LI's oldest mosque is expanding

Community members of the Islamic Center of Long

Community members of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury shovel dirt at a ceremonial ground breaking for the expansion of the center. The expansion will increase the center's square footage and will include an Interfaith Institute. (Aug. 16, 2013) (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

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One of the oldest mosques on Long Island broke ground Friday on a project that will nearly triple its size to accommodate a growing congregation.

Following an afternoon prayer service Friday, elected officials, religious leaders and worshipers donned hard hats and thrust shovels into the dirt at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury to mark the beginning of a 19,000-square-foot project set for completion in about a year.

"We are putting down a marker and establishing our roots in Nassau County as a very vibrant, progressive Muslim community, which has grown tremendously way beyond anyone's expectations," said Dr. Faroque Khan, chairman of the mosque's long-term planning committee.

The center's first prayer service was attended by three members in a home, before construction of the mosque was completed in 1991. The center has since expanded to almost 450 members, said Habeeb Ahmed, the first vice president.

The mosque has so many worshipers that it is "bursting at the seams," said Eric Hamza Byas, the center's president. The new building, which was funded with donations, will have nearly two dozen classrooms and a basketball court, Byas said.

The expansion shows how an organization can work with neighbors to get the best result, backers said. Original plans included a minaret, from which congregants are called to prayer, but, after discussions with the town and neighbors, the center compromised by canceling plans for the minaret and reducing the building size.

As part of its collaborative efforts, the center will host an interfaith institute that offers seminars for various religious groups and a space for prayer. The Rev. Mark Lukens, head of the local chapter of The Interfaith Alliance, praised the congregation for "leading the way in promoting understanding and goodwill between people of faith on our Island."

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) thanked the center for ensuring the community remains diverse, "interrelated and intertwined." Amid reports of bloodshed in Egypt and Syria, Lavine asked those assembled to continue working to promote tolerance, so that "the day comes not only when we live in America in peace, but throughout the world in peace."

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