Planned"lucky" mosque in NJ town where immigrant terror plotters lived will be "model of diversity- "much treasured addition to Cherry Hill"
May 8, 2007
http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070507/NEWS01/705070342 Group breaks ground for Cherry Hill mosque
By RICHARD PEARSALL
A groundbreaking ceremony for this township's first mosque turned into a celebration of diversity and tolerance Sunday as leaders of other faiths welcomed the construction and members of the congregation expressed their thanks for community support.
"This is a very lucky mosque," said Quresh Dahodwala, a leader of the local branch of an Indian-based Islamic sect called Dawoodi Bohra. "All mosques are special, but this one is a little bit more so because it has received so much love and support."
Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt and state Sen. John Adler, D-Cherry Hill, took the first two ceremonial shovelfuls from the site, a heavily wooded tract off Perina Boulevard.
Construction of the $1.5 million mosque will begin for real once the state Department of Environmental Protection issues the final permit needed, Dahodwala said.
The site needs a DEP permit because it includes wetlands.
The project received a variance from Cherry Hill in 2005 and approval from both Cherry Hill and Camden County in 2006, Dahodwala said.
"I'm deeply honored to be here," Platt said, "particularly since I'm of the Jewish faith. We have many religions here . . . now, thank God, we're going to have a mosque."
Farhat Biviji, a member of the congregation, praised Cherry Hill as a "model of diversity," noting that in addition to many churches and synagogues it hosts houses of worship for Hindus and Buddhists "and soon, God willing, a Muslim mosque."
Calling Cherry Hill a "town of faith and tolerance," Adler said "what all people want is peace. We're in a place of peace right now."
Now some 60 strong, the congregation expects to expand, Dahodwala said.
"Once you build a mosque, it will grow fast," he said.
The goal is to finish construction next year.
"A house of worship, be it church or synagogue or mosque, is the center of a community, a place of sharing and caring," said Aamilsaheb Janab Taher Bhaisaheb, the spiritual leader of the local congregation.
The mosque, he promised, "will be a compassionate and much-treasured addition to Cherry Hill."
"This house of God will be a sign that all honor, glory and praise go to God," said the Rev. Joseph Wallace, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Haddonfield, who said regardless of our particular faith, "we all share mystically" in belief in one God.
It was nearly three years ago that a holy man from India blessed four acres of land behind Commerce Bank's corporate headquarters and laid a foundation stone.
Since then, the heavily wooded property has stayed exactly the same.
But that's about to change.
On Sunday, a small group of Muslims will gather for a short prayer service and then break ground on a mosque, the first in Cherry Hill.
"It means a very great deal to us because it gives us a place we can call ours," said Farhat Biviji, who's lived in the township for 28 years. "Up to now, we have been gathering in people's homes. But in a mosque, there's a spirituality present that's not present anywhere else."
A local congregation of a unique Islamic sect called Dawoodi Bohra is developing the mosque on Perina Boulevard. Like Roman Catholicism, the Bombay-based denomination is very hierarchical. In fact, the small Dawoodi Bohra community in Cherry Hill and surrounding towns had to receive direct permission from the sect's leader, His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, before beginning the mosque project.
A popelike figure, Burhanuddin made a special trip to Cherry Hill in August 2004 to bless the land. He will return upon the mosque's completion around this time next year, said Quresh Dahodwala, a Cherry Hill resident and leader of the local congregation, which calls itself Anjuman-E-Fakhri after a martyred saint in their faith.
The congregation is about 60 people strong, Dahodwala said.
"Once you build a mosque, people move into the area," he said.
The $1.5 million mosque will be two levels -- a ground floor and balcony section. The bottom floor will be limited to men and the upper level to women, Dahodwala said. Like other mosques around the world, a tiled structure called a Mehrab will face the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
A kitchen and dining hall will be attached to the mosque since Dawoodi Bohra followers always eat meals together after prayer services, Dahodwala said. Also, the congregation's amilsaheb -- the equivalent of a priest -- will live in a house on the mosque's property.
"The mosques we build become landmarks," Dahodwala said.
The Dawoodi Bohra denomination has mosques in New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Boston and Washington, D.C. Currently, the closest Dawoodi Bohra mosque to Cherry Hill is in Cranbury, Middlesex County.
Cherry Hill has warmly welcomed the mosque, said Biviji, noting the congregation has gotten next to no opposition.
"By having a diverse community, our residents and businesses are exposed to the best and brightest people in the region while creating a comfortable environment for anyone to move into," said Mayor Bernie Platt in a prepared statement.
The groundbreaking "gives me great pride because it stands directly counter to the name-calling and bigotry many Muslim groups were exposed to after the tragic events of Sept. 11," the mayor stated.
Platt said its his goal to make Cherry Hill the region's most inclusive municipality.
The congregation selected Sunday for the groundbreaking because it's the eve of Burhanuddin's 96th birthday.
"It's a very auspicious day for us," Dahodwala said.
Once completed, the mosque will join others in Burlington City, Palmyra, Lawnside, Atlantic City and Voorhees, which opened last fall.