A Muslim movement has bought a posh house in the heart of a large upscale Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore, whose main artery is known as “Synagogue Row.” The Muslim sect is considered to be pacifist and at the opposite end of Islam extremism.
Located on the edge of Pikesville – synonymous with “Jewish” – the Colonial-style house known as “Slade Mansion” was sold for $900,000 to the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore’s Jewish population is unusual in that it is almost totally contiguous despite its size of an estimate 100,000 Jews. It stretches for miles and comprises one of the country’s largest orthodox Jewish concentrations as well as a large reform and Conservative Jewish population.
The new mosque has raised eyebrows but has set off only polite concern, while the nearby Reform Baltimore Hebrew Congregation said it has put out the welcome mat for its new Muslim neighbors. The temple, one of the city’s oldest, promotes interfaith and pluralism, and it members include many Jews who have married outside of the faith.
Dozens of Orthodox synagogues and “shtiebels” are located in the same area, which also hosts the Seven-Mile Market, one of the largest kosher markets in the United States.
The Ahmadiyya sect, founded in India, has said it is persecuted in other parts of the world and was looking for a larger place for a mosque.
Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told the Sun that a "small segment" of the community has expressed fear about the mosque, and he added, "I've always believed that fear is based upon ignorance. What they knew of [Islam] was based on 9/11 and beyond."
Planting a mosque in the middle of the Jewish area may simply be a matter of convenience for the sect, but its presence will stick out like a sore thumb, at least for the time being. The neighborhood has been the home of well-to-do Jews for decades, when secular and reform Jews began to move into what had been a "WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – bastion.
As orthodox Jews worked themselves into high-paying professions and sought larger house for their growing families, the Pikesville and adjacent area became home to many Orthodox synagogues. Men waking to synagogue on the Sabbath often outnumber the cars on several streets.
The sect’s officer for finances, neurosurgeon Dr. Agha Khan, told the Baltimore newspaper that one reason for the location is its proximity to a highway that rings the city and will make it easier for Muslims to reach the mosque.
"It's a beautiful building, very strongly built," Khan said. "I knew this was a Jewish neighborhood, but that didn't cross my mind that that should be a problem at all."
The sect is not associated with Muslim extremism and is even considered by some to be non-Muslim because of its interpretations of the Quran.
The newspaper quoted Marius Deeb, a professor of Islamic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, saying that the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect is a pacifist movement.
The sect states on its website that it rejects terrorism and endorses a separation of religion and state.