By Matt Wiley
It looks like the type of structure that would be seen on a sightseeing tour in Istanbul, Turkey, its golden dome reflecting the sun and arched entryways welcoming anyone who wants to learn more about the Islamic community here in the New Tampa/ Wesley Chapel area. Its name is Daar Us Slaam, which translates into “House of Peace,” and it is the first-ever mosque in our distribution areas.
Located on Morris Bridge Rd., just north of the intersection at Cross Creek Blvd., the mosque, or Masjid, serves as the meeting place for the Islamic Society of New Tampa (ISONET), and invites anyone who is interested to come learn about Islam with other Muslims in the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel communities.
“A lot of people have ‘Islamophobia,’” says Mahmud Ahmed, a member of ISONET. “But, it’s just because people don’t know us. Muslims are really everyone’s next door neighbors.”
Ahmed says the 7,500-sq.-ft. house of worship usually is packed during services, especially during the current Islamic month of Ramadan, in which Muslims around the world fast — or refrain from eating and drinking — from dawn until dusk for 30 days. And, every Sunday during Ramadan, the Masjid hosts a community dinner.
“That’s the beautiful thing about Ramadan,” says Hassan Shibly, Esq., the executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “You fast together as a community, and you break that fast as a community. You eat wonderful food and then offer prayers for a few hours every night.”
Muslims from all around the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel areas gather early in the mornings and late in the evenings to pray together and socialize. The mosque also is open throughout the day for the five daily prayers, also known as the Islamic ritual called Salah.
Ahmed says that ISONET was founded about ten years ago and was originally just a small group of Muslims who would pray together in their homes. Once the group was large enough, an existing 2,000-sq.-ft. building was purchased on the same property upon which the new $1.6-million mosque now stands. Ahmed says that building the Masjid took three years of fund raising, all donations, and two years to construct.
“Our knees outgrew the old building,” he says with a smile.
Ahmed says that there now are between 2,000-3,000 practicing Muslims combined in the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel areas and that its location on Morris Bridge Rd. is accessible for residents in both communities.
The mosque itself is an impressive sight, designed by Lake City architect Nick Giesier and based on Turkish architecture. At first glance, its tall pillars above each entryway and massive golden dome catch the eye. Among the interesting characteristic of the mosque are its unique position on the property and the direction it faces.
All mosques, regardless of where in the world they are located, are situated in a way that all who gather to pray inside of them face the Ka’aba, a cube-shaped building located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that is considered by Muslims to be the most sacred place of the Islamic faith.
Inside the Mosque, there are no seats, as all worship takes place on the floor, which is covered with plush, red carpets that feature a golden pattern that outlines where each worshipper will pray, each spot facing Mecca and the Mihrab (or altar) and where the Masjid’s Imam (or leader of worship) Junaid Khan recites verses of the Qu’ran during prayer.
The worship space is divided into two areas — one for men and one for women — by a one-way mirror, the idea being that during worship, the focus should be on God, not on the opposite gender.
According to Islamic tradition, the mosque also features separate entrances for men and women. Before worship, each person must remove their shoes and enter an area that resembles a bathroom, but is actually where each worshiper washes his or her hands, feet and face, a process referred to as “ablution” in the Islamic faith.
“Cleanliness is a very important part of the faith, both physical and spiritual,” explains Shibly.
Once worshippers complete the process of ablution, they may enter the main mosque area, which is an enormous, open room, with a ceiling reaching an impressive 50 feet.
“We would have made it higher, but Hillsborough County said that 50 feet was the maximum height we could build,” says Ahmed.
Shibly translates a verse from the wall, “That when My servants ask about me, I am close to them. I am near.” He says that each of the verses are chosen specifically because they are inspirational and reflect the beauty of the Qu’ran.
The new mosque also features an attached multi-purpose room, which doubles as extra space for worshippers, with roll-up carpets that mirror the carpets in the main area. The room also houses a few small study rooms and a kitchen for community dinners and get-togethers, one of which is being planned for after Ramadan so that everyone in the New Tampa and surrounding areas can come out and see the new Masjid.
“Hopefully, this mosque will strengthen the community,” says Shibly. “And, not just the Muslim community, but the overall community because this mosque will hopefully serve as a center where not only all Muslims can get together and worship, but also as a center where people of all faiths can come and meet their Muslim neighbors, learn about the Islamic faith and recognize that we have much more in common than that which divides us.”
For more info about the new mosque (located at 15830 Morris Bridge Rd.), including prayer and worship schedules, please visit NewTampaMasjid.com.