The Islamic community of the South Coast now has a home.
The Goleta City Council happily approved the Islamic Center project Tuesday night, putting the last pieces into place after a 12-year effort to get the building under way.
“All of us made history today,” said Jamal Hamdani, chairman of the board for the Islamic Center project.
He thanked the council members and speakers for their support and promised an invitation as soon as the building opens.
A group of 35 families has been worshiping, learning and doing community service together in Goleta for 30 years, forming the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara. They’re often joined by students from UCSB, SBCC and other colleges, said Beth Collins-Burgard, an attorney representing the group pro bono.
This project lets the group consolidate everything under one roof, instead of renting out classroom space, worship space and the imam’s apartment, she added.
This community center and mosque will be on the corner of Los Carneros Road and Calle Real, near the new roundabout. The Islamic Society bought the property in 2001.
“People can finally come to our house, our place,” said Yama Niazi, the imam for the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara. As the prayer leader of the group, he will be living in a small apartment within the new building.
Council members got emotional at the meeting, which was packed with supporters from the interfaith community and Goleta residents who said the Muslim community should be given a place of its own.
“You’ve waited a long time for a home and now you have it,” Councilwoman Paula Perotte said.
About 50 people supported the project Tuesday night.
“I think it’s an absolutely perfect project for this site,” Ernest Kolendrianos said.
Rabbi Steve Cohen of Congregation B’nai B’rith said the Muslim and Jewish communities on the South Coast are very close. There was a Sunday-morning breakfast last year that was “probably one of the most profoundly moving experiences” of his time as a rabbi, he said. There were speakers for Judaism and Islam, as well as a lot of food shared between them.
“What was shared there was an experience of the world that we would all like to be part of,” he said.
Council members said they were impressed with the design of the building, which is in a historic Goleta style with elements like the Stow House, and the community-wide support.
“I’ve only been on council a year, but this is far and away the most rewarding experience I’ve had yet,” Councilman Jim Farr said. “I don’t want to get too emotional here, but it’s been great to be a part of it.”
There hasn’t been such a “feel-good” meeting at City Hall in a long time, Councilman Roger Aceves said.
“All these people come together for one purpose, and that’s to follow the journey of the Islamic Society to its final home in the good land,” he said.
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the project, which resulted in cheers and a standing ovation by the crowd.