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Mosque Seeks Holiday Giving

The Islamic Society hopes to raise up to $1 million for its new building in Garden Grove during Ramadan, the holy time of fasting, which begins today.


Builders of a grand mosque in Garden Grove are putting their faith in the giving season of Ramadan to help them raise up to $1 million for one of the larger Islamic worship halls in the country.

Ramadan, which begins today, is one of Islam's most holy holidays and is celebrated by sacrifice in a monthlong fast and a call to increase charitable giving.

"We're hoping this Ramadan will be very critical in raising funds," said Ahmed Ali, project coordinator for the Islamic Society of Orange County's $8-million mosque under construction.

"We remind people that you give from the heart and soul," he said. "We believe [during Ramadan] you will receive back 70 times more than what you give."

A dozen mosques in Orange County are available to the county's Muslim community, estimated at up to 150,000. The largest mosque is the Islamic Society's center, which attracts overflow crowds of 2,000 active worshipers during its Friday prayer services.

The new mosque eventually will replace the society's overcrowded, one-story facility next door on 13th Street near Brookhurst Street, where Muslims who come to pray often spill out of the tiny worship hall and are forced to kneel toward Mecca in the building's hallways, cafeteria and parking lot.

"The project has been in the minds of people for the past 10 years," said Muzzamil H. Siddiqi, the society's director.

The project's first phase, which includes a $2-million, 17,000-square-foot main prayer hall and mortuary, is scheduled to be finished within six months. Sections eventually will be torn down to make room for more parking on the society's 6-acre site.

The only mosque of similar size in California is in Santa Clara, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the local Council on American-Islamic Relations. That facility is in converted office space and doesn't reflect the traditional Middle Eastern-styled mosque, he said.

Ramadan celebrates the revelation of the Koran, Islam's holy book, to the prophet Muhammad. During the monthlong observance, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, say daily prayers and, on the last and holiest day of Ramadan, celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, or Feast of the Fast-Breaking, which falls on Dec. 27 this year.

"Ramadan symbolizes sacrifice in many ways, including giving to charity," said Fareed Farukhi, a member of the mosque. "Therefore we feel more commitment to give--even a smile is charity. This is an opportune time to reach out to people."

The daylong fasts, which don't even allow for drinks of water, make Muslims appreciate the blessings they have, Ayloush said.

"You're going to have some hunger and thirst," Ayloush said. "It puts you closer to those who are less fortunate. And when you put yourself in that position, you give more."

Muslim leaders raised $1 million during Ramadan last year, bringing total donations to $1.2 million. They are paying for the new facility with cash because Islam prohibits paying interest on borrowed money.

Now that donors can see the mosque's steel beams rising above the society's one-story building, leaders say the fund-raising will get easier.

"Before we appealed to the people's imagination," Ali said. "Now they see the real thing."

Syed Raza, the project's architect, said he tried to keep the construction style simple to hold down costs, though he added flourishes like five minarets, a courtyard and Arabic, Indian and Persian arches.

Since men and women aren't allowed to worship together, the main prayer hall will feature separate entrances and levels. The mezzanine, which also has a nursery, will be reserved for women. Men will pray on the ground floor of the mosque.

"The interior is very exciting," said Raza, who won a competition involving four other firms to design the buildings. "This is one of the largest mosques [in the U.S.]. They don't build too many big ones."

The building will be the first built-from-scratch mosque in Orange County, allowing the architect to place the worship space facing Mecca, Islam's sacred city in Saudi Arabia.

In mosques originally built for other purposes, Muslims often have to pray at odd angles inside the rooms to make sure they're kneeling toward Mecca.

"We've prayed facing a lot of corners," Ayloush said.

The mosque, designed also to be a community center for county Muslims, will include a meeting hall, two libraries, a regulation indoor basketball court, offices, lecture halls, dining area and kitchen and an new wing for the Orange Crescent School.

In most major cities in the world, large Muslim populations have built grand mosques that have a similar function as a cathedral--drawing in worshipers for major events and also acting as a social center.

"As congregations grow, people want to build larger mosques," said Timur Kuran, a USC professor who holds the King Faisal chair in Islamic Thought and Culture. "There isn't one currently in Los Angeles, so it was only a matter of time before one like this was built."

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