The Institute of Islamic Studies of New Jersey held its groundbreaking ceremony on July 12 for the construction of its 30,000-square-foot mosque and youth center at 2030 Old Trenton Road.
The congregation of IIS has grown to about 350 families since it was founded about 20 years ago. Currently located at 379 Princeton Hightstown Road in Cranbury, the group has leased space up and down Route 1 for the past two decades. IIS’ permanent home will include a worship area, a health screening clinic, classrooms, a multi-purpose room, and an outdoor basketball court, among other facilities.
The 7.17-acre vacant lot was originally zoned for light industrial use, such as a health club. Though initially controversial due to noise and traffic concerns, the West Windsor Zoning Board eventually approved the use variance for a mosque in 2011.
The building is estimated to cost $5 million. According to IIS, 60 percent of the funds have been collected already. Fundraising events will continue throughout the preliminary phase of construction. The new mosque is scheduled to open in March, 2016.
There was a diverse crowd at the mosque’s ground-breaking, as news editor Sue Roy reports below:
What’s So Special About Our Town?
by Sue Roy
Sitting under a tent on a flat, dusty plot of land with wind gusts swirling around me, surrounded by women in colorful dresses and head scarves, listing to a man reading from the Koran, it is easy for me to close my eyes and imagine that I am visiting a country in the Middle East. But, a quick glance around reveals that the audience is full of people of various ages, races, nationalities, and presumably religions; I recognize several of them. A woman sitting near me is in fact the mother of one of my son’s classmates, and Congressman Rush Holt is sitting two rows in front of me.
In fact, I am sitting right in my own town of West Windsor, at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) mosque. The packed audience spills out from the seats under the canopy, and as the ceremony commences, more and more people keep coming.
All in all more than 100 people arrive to show their support and to hear the words of the many speakers, including Congressman Holt, West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh (who, in recognition of his support of this project, received a standing ovation), Reverend Cornell Edmonds, chair of the West Windsor Interfaith Community Bridge; IIS Chairman Tahir Zafar; and a young man named Raza Zia, whose words are the most moving: “This mosque is a beacon of tolerance for our community, our town, and the world.” Letters of support from the Congregation of Beth Chaim Jewish temple and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Hightstown are read aloud, further emphasizing the feeling of acceptance that surrounds us.
Many local “dignitaries” are present in the audience: Former West Windsor council president Kamal Khanna; former school board president Hemant Marathe, several members of the Interfaith, Community Bridge; one of the mosque’s founders, Dr. Shafiq Ahmed, and the sister of his wife and co-founder, Dr. Vaseem Ahmed, who died before seeing the culmination of her dream — the creation of this mosque; mosque members; representatives from the Elements housing development, which abuts the property that will be home to the mosque, and current council members Linda Geevers, George Borek, and Kristina Samonte.
The event ends with the traditional “ribbon-cutting ceremony.” Mayor Hsueh cuts the ribbon again and again as more and more people crowd into the pictures with him, including all of the women in attendance. We all swarm toward the pictures depicting the renditions of what the mosque will look like when completed, hopefully in March, 2016. It is impressive. The 30,000-square-foot building will include a worship area, a youth center, a screening health clinic, a basketball court, and multipurpose room, among other facilities.
Zafar thanks everyone for their support, and reminds everyone that this mosque is not just for its own members, or even Muslims in general; its facilities, including the medical clinic, are available for anyone to use, and IIS will be offering many interfaith and community events as well.
Says Zafar, “This state-of-the-art building, exciting and grand as it may be, is just an extension of the love and compassion which you, the community, have given us. This building is for you. All are welcome at any time.
“And there is cake, and sandwiches, for anyone who is not fasting for Ramadan,” Zafar adds. “The cake is home-made; it is delicious. Samira Ghani made it especially for this ceremony.”
At first I am hesitant to eat anything; feeling that would be disrespectful to those who are fasting for Ramadan. But I am assured that the opposite is true — celebrating Ramadan involves giving and sharing, and to eat what is being shared would be a way of honoring the holiday. I am relieved, because I really want to eat the homemade mango cake, and now I can!
Borek, Geevers, and I chat about what we are seeing and what we are feeling at this event. We all agree that this is a wonderful ceremony, and we are glad to have been invited, especially in light of the terrible events unfolding in the Middle East right now.
“I wish we could bring some of what we have here in West Windsor, the sense of community, to the Middle East,” remarks Geevers. “It would go a long way.”
As I look around at the crowd, a microcosm of the world at large, I think to myself, “This is what is so special about West Windsor, New Jersey. Not pocket parks, not the size of campaign signs, not naming rights of trees. What is important is our shared sense of community, of multiculturalism, of acceptance, of peace. West Windsor truly is a beacon of tolerance, and that is why I live here.”