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Boca soon to be home to 2 new mosques
By John Murawski, Palm Beach Post Staff
Monday, August 27, 2001
BOCA RATON -- Residents here will soon spot new cultural landmarks on the horizon: minarets.
A growing community of Muslims has created a demand for not one, but two mosques in the city.
In recent years, members of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton and the Assalam Center of Boca Raton have been meeting in rented office space, private homes, the city's community center next to city hall, as well as classrooms at Florida Atlantic University.
The two Boca Raton congregations, together numbering about 1,300 members, plan to build religious complexes with a prayer hall, community center, classroom and a library, just east of FAU's campus. The two centers are planned 1.3 miles apart, the Assalam Center proposed just down the street from Beth Ami Congregation synagogue and First Assembly of God church on Northwest Fourth Avenue.
The two organizations don't represent different theological or cultural practices, such as those that distinguish the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity, or the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism.
"It's just like you have two churches in the same town," said Bassem Al-Halabi, co-founder of the Islamic Center, which was formed about two years ago. "There's a community so huge, there's a need for more than two centers."
Many of Boca Raton's Muslims are associated with Florida Atlantic University -- either as students, staff or faculty, both groups said.
The Islamic Center's Al-Halabi and Assalam Center President Imad Mahgoub, for instance, both teach in FAU's computer science and engineering department.
The exact size of the local Muslim population isn't known; the U.S. Census doesn't track religious affiliation. Islamic Center President Khalid Qureshi estimated that Palm Beach County, home to 1.1 million people, has about 8,000 to 10,000 Muslims.
The two local mosques would add to others already providing services: one each in Belle Glade, suburban West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce; two each in Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
The Islamic Center this month submitted plans to Boca Raton city planners for a complex of four buildings south of Spanish River Boulevard.
The Assalam Center, formed seven years ago, won approval last year from the city to build just north of Glades Road. The group is awaiting building permits and expects to complete construction sometime next year. The word assalam, related to the Hebrew shalom, means "peace."
To comply with the city's noise ordinance, the Assalam Center will not broadcast calls to prayer through a loud speaker, as is often done in the Middle East five times a day, said Nazeeh Ibrahim, the organization's vice-president. Instead, the muezzin will issue calls to prayer from within the mosque.
In addition to serving Muslims, the Assalam Center plans to offer classes in Arabic and Islam to non-Muslims, Ibrahim said.