Central New York, Religion

Recent Refugee Increase has Central New York Mosques on the Rise

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By Emily Adelman SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) —  The oldest mosque in Syracuse is sitting two blocks down from the edge of Syracuse University.

The Islamic Center of Central New York sits on the middle of Comstock Avenue. It holds services every day, along with inspirational talks, interfaith dialogues; it also hosts dinners and speeches.

“We do a little bit of everything,” Iman Mohammed ElFiki said. “Mosques are places for worship and prayer, but also for brotherhood and sisterhood.”

The 58-year old mosque that sits two blocks down from the Women’s Building is one of five mosques in the Syracuse area. ElFiki has worked at the Islamic Center for “a year and a couple weeks.” He has seen many different people walk in and out of the two front doors.

“Different faces, up to 50 nationalities, 100, maybe more. All colors, all walks of life, all social statuses, everything, yet together they come. So that a mosque has a feeling the sense that gathers many, which is our belief and faith.”

One of those walks of life has been on the rise for the past year in Onondaga County: refugees.

“We have two specific communities we see come. Actually, three. We have three,” ElFiki exclaimed. “I say three because the refugees are the communities. Syracuse is one of the places that accept refugees. It’s like sanctuary. It’s a place where they are welcome — and they are welcome.”

According to a recent Syracuse.com article, as of 2014, Onondaga County has the third highest refugee intake rate of any county in the country. Since then, it has taken over 1100 refugees, which is equivalent to 23.8 refugees per 10,000 people.

“We have gotten around 50-60 refugees that come,” ElFiki stated.

Syracuse has seen an uptick in refugees, with over 80% of Onondaga County’s coming from predominately-Islamic countries.

Amir Duric, the Muslim Chaplain at Syracuse University, likes the idea of a mosque as a safe space for students, as well as faculty during a busy day.

“It’s definitely, definitely a place [a mosque] where regardless how I feel I will go there and I will feel good and I will be safe,” he said.

Syracuse University has places on campus where Islamic students can easily fulfill their “Islamic duty,” when they pray five times a day. As one of the pillars of Islam, it is a task that many who observe the religion try to do every day.

“The MSA [Muslim Prayer Room] is always busy,” Duric said. “It’s very rare to find that room empty.”

Both ElFiki and Duric find comfort and a sense of unity in mosques. While living on opposite sides of town, the two find peace in the same place. Among all walks of life.