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An Answer to Prayers

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s running about a year behind schedule, but the Islamic Society of Orange County’s new $8-million complex in Garden Grove is nearing reality, local religious leaders say.

The Mediterranean-style buildings, expanding on the society’s current facilities, were first scheduled for completion by the end of 1999. Coordinators of the project--code-named “Mosque 2000”--now hope the complex will be open by Dec. 31.

The man behind the mosque is Muzammil H. Siddiqi, the society’s director and a pioneer of interfaith relations in Orange County for the last 20 years.

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Although he secured pledges from his members several years ago to begin the project, fund-raising efforts continue, Siddiqi said.

During the holy month of Ramadan, which ended Jan. 8, the society raised over $1 million for the complex, which will feature palm trees, red tile roofs and stucco walls. The new buildings include a library, preschool, gymnasium, renovated K-8 school, mortuary, swimming pool and remodeled cafeteria.

“I’m sure the rest will come as soon as they start digging,” said Siddiqi, 57, who also lives in Garden Grove.

The new plan is to begin groundbreaking in mid-March, to coincide with the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Construction is expected to take eight months.

The new building has been a long time coming.

“We’ll finally have a building that we can be very proud of,” said Haitham Bundakji, chairman of the public relations department for the society. “It reflects the desire of our people to have a real mosque that resembles the mosques in the Muslim world.”

The Islamic community started meeting for worship services in 1967 in homes around Orange County. The popularity of the gatherings led to renting a space from a women’s club in Buena Park. In 1975 the group bought a house in Fullerton.

In 1979, some local Muslims had gathered enough money together to buy their current building, a former church on 13th Street in Garden Grove. Two years later, Siddiqi took over as director and has been leading prayers at the mosque ever since.

Siddiqi came to the society after he served as director of an Islamic center in Washington for a year. This year he is serving as president of the Islamic Society of North America in addition to being director and imam of the Garden Grove mosque. Siddiqi, who was raised in India, has a doctorate in comparative religion from Harvard, specializing in the study of Muslims and Christians.

Siddiqi received the Humanitarian of the Year award last November from the National Conference for Community and Justice and has met with the pope and President Clinton this year to discuss his concerns about the portrayal of Muslims in the media and the relationship between Christians and Muslims.

In addition to all of his outside connections, Siddiqi has also been focused on improving the services and sense of community in the society. It’s paid off. The membership of the Islamic Society has mushroomed in the last decade, said Siddiqi, and their current 60-year-old masjid is continually overcrowded.

Construction of the new complex will add 21,000 square feet to existing facilities--which will be kept for office and storage space--on the society’s 5.65-acre lot.

Currently as many as 2,500 worshipers cram together to pray every weekend. Architects have planned a new mosque with room for 3,100 people in a traditional Islamic architectural style, with minarets, Arabic, Indian and Persian arches and a courtyard in the middle.

“The area is pretty run down,” said architect Syed Raza of the Garden Grove neighborhood. “It’s hard to match with the neighborhood’s current style. The quality of our building will help improve the area.”

The first mosque is said to have been built in 610 and was part of the Prophet Muhammad’s home in Yathrib, Saudi Arabia. As Islam spread around the world, the mosques have taken on divergent looks, including Turkish and Chinese styles.

In keeping with tradition there will be no icons or images of humans or animals on the inside of the masjid. The decorations will feature Arabic calligraphy with passages from the Koran. With its focus on Allah, Islam regards images of deities as idolatrous.

Siddiqi said the need for the new mosque is heartening for him and is a sign of the resurgence of belief in Islam. With more than 120,000 Muslims in Orange County and growing, Siddiqi said the new mosque will be a wonderful new home for his people.

“People think, ‘How can you survive in O.C.?” Siddiqi said. “But we have no problem. This is a nice place.”

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