ORONO — The original Islamic Center of Maine looks so much like a house that trick-or-treaters have knocked on the door, interrupting prayer services.
That’s unlikely to happen at the new mosque, located at 151 Park St. behind the first building on U.S. Route 2 near the former Thriftway grocery store. The 5,600-square-foot new building may not have a dome or minaret as larger mosques do, but it looks more like a house of worship than a residence.
The center will hold an open house at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 6. The event, called “Meet Your Muslim Neighbors,” is designed to introduce people unfamiliar with Islam to the tenets and practices of the faith.
The new building was completed in mid-January at a cost of about $750,000, Dr. Mohammad Tabbah, chairman of the center’s board of trustees, said Friday after prayers at 12:30 p.m. called jumma. He said it was only through “the generosity of the [Muslim] community” that the large new facility was able to be completed just eight years after the first mosque was opened.
Islamic law prohibits the payment or acceptance of interest fees, so the center needed to have the money in hand before it began construction of the new building in September. The old building has been sold and soon will be moved from the site. A parking lot will be constructed on that part of the lot.
Tabbah, the head of pediatric gastroenterology at Eastern Maine Medical Center, and his wife, Jenan Jondy, are examples of Muslims who would not have moved to the Bangor area if there had not been a mosque. The couple and their children moved to Maine three years ago.
They are typical of the growing number of professionals at the University of Maine, Husson University, St. Joseph Hospital and EMMC who practice Islam, Tabbah said Friday. They needed a mosque that could serve as a place for worship, religious education and social functions, he said.
“We have a pretty steady flow of students who come and go, but they number about 100 at any one time,” he said. “More families like ourselves are moving here and settling down. We truly needed a larger space.”
Tabbah estimated that 150 Muslims, including students, now live in Greater Bangor. Like followers of other faiths, some attend regularly while others attend during Ramadan, Islam’s major holiday.
That’s a big shift from the 1980s and early 1990s, when most of the Muslims in the area attended or worked at the University of Maine. They met for weekly prayers at the small chapel in the Memorial Union.
By the mid-1990s, the community had begun to outgrow that space, and planning to build a mosque in Orono began. The 2-acre parcel on the corner of Park and Washburn streets was purchased in 1995.
Original plans called for a simple but traditional mosque to be built on the property at a cost of nearly $1 million, but that was scaled back in favor of a much smaller project that could meet the community’s immediate needs. A 1,680-square-foot doublewide prefabricated building was completed in January 2002 at a cost of $125,000.
It was what the community could afford at the time, but it was not large enough to include classrooms for religious education for adults and children. That is important to the Muslim professionals who have settled in the area over the past five years, Jondy said Friday.
“We want our children to identify as Muslims,” she said. “This is their identity, and the larger building allows us to have a ‘camp’ program during February vacation and a Sunday school program for them.”
Jondy said the larger space also allows the community to continue its outreach to non-Muslims. Members of the mosque regularly write columns about Islam for the Bangor Daily News Voices column. The new building also makes it easier for the center to invite members of the non-Muslim community into their house of worship to learn more about their faith.
The mosque includes separate entrances for men and women with oversize coatrooms for outerwear and shoes, which must be removed when people enter the mosque. The musallah, or prayer room, is carpeted with two shades of green carpeting, which allows worshippers to more easily line themselves in the straight rows required for prayers. Dropped a few inches from the ceiling is a large round, white section designed to represent a dome, Tabbah said.
The women sit at the back of the room, but there is no barrier separating the sexes. At the eastern end of the prayer room is the mirab, or niche, which indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. Tabbah, who functions as an imam, which means “one who is in front,” stood there Friday as he led the 30-minute service attended by about 50 men and women.
The building also has one large classroom that soon will be able to be divided by a sliding wall, an office for private meetings, a full kitchen and three bathrooms.
While the Muslim communities in Lewiston and Portland are larger than the one in Greater Bangor, the Orono mosque was the first in the state to purchase land and construct its own building.
For more information about the Islamic Center of Maine, visit http://theicmo.com.