Written by Betsy Abraham Friday, 19 April 2013 00:00
The Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) is to break ground on a major expansion next month, a project that will allow more space for teaching and events.
According to first vice president Habeeb U. Ahmed, the village of Westbury has approved the expansion and the center is now waiting for a plan review from the Nassau County Department of Public Work before meeting with the village building inspector. Ahmed says that the center is expecting to break ground the first week of May and builders expect the work to take 15 to 16 months to complete.
The center, which is on Brush Hollow Rd., is expanding to add another building in the rear of the property, which will have extra classrooms and meeting space. There will be a covered walkway connecting the two buildings. Parking will go from 30 to 90 spaces.
ICLI has the largest congregation in Nassau County, and Ahmed says that the expansion is much needed, as the congregation grows and the center is continually holding events. The center is always donating food to local organizations, and Ahmed says he hopes that the expansion will allow the center to establish a food center of its own.
“Sometimes we don’t have proper room because the main building is a sanctuary, so most of the time people are praying. Hopefully this will give us more room for doing a lot of other activities which we already do,” Ahmed said.
The new building will house the center’s preschool program for children ages three to five and after school classes for children learning how to read the Quran. Ahmed says that the new building will also be open to the community at large and that the center is establishing an interfaith institute, to do community service activities and reach out to people in need.
The original expansion plans did face some criticism from the community, who was concerned that it would not fit the residential style of the neighborhood. Initially, the mosque wanted to have three floors, which upset neighbors who said it would look like an office building. The neighbors also were concerned about the minaret, a fixture on the domed roof of the mosque, which in Muslim countries is used to call for prayers.
“That’s a very old system when there was no PA system. Now, no one calls from there, so it’s basically just symbolic,” Ahmed said. “It has become like a church’s steeple. You can have a church, without a steeple.”
After several meetings and hearing the concerns and suggestions of neighbors and the village, the center decided to compromise. Because the minaret was purely symbolic, they decided to get rid of that in the building plans. At someone’s suggestion, they decided to make the new building a two-story structure, and expand the basement so that it will run under the existing building, the courtyard and the new building. This allows them to keep the same number of square footage, while satisfying their neighbors.
“In Islam, the rights of neighbors are very important so we don’t want to push it to get it approved if the neighbors are unhappy. We want to keep a relationship with the neighbors and we want them to be happy,” Ahmed says. “Even though expanding the basement gets expensive for us, in the interest of keeping the love and good relations between us and the neighbors, we said it was fine.”