A Christian congregation in Connecticut that dates back to the 1600s has sold its church building to a Muslim group that plans to turn the building into a mosque.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the historic United Congregational Church will sell its 1920s Georgian-Revival style church building to the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center for a price of $1 million.
The church dates back to the Colonial Era, when it was founded in 1695 as the Ecclesiastical Society of Stratfield. In 1916, the congregation merged with another congregation and officially became the United Congregational Church. Although the congregation once totalled over 3,000 members when the main church building was constructed, WSJ reports that the congregation total has dwindled to just 300.
Although the congregation has sold the church building, it will still remain a part of the community. The United Congregational Church plans to temporarily rent space at another building in the town until it can find another permanent location to buy. The two ministries will also form a partnership to run a soup kitchen and homeless shelter that will be located at the Islamic center.
"This is much bigger than a sale of a building. It's about healing wounds. It's about building peace. It's about making friends," the Rev. Sara Smith said at a press conference on Monday. "It is about showing a witness to the world that the children of Abraham and everybody else included can work together, can live together in respect and dignity. Isn't that what all of our faiths are about?"
Ahmed Ebrahim, who heads the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center, told WSJ that the two factors that led his organization to purchase the historic church building were that it's already zoned for religious use and has the space needed for the 1,000 Muslim families in the Bridgeport area that expect to worship and pray at the mosque.
"It's a perfect fit for our needs," Ebrahim explained, adding that the outgoing Christian congregation will help prepare the building by removing the cross from the altar.
"It's sad," Ellen Carter, a member of the United Congregational Church, told WSJ. "On the other hand, it's necessary, and we are happy it's again going to be used as a house of worship."
Similar things are happening in Bristol Township, Pennsylvania, where the closed Immaculate Conception B.V.M. Catholic Church was sold to the United American Muslim Society of Brooklyn for nearly $1.8 million in October.
The sale of the Catholic church comes after the congregation merged with the Queen of the Universe Parish in 2014. The church remained open as a worship facility until Jan. 1, the LevitttownNow.com reports.
The Bucks County Courier-Times reports that the church campus will be used to house the Mevlana Camii mosque, a Muslim congregation that previously worshiped at another mosque in the town.
"The new owners of the former Immaculate Conception campus are community neighbors that have been present on the Levittown Parkway since 1991," Archdiocese of Philadelphia spokesman Ken Gavin told LevittownNow.com. "They are widely known as people of faith, family, prayer and education in the moral life for their children and the families of Bristol Township."
A spokesperson from the Mevlana Camii mosque told the Bucks County Courier-Times that the Muslim ministry had been looking for a new home with more space because the size of its congregation has grown to over 75 families.
Along with renovations, the spokesperson added that the mosque still needs to acquire the appropriate occupancy permits and establish itself as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.
The conversion of former churches into mosques or Islamic worship centers is happening in other areas of the United States as well.
In South Milwaukee, a former Catholic church and school was sold to a Muslim group that expects to reopen the building as a mosque by the end of 2016.
Last year, the Catholic Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse, New York, was also turned into a mosque.
Syracuse.com reported that transforming the Holy Trinity Church into a mosque required taking down, covering up and painting over 10,000 crosses. Crosses on the outside of the church were taken down and replaced with copper crescents.
Across Europe, numerous abandoned churches have been turned into mosques.
The nonprofit Gatestone Institute international policy council states that the "proliferation of mosques housed in former churches reflects the rise of Islam as the fastest growing religion in post-Christian Europe."
Last year, a prominent Muslim leader in France said that the numerous abandoned Catholic churches in the European country need to be utilized as mosques in order to accommodate the country's population of 5 million Muslims.
Dalil Boubakeur, the president of the French Council of Muslim Faith and rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, said there are only 2,500 Muslims churches in France. He stressed that at least 5,000 are needed to meet the demand.
"It's a delicate issue, but why not?" Boubakeur said.