Islamic Foundation Plans to Open Berkeley Mosque in 2010

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When Ramy Salah joined UC Berkeley's Muslim Student Association two years ago, he attended Ramadan prayer sessions in different buildings, and different rooms, nearly every night of the month-long holiday.

But by next Ramadan, a mosque is expected to occupy an empty structure at 2716 Derby Street and serve as the permanent place of worship for much of Berkeley's Muslim community.

"The building's bought and the outside's done," said Salah, who is now a senior and works as the liaison between the association and the Berkeley Masjid Foundation, the organization in charge of the project.

The perimeters of the address are currently surrounded by chain-link fences, with a black mailbox serving as the only obvious address plaque. The exterior construction was recently completed this past April, though the interior is not yet finished, Salah said.

The foundation has already spent $1 million restoring the building and will need an estimated $500,000 in additional funds to complete the interior, said Ahmad Sheikh, secretary of the foundation's alumni outreach subdivision.

The time frame of the mosque's completion depends on factors including funds and a city inspection, Sheikh said. Because the building itself is considered a historical building, steps must and have been taken to preserve as much as possible.

"Conservatively, (it will take) nine months," he said. "If things go particularly quickly, six months."

The Arabic term "Masjid" literally means "a place of prostration." The Berkeley Masjid was originally located on Telegraph Avenue, where a tattoo parlor now stands.

The foundation has moved its Masjid from location to location for nearly 10 years before finally settling down on Derby Street, according to Sheikh.

Funds have trickled in and the Muslim Student Association is constantly raising money and awareness for this project, using what Sheikh calls a "multi-pronged" approach: appealing to the general community, alumni and especially individuals.

Salah said that with the growing Berkeley Muslim community, a new place of worship was necessary.

"I've seen (the number) grow just being here these four years, whether it's just natural growth or people actually converting or people who have never been a part of a Muslim community even though they've been born Muslim," he said. "They come and discover their religiosity or just become a part of the community. It's really a blessing to see that."

The closest mosque to campus is currently the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland. Because of the distance, the campus Muslim community depends on the association to organize religious events, especially during Ramadan, Salah said. Local restaurants, such as Julie's Healthy Cafe on Bancroft Way across from campus, have lent a hand in offering venues and food.

"It's hard," Salah said. "During Ramadan, there are night prayers, (so) we need to reserve a different room for every night. It takes a lot of effort and time for the MSA to function as it does."

Salah said that Berkeley, being a center of education, is a prime place for a new mosque.

"It's a dream that we (will) someday be able to bring in speakers from across the country, having events and catering to the Muslim community," he said. "It would be endless."


Contact Jolene Xie at [email protected]

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