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First mosque in Pasco moves closer to reality

When Dr. Mohammed Yusef Kadiwala came to Pasco County in 1972, the only other Muslims he knew here were his wife and children. The warm Florida weather was good for growing his favorite mangos, but the lack of an Islamic community meant daily prayers were confined to his office and home.

Today, the north Pinellas-Pasco area is home to hundreds who share Kadiwala's faith. About 100 to 150 people participate in functions at the Islamic Center of New Port Richey each week, and leaders estimate about 1,000 Muslims live in the Pasco, southern Hernando and north Pinellas areas alone.

Within a year, members of the Islamic Center hope to erect the county's first mosque.

"It's so nice to see that," said Kadiwala, a physician who went on to raise three children before retiring in New Port Richey. "This particular place is being built by everyone."

Dr. Abdur Rahim, a cardiologist who moved with his family to Pasco County in 1983, said the community has been exploring plans to build for the past four to five years.

Seeing that they were outgrowing their single-room rental space on State Road 54, members bought a three-acre tract on Grand Boulevard near Pasadena Drive.

"God willing," Rahim said, the community will be worshiping in the new religious center before Oct. 14, 2004, the beginning of the next Ramadan holiday.

Thanks to fundraisers and the donated services of building experts, the group is $100,000 away from having the $500,000 needed to pay for the mosque, Rahim and Kadiwala said.

Muslims are called on to pray at least five times a day, with Fridays designated for congregational prayer.

"We don't have any place to pray in this area," said Rahim, who spent his first six years in Pasco County meeting on Fridays with other Muslims in doctors' offices and homes.

The nearest mosques are 45 minutes or more away, in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Even at the newly expanded Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area on Sligh Avenue, the 700-member mosque is increasingly crowded, director and Imam Muhammed Sultan said. The worship center erected a new mosque in 1997, increasing capacity from 100.

The need for space is a common issue for Muslims in America.

Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States, with as many as 2.2-million members nationally, according to a survey by the Center University of New York. A 2001 study titled "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait" found 1,209 mosques in the United States _ 62 percent of which have been founded since 1980, and 25 percent since 1994.

Rahim said the community is very conscious that the establishment of a new place of worship has both pros and cons.

The New Port Richey group was one of 50 area religious centers targeted for destruction by Seminole podiatrist Robert Jay Goldstein last year. Goldstein was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in a federal prison for activities relating to the plan.

"We live in the modern day," Rahim said. "It can become a target for hate crimes. . . . I think this is a place for self-reflection and not a place to focus our hatred."

Rahim said he hopes the mosque will serve as a focal point for education and understanding of Islam, not suspicion, fear or hate.

Over time, the community also hopes to incorporate a free medical clinic to serve the area.

Jamal Nagamia, a Tampa architect who designed the new Sligh Avenue mosque, said he is in the early stages of planning the New Port Richey center.

"To design something that is not common down here is always a challenge," he said.

Nagamia is one of many, Muslim and non-Muslim, who are donating their services to the project.