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  • Writer's pictureJack Bond

Old News with Jack Bond

The Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes Center’s Foundation of Intertwined Community


For some in the Southern Tier, the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes (IAFL) only existed recently with the building of a mosque (Masjid in Arabic) on Hickory Grove Road in Horseheads, New York, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes and the Muslim community that comprises it started decades before as local Muslims looked for ways to connect to each other and help their neighbors.


An organization that encourages curiosity and charity. (Photo provided by Jack Bond)


Before the IAFL was formed, most local Muslims felt isolated and misunderstood because each Muslim only knew of three or so other Muslim families at most. They decided to get together and create an organization to both connect to each other and help other isolated Muslims find people to whom they could relate.


In 1978 the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes was officially incorporated. Its members’ first priority was having a proper place to pray. Dr. Mushtaq Sheik, one of the members, was offered the chance to buy a local firehouse on Main Street in Big Flats. The group pooled their money together and held fundraisers to buy the building that year. Early on in their existence the people of the IAFL were still trying to find their identity. The leaders were trying to figure out how to best function by talking to each other and learning from other local organizations. In a few short years, they found their footing by following their faith and the American ideal. They adopted a part of Hickory Grove Road, donated money for a conference room to the Economic Opportunity Program, and made contributions to the Arctic League. In 2005 the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes was able to sponsor a free clinic that offered screenings and preventive medicines through the EOP. The IAFL wasn’t just doing the work of following their faith through charity, but also made deliberate efforts to bridge the gap among faiths.


Members of the Islamic Assoc. of the Finger Lakes cleaning Hickory Grove Road in Horseheads, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of IAFL social media)


Archived newspapers show that in the 1980s they held a symposium presenting Islamic subjects to the local public. One of the earlier Imams that served the local community, Dr. Yahja Abdullah, was the first non-Christian to address the Chemung County Council of Churches in 1991. Both groups were trying their best to understand each other, and Abdullah made the case that their similarities were more important than their differences. The Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes joined the Interfaith Coalition and has hosted multiple seminars, screenings, and discussions on Islam. The Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes has a long history of interfaith connection.


This isn’t something new with the founding of the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes; the Muslim community before the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes was intertwined with the Southern Tier. Muslims in Corning met for Friday prayers at the First Presbyterian Church. Black Elmirans who converted to Islam met in the basement of a house on Benjamin Street and later in a third-floor apartment on Church Street to pray. One of the Pakistani immigrants that came to the Southern Tier in the 1960s served as his area’s only pediatrician for some years.


A child watering the plants of a pollinator garden the Islamic Assoc. of the Finger Lakes at Tanglewood Nature Center installed in 2017. (Photo courtesy of IAFL social media)


Most importantly, the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes is a community location for Muslims to learn more about themselves, not just educating their neighbors. The IAFL established a Sunday school in 1982. It allowed for Muslim immigrants and Muslim Americans to seriously engage with and learn more about their own traditions and faith. Of course, the Muslim identity and experience changed from generation to generation and person to person as they choose what traditions they prefer, but it didn’t mean a community couldn’t be made. According to The ARTS Council’s transcripts from the Southern Finger Lakes Southern Finger Lakes Tradition interviews, it’s because of the way that people stay in the Southern Tier, a tighter knit community could form. 


All of this — their internal sense of community, interfaith connections, and connections with others, allowed the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes to fundraise the money for their dream: a proper mosque. Beginning with fundraising pledges in 2013, and with a combination of fundraising dinners and many donors, the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes could begin their project. The original design was made by one of their own members with professional experience, and they worked with a local architecture firm during construction. Construction of the mosque, sometimes known as the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes Center, started in December 2015 and was finished in April in 2017.


Members of the Islamic Assoc. of the Finger Lakes pose for a picture following the groundbreaking for their mosque. (Photo courtesy of IAFL social media)


The building of the mosque didn’t mean everything was solved when it comes to misunderstanding of Muslim faith and culture. But it was an important step for them to have concrete access to their faith. They had a proper building for their youth counseling, weddings, and funerals. They could now worship on the same stretch of road they’ve been maintaining for years.


Jack would like to thank the Chemung County Historical Society, the ARTS Council, and the Islamic Association of the Finger Lakes for information provided.


About the author

Jack Bond is a writer and editor raised in Horseheads, New York. He has a fascination with Southern Tier History and wants to better understand — and share — the facets of these local communities lost to time.


During his spare time Jack reads both speculative fiction and history.

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