February 16, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Groundbreaking today for Islamic Center expansion in Boca Raton, by Lois K. Solomon.
Boca mosque making plans for expansion
Muslims, responding to explosive growth of young families moving into south Palm Beach County, are to break ground here today on a $3 million mosque that will house classrooms, apartments, administrative offices and a courtyard for prayer.
The 3:30 p.m. groundbreaking at the Islamic Center of Boca Raton marks the first phase of a $4.5 million expansion project for the existing Sunni mosque and school at 3100 NW Fifth Ave. The pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, called the Garden of Sahaba Academy, has grown from 17 students four years ago to 175 today.
"We never expected this much growth," said Mohamed Senhaji, a congregant and father of two. "It's what's driving us to build."
ICBR is one of seven mosques in Palm Beach County. Another Sunni mosque, the Assalam Center, is under construction at 1499 NW Fourth Ave. The Muslim Community of Palm Beach County, based in West Palm Beach, opened a satellite mosque, also Sunni, in March in Palm Beach Gardens to accommodate Muslims moving to northern Palm Beach County.
About 90 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims follow Sunni Islam, which teaches that the successor of Muhammad was Abu Bakr, not Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, whom Shiite Muslims see as the successor. Boca Raton also has a Shiite mosque, the Florida Islamic Educational Center.
Palm Beach County's Muslim population is growing but still trails Miami-Dade County, which has about 40,000 Muslims, and Broward County, with about 20,000, said Altaf Ali, Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. About 10,000 Muslims live in Palm Beach County.
Senhaji said Boca Raton's Islamic community is growing at the rate of about 15 percent to 20 percent a year. Many, he said, are attracted to Florida Atlantic University, across the street from the mosque. Senhaji moved to Boca Raton 19 years ago from Morocco to attend FAU, where he studied ocean engineering.
The eight apartments planned for the new mosque are expected to house FAU students, Senhaji said.
The new mosque, a 30,000-square-foot white stucco complex, will have two blue-green domes and a minaret as a landmark. Architect Salah Elroweny said he melded Spanish-Islamic traditions, such as building the complex around a courtyard for prayer, with Florida-style features such as a covered walkway around the central area in case of rain. "We wanted to respect Islamic tradition by gathering everything around the courtyard," Elroweny said. "Everything looks inward, not outside."
The mosque is expected to serve as a house of prayer, educational center and community gathering place. Faten Warrad, a Garden of Sahaba science teacher, said some of the 500 people who attend Friday prayers at the existing complex are forced to pray outside the school's main hall because there is not enough room.
Adult-size classrooms also are needed, Warrad said. She said adults taking classes at night have to sit at children's desks.
"We use the masjid [mosque] as a community center," Warrad said. "We are at capacity now. We need a place we can call home."
Lois Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@sun-sentinel .com or 561-243-6536.
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