On July 9, 1,500 Muslims gathered in Tacoma to celebrate Eid al-Adha, an important Islamic holiday.
What made the gathering special was where they prayed and celebrated.
The ink is barely dry on an $11 million purchase agreement for a former fitness center just off South 38th street that will become the new Islamic Center of Tacoma.
“The Lord blessed us to have a whole community for us to be here so we can show and share our bread and share our love with the rest of our society,” Imam Abdulhakim Mohammed, the center’s executive director, said Saturday.
Inside, the building soon will transform into the new Islamic Center which, includes a mosque, fitness gyms, cafe and a minaret.
The move comes after the center’s former mosque at 2010 Bridgeport Way West in University Place was heavily damaged by arson in October.
On Saturday, Mohammed led the service facing rows of men and boys. Periodically, they would kneel as mandated in the Quran. They faced northeast, the most direct path from Tacoma to Mecca.
Separated by an empty area, women and girls did the same in the rear of the space.
Except for the prayer rugs lined up along neatly taped lines on the floor, there was little that indicated an Islamic center was coming. A three-story-high climbing pinnacle a few feet away gave the space a decidedly recreational feel.
Starting Friday, July 15, Mohammed said, prayers will be held at the new location and every Friday thereafter. Friday is Islam’s holy day.
Forged by fire
“The traditional single (Friday) service went to three to accommodate the numbers,” Mohammed said. Now, only one Friday service will need to be held in the new building.
Mohammed said the center has taken in more than $4 million in donations toward the new building. St. Marks held a fundraiser for the new center. Donations poured in from across the country, Mohammed said.
“We’ve had almost all houses of worship collect funds for us,” he said.
Mohammed expects to have $6 million by the end of the year, covering more than half of the purchase price.
An online fundraiser to rebuild the mosque has pulled in $546,000. Once rebuilt, the center will still keep the University Place location as a mosque for daily prayers.
Tacoma resident Lena Hammoud has been attending services at the University Place mosque for 25 years. On Saturday, she said her first prayers in the new spacious building at 31 Montana Ave.
“This is heaven, by comparison,” she said, surrounded by several other women.
She estimates regular attendance at the old mosque went from 300 to 1,500 over 25 years, vastly outgrowing the University Place location.
“If the weather’s nice, we had people praying indoors and outdoors in our old mosque,” Hammoud said.
While Islam connected the worshippers at Saturday’s service, their roots were from across the globe.
“We have (congregants) from Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia,” Hammoud said. “Sisters, help me out,” she implored the women. Sudan, Syria, Iran, England, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, the women listed.
Some congregants, like Hammoud’s four children, are American-born. Others are converts.
“So, we’re really a melting pot, and of all all types of cultures,” she said.
Saturday’s prayers and sermon were in both English and Arabic. English is generally the uniting language at the mosque.
It’s accurate to call the new building a mosque, Mohammed said, but it will be much more than that. Like the old center in University Place, the new building will have a food bank, Sunday school and a clinic.
But the new building, taking advantage of its former use, will have two fitness areas — one for men and one for women. The climbing pinnacle will stay.
The current weekend clinic will soon become a full time medical clinic.
In December, the center plans to begin distributing 1,500 meals a week to anyone who needs it.
“Most of the people we distribute those to are non-Muslims,” Mohammed said. His congregation is mostly middle class, he said.
English classes, a day care center, bookstore, library and coffee shop are in the works.
In the long-term plans: a K-5th grade school.
The building will host weddings and funerals.
Renderings passed out at Saturday’s service show a minaret rising from the building. Mohammed hopes to have the tower built within two years.
Traditionally, a minaret is used to issue a call to prayer five times a day over a town. Minarets in Islamic regions of the world frequently sport loud speakers.
“We are working with the city to have a minaret,” Mohammed said. “That way people will recognize it’s not a gym anymore. It’s actually a mosque.”
Mohammed couldn’t yet provide a figure for the tower’s height. He doesn’t know if it will broadcast the call to prayer.
“We would love to, but I don’t think that is our call right now,” he said.