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Westbury mosque's expansion postponed for Ramadan

The Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, one of the oldest and largest mosques in the region, was scheduled to start construction on a major expansion this month.

But that won't be happening because of another major event: Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims, begins Monday night after sunset.

The center has decided to delay construction until the end of Ramadan because the mosque will be so busy during the monthlong observance that it will be difficult to do both, said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the mosque.

But Ramadan may also help the project, he said. One of the central tenets of Ramadan is charity, and the mosque hopes its congregants will especially take that to heart this year, Ahmed said.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It commemorates the time when the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel in the year 610.

During Ramadan, Muslims cannot eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. This year the fasting will last up to 16 hours a day. Another hallmark of the religious holiday is a recitation of the entire Quran, one chapter a night, for 30 nights.

The center, on Brush Hollow Road in Westbury, has raised $1.5 million so far for its $4 million expansion project, Ahmed said. In general, Muslims are required to donate at least 2.5 percent of their annual savings to a mosque. Many do so during the month of Ramadan.

"People are usually generous in Ramadan," Ahmed said. "We are hoping the community will come through."

The mosque will have to raise all the money for the project since Muslims do not believe in borrowing money to build places of worship. Ahmed said he also thinks more donations will start to flow in once some construction is visible at the site.

The 18,000-square-foot addition to the 8,000-square-foot mosque will house a new interfaith institute, along with a preschool, an exercise room and centers for young mothers and senior citizens, along with classrooms and offices for other activities. It will consist of two floors and a large basement.

Ahmed said the project will allow the center to expand its interfaith outreach work. For example, the mosque will be able to invite many more non-Muslims to events since it will have more space.

Ramadan will end Aug. 7, and like last year will be a challenge because Ramadan is falling in the summer. That means especially long -- and often hot -- days of fasting.

Ramadan is also a time of purification and renewal when Muslims pray as much as possible. They will start prayers around 4:30 a.m., before sunrise, at their mosques, and finish close to midnight with the reading of the Quran.

Long Island is home to about 75,000 Muslims, out of a worldwide population of 1.6 billion. It is the world's second-largest religion after Christianity.

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