Longview, where he’s lived off and on as a kid, and where his grandfather once led an African-American Baptist congregation.
Almost 30 years since his conversion to Islam, Shabazz said even some of his family doesn’t want to call him by his new name. But he’s had a busy civic life in Longview outside the Muslim community, too. He’s vice-president of Longview’s race relations committee; he volunteers with a kids’ group; and he organizes the Kwanzaa celebration each year.
Longview’s Muslim community includes about 80 people, including children, at major holidays. “You're talking about people who are going to school, who have families,” he said, “people who have been here 20 years or better.”
“It's hard to find a place to go and pray,” he said. After Shabazz converted, it took him months to find out where other Muslims were congregating in Longview. Today, he says they’ve simply outgrown the apartments they’d meet in before.According to the News-Journal, Shabazz has been working with Gregg County Commissioner Charles Davis to handle concerns like noise from the call to prayer (there won’t be one) or potential drainage problems.
“I think it’s full-steam ahead to build a mosque out there. I’m not sure we can do anything about it, or if we should be trying. It’s a free country,” Davis told the News-Journal.
Still, those stories in the local paper keep drawing detractors in online comments—one worries about property values, others about traffic on the mosque’s narrow street—and as workers finish the mosque’s foundation, Shabazz said he hopes to win over neighbors before the building is finished.
“I told them two weeks ago that I'd be willing to meet with them,” Shabazz said. So far, though, he’s heard nothing back.