LANHAM — Bringing a little bit of Turkey to the United States, the Diyanet Center of America is officially open.
The sprawling, 16-acre campus features a cultural center, restaurant, meeting spaces, traditional Turkish-style houses and a Turkish bathhouse. The centerpiece is a large and graceful domed mosque with twin minarets. The $110 million complex was paid for by the Turkish government.
The center celebrated its official opening with great ceremony on Saturday, including an appearance by controversial Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used his speech at the event to address issues such as Islamophobia and terrorism around the world.
The new Prince George’s County landmark took from September 2012 to October 2015 to complete.
“I believe that this center will play a significant and key role in terms of spreading the word all around the globe especially the values of Islam and the compassion and the love that our prophet Mohammed has to offer the entire world,” Erdogan said through an interpreter.
Although Saturday was the official opening of the center, many visitors have had to chance to visit the campus, including groups from various universities and schools from Maryland and Washington, the Islamic Society of Annapolis, and local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Turkish architects, contractors and artisans played a huge roll in the development of the Diyanet Center. Around 90 Turkish artists were instrumental to giving the Mosque its unique and colorful finishes.
Mehmet Gormez, president of religious affairs in Turkey, inaugurated the center alongside Erdogan and spoke of the human tendency to divide the world into subcategories.
“We have divided the world in which we live in – into regions and into continents, and we have made subclassifications amongst the countries with regards to their developmental level,” Gormez said. “We call them developed, underdeveloped, developing, and the brink of development and we have had to compensate what the other continent lacks with the values and the riches of the other one.”
Gormez stated that he hoped that the establishment of the Diyanet Center in Maryland would help erase these distinctions and bring people together against Islamophobia.
“This is not just a prayer ground, this is center for all civilizations to enjoy,” he said.
Ra Si Mar, 26, and her niece Jule Yar Nice, 19, traveled from New York state all the way to Lanham to attend the opening ceremony. Mar, who is from Burma and grew up in Thailand before moving to the United States, was impressed by the mosque, comparing it to what her parents had seen two years ago when they traveled to Saudi Arabia for their pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I’ve never seen this kind of mosque in my life,” said Mar, who is Muslim. “It’s my first time and my first time coming to Maryland.”
Jamel Franklin, a Prince George’s County councilmember, was among local officials who attended the ceremonies. He noted that one of his county’s mottos is “bringing the world to Prince George’s County.”
“We want folks from around the world to come see this center and see that this is a part of Prince George’s County and this is a part of what makes our diversity rich and our culture rich in this area,” Franklin said.
Erdogan took advantage of the ceremony to berate what he saw as the growing Islamophobia in the United States and the world, and to condemn what he called the Western world’s ignorance of terrorist attacks occurring outside of its region.
“There is terror in Brussels, of course terror in Paris, as we speak,” said Erdogan. “We have been fighting terrorism for the last 35 years and please, please make sure you can observe terrorism that has been going on in not only Paris and Brussels, but also in Turkey and in Pakistan and in Lahore quite recently.”
The Turkish leader stated that it is unacceptable for all Muslims to bear the responsibility of those few, who in the name of their religion, commit heinous crimes against humanity.
“These are my words that you might have heard before, but I would like to reiterate them once again: terrorism will never have a religion, will never have a nation, will never have a nationality, nor will it ever have a root or ethnicity,” Erdogan declared.
The president also addressed what he saw as the Islamophobic comments made by various presidential candidates during their campaigns.
“My brothers and sisters, even in the aftermath of all these incidents, there are still those who can claim Muslims as terrorists,” Erdogan said. “It is very interesting and shocking for me to observe some of the presidential candidates here in the United States using these allegations and using these labels against the Muslims on a continuous basis and openly.”
The tension between the United States and Turkey was apparent during Erdogan’s visit to the nation’s capital for the Nuclear Security Summit last week. Media outlets reported on President Barack Obama’s decision not to have a formal one-on-one meeting with Erdogan. The two did end up meeting on the sidelines of the summit.
Erdogan’s presence at the Diyanet Center’s opening was peaceful. That contrasted with the protests that greeted him outside the Brookings Institution in Washington on March 31. He was there to give a speech.
Protesters accused Erdogan and of facilitating the violation human rights of the Kurdish population and restricting press freedom in Turkey.
Earlier this month in March, authorities seized control of Zaman, a newspaper that was critical of Erdogan and his government.