ORONO – The new Islamic Center of Maine has no dome, no minaret, no sign to identify it as the state’s first mosque to have a permanent home.
The doublewide, prefabricated building that houses the worship center for area Muslims sits modestly next to the Thriftway grocery store on Route 2.
During the noon hour Friday, however, more than 30 followers of Islam gathered for jumma, the weekly congregational prayer service, at the recently completed mosque. The center will hold an open house Wednesday, Feb. 20, for local officials and the public.
Because the majority of area Muslims are students, faculty or staff at the University of Maine, the group used campus facilities to hold services and social gatherings until late last year. A decade ago, the group began outgrowing the small chapel in the Memorial Union used for Friday prayers and purchased the 2-acre parcel on the corner of Park and Washburn streets in Orono in 1995.
“Now we can pray together more easily,” said mosque member Abdul Rana, who owns the Cozy Inn in Brewer and has lived in Maine more than 30 years. “At the university, there were a lot of restrictions time-wise. Here, we can socialize, celebrate our holidays and have space for our children to learn about the Quran [the Islamic holy book].”
Original plans called for a traditional mosque that would have cost more than $1 million to build, lay leader Mahmoud El-Begearmi explained after prayers Friday. Two years ago, plans were scaled back due to financial constraints. By comparison, the 1,680-square-foot mosque completed last month cost about $125,000, he said.
Despite the mosque’s modest appearance, it is very important for the many students studying far from home, according to Abdul Aziz, a 22-year-old UM senior from Saudi Arabia studying spatial engineering.
“Now I have something to connect me to Islam in Maine,” he said. “When I go home and think about this place, I will not only think of the university, but of the mosque in Maine.”
Muslim communities in southern Maine are larger than those in northern Maine, but they do not own their own buildings. The Lewiston Islamic Mosque opened last November in a vacant storefront on Lisbon Street. The Islamic Society of Portland rents space in the West End and holds Friday prayer services at the University of Southern Maine.
The Islamic Center of Maine includes separate entrances and worship areas for men and women. The musallah, or prayer room, is divided by a wall and French doors with one-way glass. The women can see into the men’s worship area, but the men cannot see the women at prayer. A speaker system allows the women to hear the prayers led by an imam, or a layperson who leads the service.
At the eastern end of the men’s prayer room is the mirab, or niche that indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. El-Begearmi stood there Friday as he led prayers and delivered a sermon in Arabic and English. The musallah is carpeted, but many worshippers knelt on colorful prayer rugs.
The mosque also includes a kitchen, office, library, large entrance hall and two bathrooms. Muslims remove their shoes upon entering the mosque and perform wadu, or washing the hands, face and, when possible, feet, before entering the musallah.
Taghreed El-Begearmi, wife of Mahmoud El-begearmi, said Friday that the completion of the mosque meant that she now has an opportunity to be included in the weekly prayer service.
In recent years, the chapel was too small to accommodate male and female worshippers, she said, adding the mosque’s highly visible location on Route 2 and the upcoming open house would help educate area residents about Islam.
“We hope that they will see that we are just people who care about our religion,” she said. “We are not terrorists, but peaceful people.”
The Islamic Center of Maine will hold an open house from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20. Visitors will be asked to remove their footwear when entering the building. Women will be asked to wear headscarves. For information, call 866-7932.