Help Save the Historic Cherry Street Mosque Building, a Hub for Interfaith and Arts Community

by Mark Van Streefkerk

The Cherry Street Mosque (CSM) building has been a hub of progressive, interfaith community in the Central District for decades. In-person services and events stopped last year due to the pandemic, but several faith-based and arts communities launched a fundraiser last fall to make necessary repairs to the 90-year-old building. Members of the newly formed Cherry Street Village have a vision to turn the building into an interfaith and arts space that will truly be one of a kind in Seattle — but first, the roof has to be fixed. 

The two-story building at 720 25th Avenue between Cherry and Columbia Streets is in need of important roof and ceiling repairs to overcome significant water damage, as well as other renovations like plumbing and electrical work. Their crowdfund campaign officially launched on November 22 last year, and so far they have raised over 40k of their 150k goal.

“It really is amazing that in the last several months this collective has come together from diverse communities to raise, under very challenging circumstances, the money to get this roof repair underway,” said Jonathan Rosenblum of the Kadima Reconstructionist Community. “The vision is that in the next few years, we’re going to build a cultural gathering place that this community has not had, that really shares all of our values in a very unique way.”

Samia El-Moslimany, board president of CSM and daughter of Dr. Ann El-Moslimany, said that roof repairs have already begun. Working with Olive Construction, CSM is able to pay for repairs as they raise funds. 

Built by Benjamin Marcus Priteca — designer of 22 Pantages theaters as well as the Admiral, Coliseum, and Paramount Theaters in Seattle — in 1929, the building originally housed Seattle Talmud Torah, a Jewish school. In 1980 the building became the site of The Islamic School of Seattle (ISS), founded by five African American and white women, including Dr. El-Moslimany, whose vision continues to shape CSM and Cherry Street Village. The school was progressive in its approach: an Islamic school based on Montessori education, with an innate anti-racist and social justice curriculum, taught by mostly BIPOC teachers. At its inception, ISS served primarily immigrant Muslim families and had an integrated religious and secular philosophy. Laila Kabani, a current CSM board member, joined ISS as a teacher in 2006. “As a teacher of color, I felt very safe and very strong in going in. I came from a minority community from India, and it was very hard to navigate through the American system in education at that time. I felt very welcomed by this community,” she said. 

El-Moslimany noted the ISS ultimately didn’t receive the community support it needed. After the school closed, “My mom looked around and said, ‘You know, the thing that’s missing here in Seattle is a progressive Muslim space.’” she remembered. “We realized we needed someplace that was a dedicated Muslim space that was progressive — that would be welcoming to all. Even to people who were not Muslim.” 

In 2012, CSM was founded by a small group, centering around a Friday Prayer Circle. They also share the building with another congregation, Masjid Al-taqwa. In recent years, Rosenblum reached out to CSM to see if there was room for Kadima. The Jewish community had a similar trajectory as CSM, Rosenblum explained, and is currently operating out of Madrona Presbyterian Church, a space they are quickly outgrowing. The idea of Cherry Street Village began to form, shaping into the idea of a hub for faith-based groups and secular arts organizations where everyone is welcome. 

The founding groups include CSM, Masjid Al-taqwa, Kadima, Salaam Cultural Museum, which includes art and artifacts from the middle east and North Africa, and theatrical company Dunya Productions. CSM plans to include a daycare, food bank, art residency studio, and a pea patch on the property, as well as low-income housing in the lot next door. Kadima envisions a permanent home, a place for Sabbath school, study, and social justice work. Rosenblum said it’s an important way of creating unity in a neighborhood most vulnerable to displacement and gentrification.

Even though Cherry Street Village is a new collective, El-Moslimany noted that sharing resources among different faith groups is common historically. “There was a time where villages throughout the Middle East and North Africa would have a diverse, faith-based community. People were your neighbors, and it didn’t really matter what religion you were. That’s something that’s been long-lost,” she said. “A great deal from outside influences, colonial and imperialist influences, crusader influences.”

Though she passed away in January of this year, Dr. El-Moslimany’s vision lives on in Seattle’s new interfaith collective. Cherry Street Village intends to combine the joy, connection, and creativity of diverse faiths and groups under one roof. You can donate to the Cherry Street Village fundraiser here.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

Featured image: The Cherry Street Mosque building is in need of roof repairs. The 90 year-old building will house Cherry Street Village, a collective of diverse faith-based and arts organizations with shared values of social justice and community service. (Photo: Joe Mabel)

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