There's only one mosque--Masjid Al-Shareef--in Long Beach. Its small space barely accommodates those who go to pray jumu'ah--a congregational prayer that takes place on Friday, usually after noon. A stuffy situation often ensues during the weekly ritual, which brings in high numbers of worshipers.
The lack of alternative mosques for Muslims in Long Beach propelled some community members to seek out other prayer spaces, which led them to a warehouse, a small garage in a car dealership, and an apartment building which the city later shut down. Many complained about the cramped spaces; they wanted a decent prayer home.
"It encouraged us to start looking for [space to build] a mosque," said Tarek Mohamed, who helped found the Long Beach Islamic Center project in 2005.
Mohamed and some other project participants purchased 16,000 square feet of land in Signal Hill to develop a mosque and a Quran studies institution. They submitted a proposal to the city in 2006, and received a permit to build in 2009. The mosque is still being built. It might not open in time for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, which starts on July 19, like Mohamed had hoped.
In the meantime, however, he and others rent out an empty retail-space-turned-makeshift-mosque on Long Beach Boulevard where they hold the five daily prayers that Muslims pray, Jumu'ah, and monthly family dinner nights. If the mosque isn't completed before Ramadan, then the rented space will also be used to hold taraweeh--long extended night prayers typically prayed in Ramadan.
Between rent payments, construction expenses and an overall shortage of funds, it's no wonder the mosque is still undergoing construction. It needs $200,000 to cover the remainder of its expenses. Former Long Beach resident Jamesa Nikiema runs a $1 dollar per person fundraising campaign on Facebook to raise money for the establishment.
"Long Beach is a huge city," she said. "We should have ten mosques--one in Bixby, one in Signal Hill, Eastside, and Naples, get all of them in there." No official census counts exist, but she says there are many Muslims who live in Long Beach, to which Mohamed estimates that there may be around 1,000.
Nikiema surmises that the lack of mosques is due to an absence of communication and consolidating resources in the Muslim community; many Muslims outside of Long Beach don't really know about the project, which is why she's moving fundraising efforts online.
"We're just really trying to unite everyone through this effort," she said. "That's why we took it to Facebook, because now we have people in New York donating to a mosque that they'll probably never pray in."
Until the mosque is built, many Long Beach Muslims continue to set up makeshift prayer spaces for themselves. Fountain Valley resident Zeyad Maasarani commutes to Long Beach for work. He doesn't leave his office to attend Jumu'ah, the aforementioned Friday prayer. Instead, he prays with a group of co-workers.
Without a mosque, he says that most residents either pray at Cal State Long Beach if they're students, or at work if they have fellow Muslim colleagues. On Friday, an Indian restaurant in Lakewood will clear out some of its space for Muslims to pray in, in which at least 100 people will attend, Maasarani says.
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"People are praying where they can pray," he said. "I think Long Beach Islamic Center will create a space where Long Beach Muslims can pray together."
In the city that USA Today dubbed as one of the most diverse in the country, Nikiema says its only a matter of time before that reality comes true.
"I don't want us to miss out on being a part of this diversity," she said. "And I don't want the diversity to miss out on having us be a part of it. When I look at Long Beach, it's just way too diverse and it makes sense that we should have our presence be known here."