A decade after the still-unfinished red brick structure began rising out of a stony hillside overlooking the Merrimack Valley, the Islamic Society of New Hampshire says it has raised about $2 million for the project, less than half of what it needs to complete construction.
Now the society, which relies on donations from its very small local Muslim community, is casting a wider net — to Muslims around the world — hoping to raise enough to finish the building before it deteriorates past the point of saving.
"Everywhere else mosques are being built, the Muslim population itself is pretty dense and much higher compared to what we have in New Hampshire," said Mohammad Islam, chairman of the mosque's building committee. "And within that, the percentage of affluent Muslims, professionals in the space of doctors, engineers and businessmen, is much higher. Over here, we're hitting the same group of people again and again for donations."
The number of mosques in the United States rose from 1,209 in 2000 to 2,106 in 2011, the latest year that data is available, according a report issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Over roughly the same period, the number of Muslims fell in New Hampshire, from an estimated 3,782 adherents in 2000 to 1,616 in 2010, ranking the state 46th, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
New Hampshire Muslims have three Islamic centers — usually in rented office space — where they can pray, the same number found in states including Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. But New Hampshire lags behind other sparsely populated states such as Maine and South Dakota with five each, Idaho (6) and Nevada (7). Those numbers pale compared to states like New York with 257 centers and mosques and California with 246.
The small centers can't handle major festivals like Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, so the New Hampshire society has rented out stadiums and university gymnasiums for bigger events. The 17,000-square-foot-mosque would provide a central gathering place and realize a goal dating to 1987, when a student at then-New Hampshire College rented a Manchester apartment to serve as a temporary mosque.
In 1998, the society bought 2.75 acres to build a true mosque, a dome-topped, three-story octagonal structure with plenty of prayer and meeting space. Construction started eight years later and, beyond fundraising, there were hurdles from the start.
Zoning challenges came from neighbors who worried their quiet way of life would come to an end, ruined by cars spilling out of the parking lot and lining the street. In 2013, some kids smashed windows, causing more than $30,000 in damage.