A new $10 million facility is set to open in the spring of 2024 at the Islamic Center of Melville, one of about 40 mosques across Long Island, compared to many fewer in September 2001. That has given leaders of Long Island's Muslim community a sense of acceptance. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Habeeb Ahmed lived in Albertson for more than three decades without a mosque where he could worship. Now he has two within 1½ miles of each other. They both opened in the last few years.

Compared to the 12-minute ride to his longtime mosque in Westbury, where he would go for some of the multiple prayer sessions a day his faith requires, “it is convenient,” he said. “It’s only a two- or three-minute ride for me from my house,”

The mosques are also signs of change.

As Muslims on Long Island gear up for the start of the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday night, they are also celebrating the steady growth of their community. A decade ago, there were about two dozen mosques on Long Island; now there are more than 40, with at least 100,000 Muslims living in the region, leaders in the community said.

Increasing acceptance of Muslims has accompanied that growth, in the minds of some community members, a stark contrast to the dark days after the 2001 terrorist attacks when many felt under siege and rejected.

Ramadan is among the holiest months on the Muslim calendar, commemorating the time in the early 7th century when Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel.

Starting Thursday morning, the faithful will fast from sunrise to sunset for a month, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. They must refrain from eating or drinking any liquid, even water.

They also attend special prayer services at their mosques, often late into the night and starting again around sunrise each day. The first prayers this year are Wednesday night.

Beyond that, acts of charity and service are expected, as is engaging in self-reflection and focusing on spirituality.

In Melville, a major new mosque — one of the biggest on Long Island — is set for completion next year just off the Long Island Expressway. The 45,000-square-foot, $10 million facility will feature an indoor gym/basketball court, classrooms and programs, including yoga and professional development for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

“We are all excited,” said Talaat Abdelmoneim, president of the Islamic Center of Melville. “It’s really a great feeling.”

Like many on Long Island, the Melville mosque started off humbly — in a house on the same property. Now, it is attracting so many of the faithful — at least 600 for Friday prayers, the main ones of the week — that a larger building is needed, he said.

One of the oldest mosques in the region, the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury also started in a house, in the early 1980s. The center's Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of Ramadan is so large now that the mosque holds it at an indoor soccer field at Mitchel Field in Garden City, Ahmed said.

The crowd there has grown from about 4,500 eight years ago, when the practice began, to about 8,000 expected in April, divided among two prayer services, he said.

Growth has also led to more challenges: The main cemetery on Long Island where Muslims can be buried in accordance with Islamic rituals — Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai — is running out of space, said Nayyar Imam, a leader of the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden.

He and others are on the hunt for a new location, though the search has gone on for more than a decade.

Imam thinks that while the situation for Muslims on Long Island is not as bad as it was after the terrorist attacks, when they faced outright hostility and sometimes physical attacks, ill will is still there, but under the surface.

“Most of the people don’t say it openly, but at the job, at the mall, at different places, you can feel it," Imam said. "You can feel that people hate you. The seed has been implanted 22 years ago.”

As evidence, he cited last summer's firebombing of a $10,000 crescent-shaped sign outside a mosque in Ronkonkoma. No arrests have been made.

Anti-Muslim incidents and attitudes persist among some, acknowledged Dr. Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees at the Westbury mosque, but many other Long Islanders not only accept Muslims, but celebrate their presence.

“It is beyond acceptance. There is a spirit of fellowship on Long Island,” she said.

Public officials such as Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena have been especially supportive, along with interfaith leaders, she said.

Ryder, for instance, “really makes sure that each and every community feels included and feels protected. It’s almost as if this is a personal mission,” she said.

“I’m actually very, very proud to be a part of this suburban community,” Chaudhry added.

Habeeb Ahmed lived in Albertson for more than three decades without a mosque where he could worship. Now he has two within 1½ miles of each other. They both opened in the last few years.

Compared to the 12-minute ride to his longtime mosque in Westbury, where he would go for some of the multiple prayer sessions a day his faith requires, “it is convenient,” he said. “It’s only a two- or three-minute ride for me from my house,”

The mosques are also signs of change.

As Muslims on Long Island gear up for the start of the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday night, they are also celebrating the steady growth of their community. A decade ago, there were about two dozen mosques on Long Island; now there are more than 40, with at least 100,000 Muslims living in the region, leaders in the community said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • As Muslims on Long Island gear up for the start of Ramadan, they are also celebrating the steady growth of their community. 
  • A decade ago, there were about two dozen mosques on Long Island, now there are more than 40, with at least 100,000 Muslims living in the region. 
  • A sign of growth can be seen in Melville, where a new mosque — one of the biggest on Long Island — is set for completion next year.

Growing acceptance

Increasing acceptance of Muslims has accompanied that growth, in the minds of some community members, a stark contrast to the dark days after the 2001 terrorist attacks when many felt under siege and rejected.

Ramadan is among the holiest months on the Muslim calendar, commemorating the time in the early 7th century when Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel.

Starting Thursday morning, the faithful will fast from sunrise to sunset for a month, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. They must refrain from eating or drinking any liquid, even water.

They also attend special prayer services at their mosques, often late into the night and starting again around sunrise each day. The first prayers this year are Wednesday night.

Beyond that, acts of charity and service are expected, as is engaging in self-reflection and focusing on spirituality.

In Melville, a major new mosque — one of the biggest on Long Island — is set for completion next year just off the Long Island Expressway. The 45,000-square-foot, $10 million facility will feature an indoor gym/basketball court, classrooms and programs, including yoga and professional development for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

“We are all excited,” said Talaat Abdelmoneim, president of the Islamic Center of Melville. “It’s really a great feeling.”

A humble start

Like many on Long Island, the Melville mosque started off humbly — in a house on the same property. Now, it is attracting so many of the faithful — at least 600 for Friday prayers, the main ones of the week — that a larger building is needed, he said.

One of the oldest mosques in the region, the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury also started in a house, in the early 1980s. The center's Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of Ramadan is so large now that the mosque holds it at an indoor soccer field at Mitchel Field in Garden City, Ahmed said.

The crowd there has grown from about 4,500 eight years ago, when the practice began, to about 8,000 expected in April, divided among two prayer services, he said.

Growth has also led to more challenges: The main cemetery on Long Island where Muslims can be buried in accordance with Islamic rituals — Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai — is running out of space, said Nayyar Imam, a leader of the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden.

He and others are on the hunt for a new location, though the search has gone on for more than a decade.

Ill will persists

Imam thinks that while the situation for Muslims on Long Island is not as bad as it was after the terrorist attacks, when they faced outright hostility and sometimes physical attacks, ill will is still there, but under the surface.

“Most of the people don’t say it openly, but at the job, at the mall, at different places, you can feel it," Imam said. "You can feel that people hate you. The seed has been implanted 22 years ago.”

As evidence, he cited last summer's firebombing of a $10,000 crescent-shaped sign outside a mosque in Ronkonkoma. No arrests have been made.

Anti-Muslim incidents and attitudes persist among some, acknowledged Dr. Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees at the Westbury mosque, but many other Long Islanders not only accept Muslims, but celebrate their presence.

“It is beyond acceptance. There is a spirit of fellowship on Long Island,” she said.

Public officials such as Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena have been especially supportive, along with interfaith leaders, she said.

Ryder, for instance, “really makes sure that each and every community feels included and feels protected. It’s almost as if this is a personal mission,” she said.

“I’m actually very, very proud to be a part of this suburban community,” Chaudhry added.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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