Understanding of Islam gained from mosque blueprints

MANATEE — A glance at the blueprints for the new $1.8 million mosque being built by the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton can offer an education about the Muslim faith and Islamic culture.

The blueprints show the new mosque, scheduled to open at year’s end to replace the residential home being used at 4350 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, will have a tall arch as a front entrance.

“It begins with an arched portico, which is like an entrance gate,” said Peter Shaw of Sarasota’s Architects Co-Partnership Inc., the design architects for the mosque project.

“All Islamic cities have a gate you go through to get into the town or city,” Shaw explained. “A mosque is the same way. This gate takes you into a courtyard, which is where the people who are getting ready to pray will be cleaning themselves.”

Muslims believe that one must be physically clean when coming to God in prayer. So the blueprints show a fountain in the courtyard to wash the hands, feet, face and forearms, said Shiraz Hassan of Bradenton’s Sharp Construction, the mosque’s builder.

There are also shelves planned to hold the shoes of the worshippers before they enter for the same reason of cleanliness.

Another facet of Islam reveals itself on an inside wall of the roughly 13,000-square-foot facility.

A niche in one wall marks the direction to Mecca, toward which Muslims pray five times daily.

The imam, which is Arabic for “permanent prayer leader,” will stand before this niche that faces northeast to lead prayers.

The new mosque is also an octagon.

“An octagon can fit on most construction sites,” Shaw said. And with eight sides, the building doesn’t have to be rotated in order to face Mecca.

Osborn Sharp Associates of Sarasota, which took the drawings made by Shaw and finished the plans, allowed 5,000 feet for the mosque’s prayer hall.

That is also revealing.

Muslims believe that as much space as possible should be allowed for worshippers. The new mosque can hold 300 and there is no furniture, to take room away from potential worshippers.

The mosque includes an upstairs mezzanine of 2,500 square feet.

That area is designed for women to pray. It is traditional in Islam that men and women pray separately.

The mosque, which now has its exterior walls in place as well as water and sewer pipes, roof covering and electric wiring, also includes a small library, an office for the imam, Sunday school classes and a small kitchen area.

One thing absent from the blueprints is also telling.

The local mosque won’t have the tall and slender towers, called minarets, from which calls for prayer are broadcast five times daily in predominantly Muslim countries.

Neighbors in the North Lockwood Ridge Road area did not want tall minarets in their community, Hassan said.

But the mosque will have a light green dome made of either fiberglass or reinforced plastic rising above the main prayer hall.

The domes signify heaven, said Samir Khatib, the Society’s spokesperson.

From the ground to the top of the dome will be just less than 40 feet, the figure approved for a maximum height by Sarasota County.

“I think the minarets signify an Islamic building, and lacking them does take something away,” Hassan said. “But we try to stay within the rules and satisfy our neighbors.”

A long time coming

The new mosque has been 11 years in the planning and execution.

Roughly 75 Muslims from Sarasota and Bradenton started the Islamic Society in a home on the Lockwood Ridge Road property in 1997, Khatib said.

Dreams of a new mosque began in 1999 and money to build it began to be collected in 2002.

“We are not a rich community,” Khatib said. “All the money is local.”

In fact, the Society still needs $700,000 more to finish the mosque, Khatib added.

Membership has grown and now stands at 210.

Once the mosque is completed, the original home will be torn down, by order of the county, and the space will be used for parking.

The home served its purpose, but it lacked a key ingredient. It faced west and east, not northeast.

The orientation of the new mosque “will create tranquility, which is what you want in order to connect to God,” Hassan said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 748-0411, ext. 6686.