The Detroit News, Mar. 24, 2003
By Shantee’ Woodards / The Detroit News
DEARBORN — One day, the mosque near the Southfield Freeway will serve as a community center and haven for Metro Detroit’s Muslim community.
The problem: finding the money to finish it. The Altar Road mosque, under construction for the last four years, still lacks adequate financing.
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A benefit is planned for May 18 at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, where officials hope to raise as much as $2 million to help fund the $15-million project.
“We’ve been living this project for several years now,” said Ed Bedoun, chairman of the Islamic Center of America’s construction committee. “The Muslim community is desperate and ready for a state of the art landmark like this. This is no small endeavor.”
So far, the project has been financed through a $7 million bank loan and an additional $5 million raised through various fund-raisers.
The center, currently located on Joy Road in Detroit, hopes to move to the Dearborn mosque by year-end if construction stays on schedule. The current building is 40 years old and does not meet the needs of the community, officials said.
The mosque itself is part of a 120,000-square-foot complex planned for the site. It will include the Muslim American Youth Academy, the mosque, an auditorium, library and community center. The complex is designed to better meet the needs of Dearborn’s booming Arab community, officials said.
“I see it as a sign of hope,” Hamad said. “These days are so shaky. The center can be a picture of better understanding, tolerance and mutual respect. This is an important project that will ensure the faith of the community.”
The first phase of its project began in 1997 when officials opened the Muslim American Youth Academy with 35 students. The school is on the old YMCA site in Dearborn and now has about 170 students enrolled from kindergarten through sixth grade. Tuition costs $3,400 a year and most parents volunteer at the school.
Workers now are in the midst of phase two of the project, which is building the mosque. Aside from using informal polling, members of the group’s construction committee visited mosques in Cleveland, Toronto and Toledo to see what would best fit their needs in Dearborn.
Dearborn has one of the highest concentrations of Arabs outside of the Middle East with about 30,000, nearly one third of the city’s population. There are about 200,000 Arab Americans living in Metro Detroit.
The increase in population has attracted other large developments tied to the community. By next year, Dearborn will also be the site of the $13 million Arab American National Museum. Officials at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) unveiled a plan in 2002 to build a 38,500 square foot museum and cultural center. ACCESS has received donations from the Kresge Foundation and Ford Motor Company toward the Arab American National Museum. Construction is expected to begin this month.
But the mosques are the heart of the community, as they serve as a place for prayer and community gatherings. There are about 30 mosques in Metro Detroit and more than half are in Dearborn. Many of the mosques are small and located in reconfigured buildings, like former schools. When these facilities become too small, often residents will go to another mosque or skip prayers and holy days altogether.
The current Islamic Center of America mosque is located on Joy and Greenfield in Detroit. Imam Mohammad Jawad Chirri was able to rally the community and his contacts throughout the Middle East to launch what was then known as the Islamic Center of Detroit in 1963. Decades later, the building is at capacity.
“It’s like you start out in a two-bedroom house and then you have four kids. It’s time to move,” said Adnan Chirri, chairman of the Board of Trustees and Chirri’s son. “People are eager (for it to open). The community grew so large over the past years and our present facility was too small.”
Once it’s open, the mosque will be located in an area that already has an Armenian and Arab Christian church. And that’s what makes this country unique, said Dearborn activist Zana Macki.
“Where else can you have so many different faiths .. with their own places of worship, but in the United States?” Macki said. “That’s the way it should be. There’s just a very special tranquillity on that little strip.”
Islamic Center of America
* Phase one: The 17,000-square-foot Muslim American Youth Academy opened in time for the 1997-98 school year with 35 students. Now about 170 students attend the kindergarten to sixth grade school.
* Phase two: Construction has begun on the mosque, which will feature a prayer area for more than 700 men and a separate area upstairs for about 300 women. There will be a community center seating about 1,000 people, kitchen to accommodate a banquet hall, parking and a separate administration area.
* Phase three: A 7,500-square-foot auditorium for lectures, conferences, school plays, award ceremonies, graduations and other functions.
* Phase four: School expansion and library. An additional 13 classrooms, science lab, expanded administration area and cafeteria, faculty lounge and play area for children.