Demographics are destiny, the saying goes, and it’s increasingly clear Utica’s destiny is to become a city of remarkable religious diversity.
The Bosnian Islamic Association plans to buy a hulking former Methodist church on Court Street and turn it into a mosque and community center topped by minarets.
If the association moves forward and the Common Council approves the sale of the city-owned building near City Hall, then Utica’s growing Muslim population will have taken a significant step forward in terms of its worship space and visibility.
It’s vital for our city’s future and for its image that this achievement be met in the spirit of the religious tolerance that makes the United States virtually unique around the globe.
This is an important moment for Utica, and not necessarily an easy one.
For one, some residents might think of the prospect of tall spires with onion-shaped domes on a former church and not feel immediately comfortable at the prospect.
Traditionally, non-Christian religious minorities have practiced their faith outside the view of the mainstream, and therefore many of us have had little exposure to these practices.
In addition, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism raised many questions about Islam, leading at times to instances of discrimination against Muslims.
Islam is not our nation’s enemy, but Americans’ understanding of what is one of the world’s major faiths remains limited.
Thirdly, the Bosnian association’s plan comes at a time when many Christian churches are dealing with the forces of demographics and cultural change that have reduced the number of worshippers in their pews. The Catholic Church is closing many parishes in and around Utica. Two Episcopal churches shut down within the city’s borders this decade, and other denominations have pulled out of glorious structures built in the 19th century. Indeed, the Methodists once owned and operated the Court Street building that might become a mosque.