When the holy month of Ramadan arrives Sept. 1, about 400 Muslim families in the south East Valley will finally have their own masjid, or mosque. They'll gather there for their nightly prayer services and cultural activities, meals and events that traditionally make a mosque a center of Islamic community life.
It's been 12 years of delays and setbacks, escalating costs and several turnovers of building contractors, but the Islamic Center of the East Valley is nearing completion at 425 N. Alma School Road in Chandler. Only part of the three-story, 10,000-square-foot mosque will be ready for Ramadan, but that is a miracle in light of the way things looked on May 1, just before trustees brought contractor Jalil Ahmed into the picture.
"He has just been a blessing from God for us," said trustee and communications director David Hadley. "Now the project is back on track and moving very quickly."
The mosque, with a 30-foot-high dome that will be painted gold, sits on property purchased in 1996. The building is located deep in the middle of a large parcel reached by a long driveway from Alma School Road. The dome will be topped by Islam's symbol, the crescent. A traditional minaret, or prayer tower, will be erected later with a crescent on top.
"We had a lot of bad contractors," he said. "We had a difficult time with some of the engineering work that was done."
"We had difficulties with details on the plan, and with contractors going bankrupt, contractors not being honest," Hadley said. Trustees were further slowed because of strict Islamic rules against obtaining loans and paying interest, or riba. "We made the agreement as a board that we would make sure we would never borrow money that would have interest associated with it, and that the masjid would be owned by the local community" through establishment of a separate trust, Hadley said.
"Once we had the project back under construction and we were moving with some progress, we raised $600,000 in three months," Hadley said, noting that a growing East Valley Muslim population "makes it easier to raise money." Another incentive, he said, was ensuring community members that an election for a new board of directors would be held just after the mosque opens. "People want to participate in the management," he said.
A 4,000-square-foot prayer area on the main floor will be for males, while women and girls will pray on a 2,500-square-foot glassed-in balcony on the third story that overlooks the main floor. Men and women have separate sets of ablution areas to perform wudu, the washing before prayer. Also included are a library and offices. On the first floor will be the social center, storage and meeting spaces.
"We want to open this to all Muslims and people of all faiths," Hadley said. "It is not restricted to any one special group."
Chandler-area Muslims have held their Friday prayer services in the fellowship hall of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chandler.
"We owe them so much, you can't believe it," Hadley said. "If it wasn't for them, I don't know what we would have done. They allowed us to stay there for almost five years praying in their church." He said members of Holy Trinity "exemplified Christian character like nobody else I have ever met."
Ahmed, an Indian-born contractor and member of the Chandler Muslim community, said completion of the mosque will come later in the fall.
"It is an extreme joy for me to see that we are gong to finally be praying in it," Hadley said. "It is a realization of a lot of hopes and dreams for many of the Muslims in the Valley to see it finally come to completion after so many people thought it would never be opened up. It is a testament to the faith of the Muslims in Chandler and a blessing from Allah for all of us."