Mosque nearing completion in North Philly

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque on West Glenwood Avenue near 13th Street will serve 800 to 1,000 members.

JUST MORE than a mile north of Temple University, a 21,000-square-foot mosque is rising next to a struggling neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

The 56-foot-tall structure stands on a former factory lot, next to Amtrak's main line that rolls through the neighborhood.

The mosque, on West Glenwood Avenue near 13th Street, will serve Philadelphia's Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its growing membership, said Bilal Salaam, its imam. It was designed by Olaya Studio, and was based on the White Minaret, an iconic symbol that represents the Ahmadiyya community in Qadian, India.

Ahmadiyya, one of the world's largest organized Muslim communities in more than 200 countries, worships in Philadelphia at 5210 N. 10th St. The new structure on Glenwood Avenue will be the city's largest mosque.

Salaam said the mosque is projected to open in September, and will serve 800 to 1,000 people.

But many community members nearby said they were unaware that any structure was being built until construction began.

"They should have talked to us," said Bernice Rustin, 83, who lives on the 2900 block of Park Avenue. "I've lived here for 50 years, and they should have talked to the black community before doing this."

"They never came around and asked anybody," added Vanessa McCullough, 53, a resident of the 2900 block of 13th Street. "With the trash, traffic, parking and stuff, it's going to be so congested."

Salaam insisted that the organization held multiple meetings with the community before construction began in the summer of 2012.

Property records show that Ahmadiyya bought the nearly 2-acre parcel in December 2007 for $480,000.

Salaam added that all of the money for the project has been raised by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. So far, he said the mosque has cost $3.8 million and could surpass $4 million when finished.

Imam Azhar Haneef, national vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said the mosque's location was picked because of its proximity to hospitals and universities - and because it is in the "heart of the city."

Haneef noted that this is the first time a mosque is being built "from the ground up" in Philadelphia. He added that he understands the community's concerns, but said Ahmadiyya is dedicated to giving back to the community - whether through building schools and hospitals, or other human service projects.

"I hope the community will warm up to this idea . . . as they see our track record unfold during the course of time," Haneef said. "But yes, we know that in this location of the city, we have no track record to show, and naturally, there may be some concerns that a group is coming in here, and building a huge structure that people don't know much about."

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