New $16 Million Mosque Highlights Growth of Muslim Community in Central Florida

By Susan JacobsonA 130-foot-tall minaret rises above former pasture land south of Sanford, beckoning the Muslim faithful to a new mosque that took seven years and millions of dollars to build.
Leaders at Masjid al-Hayy — the name means “ever-living mosque” in Arabic — say they hope the 43,000-square-foot building becomes a gathering place for Muslims throughout Central Florida. The new mosque, which replaces a worship center that was in a 5,000-square-foot former church nearby, is indicative of the growth of the area’s Muslim community.
“It’s an awesome, awesome building — very impressive,” said Atif Fareed, director of the interfaith and outreach committee at American Muslim Community Centers in Longwood. “We are very proud of what they have accomplished. They have set the bar very high, and now we will have to catch up. They have done a fantastic job.”
The $16 million mosque — one of the most elaborate in North America — took 15 months to design and seven years to build. It celebrated its grand opening in August with an invitation-only event that included fireworks by Grucci, a New York firm known for creating shows for eight presidential inaugurations, including Donald Trump’s, and four Olympics.
The land, about 20 acres, is owned by Pennsylvania businessman Gulal Jaffer, who brought in artisans from Dubai, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries to perform the intricate work. Jaffer travels to the area frequently, said InayatWalli, president of the nonprofit Husseini Islamic Center of Florida, which was founded in 1990 and runs the mosque. He and his wife in February bought a $3 million house near Longwood. Jaffer would not comment.
The family-run Jaffer Reachout Foundation was created to build and support the mosque, foundation documents show.
The domed building is made of 3 million pounds of white marble from the Greek island of Thassos, cut into pieces and fabricated for their specific location. The floor of the sacred Muslim shrine the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is composed of the same stone.
The carved doors are built from Honduran mahogany, and other materials came from Egypt, Turkey and Morocco. The wall outside the prayer hall is decorated with gold-rimmed flowers created from custom-made Italian mosaic tiles.
Worshippers kneel on thickly padded, handmade wool and silk carpet under custom-made Egyptian chandeliers, the largest one weighing 6,000 pounds.
Orb-shaped fountains in front of the building, lit in blue, green and red, are designed to reflect the beauty of the marble.
It’s among about 20 mosques in Central Florida that serve a Muslim population that grew tenfold between 2000 and 2010, from 2,691 to 27,939, according to the US Religion Census. The region’s good weather has been a magnet for Muslims from the Northeast and Midwest, creating a need for more Islamic houses of worship.
About 85 percent of the Muslims in the world, including those in Central Florida, are Sunnis, but Masjid al-Hayy is a Shia mosque. The two sects diverged in the early days of Islam over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad. Iran is the only country that has an overwhelming Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among the nations with mostly Sunnis.
Many members of Masjid al-Hayy are of East African descent. In 1970, they emigrated from their homeland to New York and in 1997 about three dozen families relocated to northern Seminole County. The center has about 350 member families, leaders said.
This month, Masjid al-Hayy welcomed people of other religions to the mosque as part of an ongoing series of interfaith events. Members hope to dispel negative notions of their religion by getting to know their Central Florida neighbors.
“We are all worshipping the one God in our different ways,” said Mujtaba Khaliq, a clergyman who leads prayers at the mosque. “The goal is to get together and learn from one another and respect each other.” -


US Marine Instructor Jailed for Abusing Pakistani-American Recruit, Other Muslims
Washington: A US Marine Corps drill instructor was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for abusing more than a dozen Muslim recruits, one of whom died in 2016, US media reported.
Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Felix was convicted a day earlier of maltreatment of the recruits during their basic training at the Paris Island, South Carolina base.
A jury of eight fellow servicemen and women considered Felix, an Iraq war veteran, the most to blame of six instructors who ordered and participated in extreme hazing of the recruits, taunting them as terrorists.
Two of them were forced into industrial-sized clothes dryers and in one case the machine was turned on when they did not renounce their faith.
One of the recruits, Raheel Siddiqui died after a plunge over a third-story railing in March 2016 after enduring days of hazing worse than the normal high-pressure treatment given recruits.
The Marines called his death a suicide. In October, Siddiqui’s family sued the Marines for $100 million, saying he was driven by an unnamed superior through a door and onto a balcony where he fell to the ground below.
The sentence decided Friday, which also includes a dishonorable discharge, was harsher than the seven years in prison that prosecutors had recommended.
The case will automatically go to appeal per military regulations for judgments that involve lengthy prison sentences and dishonorable discharges. - AFP



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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