Excerpted with permission from "A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation."
On April 18, 1993, St. Paul's United Methodist Church and the Islamic Society of the East Bay in Fremont, California, broke ground together for a new church and a new mosque, to be built side by side. Six hundred people were there, including the mayor of Fremont.
The two communities mingled in an atmosphere of celebration and took turns at the shovel. They named the new frontage road that enters their property Peace Terrace.
That April day they also dedicated the signs that would front the street on their property for months to come: Future Home of St. Paul United Methodist Church and Future Home of Islamic Center and Masjid. The message was a strong and clear witness to passersby that something new in the religious landscape of Fremont was being created here. Eventually, the dome and minaret and the church steeple, side by side, would convey in brick and stone the message of these signs: Muslims and Christians, next-door neighbors. This is one of America's heartening stories of bridge-building.
Both the Methodists and Muslims were looking for land before they met each other. This parcel of land between Interstate 880 and a residential neighborhood stood vacant. As Lynn Shinn, chair of the building committee at St. Paul's recalls, "Someone in the planning department suggested that they change the zoning for this parcel and put in a convenience store. The neighbors were notified, and they got together and protested. They said this was institutional open space and they wanted the city to build a park. But the city had no money for a park. So the planning department said to the neighborhood, 'We'll give you a year. See if you can figure out how we can make this a park.'"
Lynn recounted the story to us with pleasure. "I was watching this in the newspaper, so I called the Homeowners Association and the Parks and Recreation Department. What if the city were to sell part of it to a church and then use the proceeds to build a park?"
Eventually, this was what happened. In 1987, the city held an auction to sell two parcels of 2.1 acres to nonprofit corporations. At the auction the Methodists and the Muslims bought the two parcels of land and suddenly became neighbors, even before they knew each other. "We met at the time of the bidding," said Nihal Khan of the Islamic Society of the East Bay. "All the people decided it was a great idea. We want to set an example for the world."