- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Muslims at a historically black Baptist university are vowing to fight the school's plans to convert an on-campus mosque into offices for professors displaced by construction of a football weight room.
At a meeting with Raleigh, N.C., business and religious leaders on July 18, Shaw University President Talbert O. Shaw asked representatives of the school's Muslim community to find an alternative worship site within two weeks.
Mr. Shaw said the Jamaa'ah At Taqwa mosque in the school's International Studies Center is the only place for the offices.
Islamic leaders at the private liberal arts school of 2,600 students say they will not make plans to vacate the mosque.
"President Shaw told us the mosque no longer serves its original function, since the school no longer has any students from the Middle East," said Ihsan Bagby, professor of international studies and the mosque's imam. "But he also said he is under pressure from prominent Baptists on our board of trustees who have long wanted to do away with the mosque."
The mosque and the building that houses it were built with a $1 million gift from King Khalid of Saudi Arabia in 1983.
During the early 1980s, the university's ties with the Saudi government facilitated through a now-deceased Palestinian-born professor resulted in an enrollment of as many as 500 Middle Eastern Muslims at the oldest historically black college in the South.
"The Gulf war severed those ties [to the Saudi government]," said Mr. Bagby. "We don't have any Arab students today, but we do have a sizable Muslim community."
Mr. Bagby says more than 100 Muslim students from West Africa and the United States rely on the mosque.
Funeral director Bruce Lightner, one of the Raleigh community leaders who attended last week's meeting, said the battle over the mosque represented more than a cultural struggle over the building at the Baptist school, which was founded in 1865.
"September 11 has driven a schism into the community," he said. "The mosque is in a building that serves the public at a Baptist-supported school, but the building was built with funds from Saudi benefactors on the understanding that the mosque would always be there."
Shortly after construction ended in 1983, the university dropped the word "Islamic" from the official name of the International Studies Center. The building's dedication plaque still bears the original title: International and Islamic Studies Center.
Mr. Lightner is hopeful that last-minute efforts to steer federal grant money to the mosque, perhaps from President Bush's faith-based initiative, may prevent the school from closing it.
"The situation is difficult," he said. "I left the meeting with the understanding that we would work diplomatically with the administration to keep the mosque open."

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