EDMOND — A project to expand an Islamic mosque complex near the University of Central Oklahoma has been completed.

Construction of the Islamic Society of Edmond’s new fellowship hall took about two years, said Riaz Ahmad, one of the Islamic Society’s founders.

The new brick building, along with the addition of parking spaces, was built adjacent to the Islamic Society’s original mosque at 525 N University Drive. The property is west of University Drive between Wayne Avenue and Thatcher Street. The expansion project doubles the capacity for the house of worship.

Islamic leaders had been trying to accommodate for the growth of the Edmond Muslim faith community since 2013.

Barriers to the expansion effort came in a variety of forms.

It took two years for the Muslim group to gain the Edmond City Council’s approval to expand. Islamic Society members applied for a permit for the expansion project in November 2013, but their plan was rejected because of the council’s concerns that the society’s plans lacked adequate parking for the size of the proposed new building.

Several nearby neighbors also weighed in, saying that the size of the proposed building would call for much more parking in an area that is already congested, due, in part, to the proximity of the university. And one neighbor complained that the proposed building would be too large and not in keeping with the surrounding residential neighborhood.

Then, a metro-area Christian minister told the city council that the group applying for permission to expand had ties to at least one terrorist organization. According to reports, the pastors’ concerns were found to be without merit, and the Edmond Planning Commission approved the expansion plans.

By then, the Islamic Society had adjusted their proposal to include more parking and a much smaller building. In 2015, the city council, following the planning commission’s recommendation, approved the new plan. A proposal to build a dome atop the new structure had been removed from the society’s revised plan.

Ahmad said the larger building was needed because the society had outgrown its original mosque built in 1990.

He said the Edmond Islamic Society originally met on the UCO campus until members were able to buy the society’s current property. Ahmad said he was a microbiology professor at the time, and the mosque built along University Drive served many students and others at UCO. Over the years, more Muslim families moved into the Edmond area, and Islamic Society leaders wanted to have a place for fellowship activities and a larger area for regular prayer gatherings.

Ahmad said the society originally had proposed to build an 8,307-square-foot fellowship hall and mosque, but the new building is about 4,500 square feet, in keeping with size reduction specifications agreed upon with city leaders.

A house adjacent to the original mosque was demolished to make room for the fellowship hall building. New parking was added to the south and west side of the building.

The fellowship hall will serve as a larger mosque, with new, more spacious prayer areas for men and women, larger lobby areas outside both prayer areas and a new kitchen.

Ahmad said the original mosque had seating for about 90 people and the fellowship hall will hold about 180 people. He said Islamic Society leaders will continue to use the original mosque for weekday prayers, while the fellowship hall will be used for larger prayer gatherings such as Friday Jummah prayer and holiday activities like those associated with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the Eid festival that comes after it.

Meanwhile, the new building also includes expansive restrooms with larger areas for Muslims to perform their ablutions before prayer. A soundproof room for mothers with young children and visitors also is included. Ahmad said the room will allow visitors to view prayer gatherings without disturbing the Muslims who come to pray.

Currently, Islamic Society members will use only one floor of the fellowship hall. Ahmad said a future phase of the project will include the development of a second-area called the Mezzanine so that it may be used for activities.

Mosque represents home

For Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, the Edmond mosque and its new addition represent so much more than buildings.

Soltani said he was raised by a Muslim father and Roman Catholic mother but didn’t feel attached to either of his parents’ faith traditions until he visited the Edmond mosque as a teenager.

“I think I believed in God, but I didn’t adhere to a label. I was probably as far from religion as I could be,” he said.

Soltani said he went to the mosque with his mother to pick up his father, and he was invited to a youth program. At the youth gathering, he met a guest speaker who later became his mentor. Soltani said he became involved with the youth group from that point and became immersed in the Islamic faith.

For those reasons, the growth of the Muslim faith community in Edmond and expansion of the Edmond mosque has significant meaning for him.

“It was the first mosque I stepped into in Oklahoma. It is the place that I gained the foundation for my faith, my understanding of who I am in the world,” Soltani said.

He said he was thrilled when the new fellowship hall was completed because he knew how much it was needed. Like Ahmad, he said the congregation was transformed from a student-based community to a family-based community over the years, and there was a need for more space.

“There is a need for a place for fellowship, community building and classes. Now, there is a great opportunity to continue building bridges with the students and the neighborhood around them,” Soltani said.

He said he hopes the people who were against the expansion project will visit the mosque now that expansion efforts have been completed.

“We are all aware that there was a campaign by a small group of people who opposed the mosque, but if people really want to know more about the faith and the people who are part of the community, they should just come visit,” he said.