On July 9, 1,500 Muslims gathered in Tacoma to celebrate Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday.
What made the gathering special was where they prayed and celebrated.
The ink has barely dried on an $11 million purchase deal for a former gym just off South 38th Street that will become the new Islamic Center of Tacoma.
“The Lord blessed us so that we have a whole community so that we are here and 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.
The week of July 11, the Fit Republic sign was still on the outside of the 69,000-square-foot building located just a few feet from Costco Wholesale’s Tacoma location.
Inside, the building will soon be transformed into the new Islamic Center that includes a mosque, gymnasiums, a cafe and a minaret.
The move comes after the former downtown mosque at 2010 Bridgeport Way West at University Place was heavily damaged by arson in October.
On Saturday, Mohammed led the service in front of lines of men and boys. Periodically, they knelt as the Koran commands. They were looking northeast, the most direct way from Tacoma to Mecca.
Separated by an empty area, women and girls did the same at the back of the space.
Except for prayer rugs lined up along neatly taped lines on the floor, there was little to indicate an Islamic center was approaching. A three-story-high climbing pinnacle just 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 the holy day of Islam.
forged by fire
After last year’s fire, Mohammed was forced to hold daily prayers at Tacoma Community College and Friday prayers at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in The Narrows.
“The traditional individual service (Friday) went down to three to accommodate the numbers,” Mohammed said. Now, it will only be necessary to hold a Friday service in the new building.
Mohammed said the center has received more than $4 million in donations for the new building. St. Marks held a fundraiser for the new center. Donations poured in from all over the country, Mohammed said.
“We’ve had just about every house of worship fundraise for us,” he said.
Mohammed hopes 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 raised $546,000. Once rebuilt, the center will still retain 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 spacious new building at 31 Montana Ave.
“This is heaven, by comparison,” she said, surrounded by several other women.
She estimates that regular attendance at the old mosque rose from 300 to 1,500 over 25 years, far outpacing the University Place location.
“If the weather is nice, we would have people praying indoors and outdoors at our old mosque,” Hammoud said.
While Islam connected worshipers to the Sabbath service, its roots came from all over the world.
“We have (churchgoers) from Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia,” Hammoud said. “Sisters, help me,” he implored the women. Sudan, Syria, Iran, England, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, the women listed.
Some parishioners, like Hammoud’s four children, are American-born. Others are converts.
“So, we are really a melting pot, and from all kinds of cultures,” he said.
The prayers and sermon on Saturday were in both English and Arabic. English is generally the union language in the mosque.
It is correct to call the new building a mosque, Mohammed said, but it will be much more than that. Like the old center on University Place, the new building will house a food bank, Sunday school and clinic.
But the new building, taking advantage of its previous use, will have two fitness areas, one for men and one for women. The pinnacle of climbing will remain.
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 in need.
“Most of the people we distribute to are non-Muslims,” Mohammed said. His congregation is mostly middle class, he said.
English classes, a nursery, a bookstore, a library and a cafeteria are being prepared.
In the long-term plans: a K-5th grade school.
The building will host weddings and funerals.
Distributed performances at the Saturday service show a minaret rising from the building. Mohammed hopes to have the tower built within two years.
Traditionally, a minaret is used to call for prayer five times a day in a city. Minarets in Islamic regions of the world often have loudspeakers.
“We are working with the city to have a minaret,” Mohammed said. “So people will recognize that it is no longer a gym. It’s actually a mosque.”
Mohammed was not yet able to provide a figure for the tower’s height. He doesn’t know if he will pass on the call to prayer.
“We would love to, but I don’t think that’s our decision right now,” he said.