POCATELLO, Idaho - Pocatello could be seeing its first, full-scale mosque, since the current one is so small, it can no longer serve its purpose.
The Idaho State University International Programs Office director Maria Fletcher said more than 62 countries are represented on campus, 815 of those students are from middle eastern countries, while an estimated 1,400 community members are also from the same region.
"These students are very excited about the potential of a new mosque," Fletcher said.
Currently, hundreds of practicing Muslims from around the community have to cram themselves into a tiny apartment room on Fourth Avenue in order to pray, filling-up so much, some are forced to pray in the bathroom, the shoe closet, and even outside on the concrete slab behind the building.
Islamic Society General Secretary Daniel Hummel said they now have to even turn some people away, including women who, traditionally, have to pray in a separate room from the men.
"It just popped-up, all of a sudden - there's a mosque project, and people are like, 'are there really any Muslims in Pocatello? Are there any Muslims in southeast Idaho?' Oh yes, there are many Muslims in southeast Idaho from Aberdeen to Idaho Falls to Pocatello," Hummel said.
Hummel also mentioned the various Islamic groups in Pocatello love the community and are hoping the idea is welcomed during Thursday night's public hearing in front of the city council.
"The general survey of the Islamic community in Pocatello is that they love this community. They feel like it's a family-friendly place, they feel like it's a diverse place, and they feel like it's a place where they can be respected for who they are," Hummel added.
Not only will it give that portion of the community a better place of worship, but Hummel said it will also serve as a restoration project as well. Now, the old El Jacalito restaurant on Fifth Avenue which has been vacant and vandalized for over a year might serve as a mosque if the Islamic Society is granted permission to clean it up for that purpose.
For now, Hummel said he just wants to see the community understand where one group is coming from, and it's a group that just wants to be another cog in the workings of such a welcoming community.
"They're happy to be a part of this community and be involved in this community, and I think the mosque project is part of that. They can actually see something that's theirs," Hummel said.
The project is expected to cost a total of $265,000 and as of now, the group has raised enough money in donations to where they only have $50,838 left to go.