Islamic Society revives efforts on regional facility

By Louis Hoglund

The dream of creating a regional Islamic center in Pelican Rapids became a nightmare—briefly.

Due to a series of communication lapses, the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead did not complete formal filings for non-profit status. Failure to pay taxes since about 2016 put the former Pelican Rapids bowling center into forfeiture—after the Islamic organization invested upwards of $300,000 into roofing, plumbing, electrical, and various interior renovation. 

There appears to be an active regional effort to correct the situation, and re-establish plans by an Islamic community stretching from the Red River Valley to Pelican and beyond. 

The Pelican Rapids City Council learned earlier in June that the building and property may be available for city use. Discussions were preliminary, but the council did express interest in acquiring the tax-forfeited property from the state of Minnesota. 

However, members of the regional Islamic community jumped into action after the news broke. 

“This was an honest mistake, we thought it had been approved,” said Mohamed Sanaullah, a physician with Sanford Health in Fargo and a board member of the Islamic Society. “I believe it was a genuine miscommunication.” 

A July open house, inviting the public to visit, had been planned, added Sanaullah. 

Describing the current investment in the building as “substantial,” Sanaullah noted the acquisition of the building was $100,000 alone.

The news that the Society had lost the property set wheels in motion from the Pelican city hall, to Otter Tail County auditor Wayne Stein’s office, all the way to the state of Minnesota. 

Islamic Society president Nidal Omar was scheduled to meet with the Pelican city council June 28, after this edition of the newspaper went to press. 

But he reportedly was bringing a check in hand for some $14,000 to settle on back taxes and any related penalties. 

“This will probably be ironed out at the county and state level,” said Pelican city administrator Don Solga, who said the city had only expressed interest if the space was available. 

County auditor Stein has been very responsive, said Sanaullah.

“This is so important for us…All the money, the hard work, the volunteers,” said Sanaullah. “People in the hundreds have come from Fargo-Moorhead to provide labor, so the costs could be contained.” 

Though the facility still does not meet the necessary code to be designated fully as a “public building,” there was considerable visitation during the Ramadan holy month April 1 to May 1, said Sanaullah. He emphasized that there is a high level of commitment, not only among the Arab and Somali Islamic community, but among Bosnian and African Muslims from a wide area. 

The exterior work was scheduled this summer, and in fact, new siding is on-site and ready to be installed, said Sanaullah. 

The Islamic Society has faced the same construction, supplies, materials, and labor challenges that have impacted the nation during the COVID pandemic. This has also had a direct impact on the pace of the renovations, said Sanaullah.