Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
February 1, 2001 | Ferrara, David
Byline: David Ferrara Daily Herald Staff Writer
Muslim leaders from throughout the suburbs will embark this spring on an estimated $11 million renovation of the Islamic Foundation’s Villa Park campus.
Leaders say the project will eliminate unsightly trailers, add much-needed parking and, ultimately, better serve the area’s burgeoning Muslim population.
If it wins village approval, the multiyear project will begin in April with the addition of nearly 200 parking spots to the existing 300 spaces at the foundation’s school and mosque at 300 W. Highridge Road.
Plans also call for remodeling the school and adding a minaret – a slender tower that would rise from the northeast corner of the mosque.
The improvements are coming just two years after the Islamic Foundation opened its $3.5 million mosque in 1998.
The foundation provides worship and classroom space for thousands of the area’s estimated 400,000 Muslims, said Shamshad Husain, a former secretary of the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago.
And as that population continues to grow, so does the popularity of the Villa Park campus.
The site already is among the Chicago area’s four largest Muslim centers, Husain said.
Plans for the additions began taking shape early last year when the foundation began offering classes for students from preschool through high school, said foundation Director Abdul Hameed Dogar.
In an unusual move last month, the foundation initiated two midday prayer services on Fridays to handle overflow crowds. It was the only option, Dogar said, in light of limited parking during regular prayer times.
Muslims pray five times each day, but the “Friday prayer is obligatory,” Dogar said. “It’s the most important prayer, and everybody wants to come.”
In Arabic, the Friday sermon is called Juma, which roughly translates to “bring together.”
Nearly 2,000 Muslims from DuPage and Cook counties attend prayers at the mosque every Friday. And while there’s still room inside to handle more worshippers, the 300-space parking lot often isn’t big enough to handle all the cars.
“We are not getting together,” Dogar said. “We’re getting into groups.”
The foundation’s challenge is finding enough money to pay for the necessary improvements to bring the people back together, Dogar said.
Balancing an annual budget of $2.5 million, the group relies heavily on donations and school tuition.
Scattering collection boxes around the foundation site, leaders want the religious center’s members – including more than 100 volunteer workers and 104 paid employees – to help pay for the renovations.
“Man makes a lot of plans,” Dogar said. “But our success is not really based on our efforts, but on what God really wants us to do. The mosque is the house of God; it belongs to the people.
“On paper, it’s the property of the Islamic Foundation. But, really, they can’t sell it. God owns it.”
While the new parking lot comes first in the plans, efforts are focused on improving the school, which serves 560 children.
Each day, the students are crammed inside eight 60-foot-long trailers for 16 classes. The trailers cost the foundation about $87,000 in rent every year, plus electrical and air-conditioning bills.
With weather conditions worsening in the winter, the children take classes inside the school and in the trailers.
Because of the five daily prayers, the children must move from the school through the ice and snow to the trailers and to the mosque.
Those circumstances are “less than ideal,” school Director Inam Rahim said.
Mohammed Ikram Hussain of the Islamic Circle of North America echoes pressures from fellow Muslims to improve the school.
“We should work it out as soon as possible so the children don’t suffer,” said Hussain, a Villa Park resident who prays at the mosque and has children at the school. “If we do plan properly, this should benefit the community.”
The school renovations would eliminate the need for trailers, leaders say. And to cater to students from abroad, leaders want to construct a boarding house where those students could live.
Once the school takes shape, they want to build a women’s washroom in the upstairs facility of the mosque and add the 40- foot-tall minaret.
The washroom would be ideal on the second floor because that is where the women pray and Muslims clean themselves before each prayer.
The minaret, Dogar said, is a “traditional thing.” At conventional mosques during prayer time, a moazzan (one who calls for prayer) climbs the tower and summons the masses. Dogar hopes the minaret will attract visitors and “add to the beauty of the mosque.”
“These (plans) are all just tentative,” Dogar said. “But we’ve included them in the master plan for the village. It depends on our resources. If we have the funds, we will do it.
“You dream a lot of things,” Dogar added. “This is our dream. We don’t know whether we will accomplish it.”
While Muslims insist the expansion could be a boon to the Villa Park economy by attracting thousands of people to town, village officials say they’re unsure about the potential impact.
The village planning and zoning commission will review the plans Feb. 8 while foundation leaders continue considering ideas for a blueprint. Village officials say the foundation’s requests are unlikely to go before the village board until March.
“Everything we have is conceptual,” said Audra Hamernik, the village’s assistant director of community development. “They will have to come back to the village with full construction drawings. So they’re a ways away from actual construction.”
Islamic Foundation expansion plan
– New two-story, 57,650-square-foot building with basement possibly used for boarding students from out of state and abroad
– New 7,200-square-foot school building with partial basement
– New women’s washroom on second floor of mosque
– New meeting and office building adjacent existing main entrance with canopy extension
– Minaret (a slender tower) not to exceed 40 feet outside the northeast side of mosque
– Four to six new teachers
– 90 new students
– 171 new parking spaces