CAIRO - Anticipating the opening of a new Islamic center in Georgia's city of Augusta, the Muslim minority are opening their hearts and doors to the wider community as a new bridge that extends better understanding in the society.
We see it as a bridge between the Muslim community and the community at large, Dr. Ahmad Gill, the president of the Islamic Society of Augusta, told Augusta Chronicle.
We don't want people to stand outside and say, We don't know what goes on behind those doors.' Our doors and our hearts are open.
The Islamic Society of Augusta's new $3.8 million, 33,000-square-foot building is anticipated as more than just a mosque.
The huge facility was scheduled to open in time for Ramadan, yet construction works were delayed after several changes to the design.
The Islamic Society hopes the project will be finished in time for Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that marks the end of Ramadan on Aug. 19.
The outside of the two-story building is the Islamic statement of faith, saying in Arabic, There is no God but Allah.
This is a basic creed for Muslims, Gill said.
Everyone who accepts Islam does it by this creed.
Along with construction delays, the mosque board was interviewing for a new imam after Imam Majed Sabke left to lead the Central Mosque of Charleston, SC.
We hope to find somebody soon, Gill said.
We're looking for someone who will be very much involved in the community and in interfaith activities. That's important to us.
Though there is no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to nearly seven million Muslims.
Connecting members of the Muslim community, the new mosque was built to serve generations of families to come.
We want to grow into it, said Gill, a local physician and spokesman for the mosque.
Designed by a Muslim architect from Houston, the mosque includes a central prayer space for 500 people, with overflow room for up to 1,000; three times the capacity of the current mosque off Pleasant Home Road in Augusta.
During Eid, we need the space, Gill said.
Right now we have one hall and it's not enough for us. Our community is growing.
The inside includes a basketball court that doubles as a multipurpose banquet hall, gyms for men and women, classrooms, offices and bathrooms with footbaths, used for washing before prayer.
We're very happy with how it is coming together, Gill said.
This is a facility that we don't want people to see from the outside. We want them to come inside. We hope they do.
It also features a banquet space for sit-down meals of up to 500 people.
It's incredible to see it coming together, said Aminah Hussain, 20, a member who is home for the summer from college in Decatur, Ga.
This is definitely something that even as a youth, I really wanted to see happen, she said.
We've been talking about it my whole life. When I was youth group president, we did bake sales to raise money for this. Everyone has worked and waited for so long. It really is incredible.
If the construction goes according to plan, the mosque would open its doors at the `Eid festival.
`Eid celebration would include special services and a large, celebratory meal, often held outdoors.
Officials at the new mosque would also invite the public to an open house and tour.
We want to say, Come in. Use this facility. It's for all of us,' said Gill.