By the Grace of Allah Subhan Wa TaAllah we obtained the certificate of occupation for our masjid and were able to open its doors on Friday, the 1st day of the Blessed Month of Ramadan, 1422 (November 7, 2001). This was certainly a day to rejoice for our community after undergoing a major struggle with the township bureaucracy. Having addressed each and every township requirement, until the last moment we were unsure if we would be able to obtain the required certificate of occupancy in time to start the Holy month in our masjid. Allah Subhan wa TaAllah answered our prayers and AlhamduLillah over 400 worshippers attended the Jummah prayer that same afternoon.
Searching for Location
Our struggle to build the Islamic Center of Old Bridge began in 1995. Although Muslims have lived in this neighborhood since the early 1970’s, no organized efforts were made to undertake this task. We had no place for the daily five time Salah and Jummah prayers. Although we had a large Muslim community, there was no motivation. We seemed to be loosing contact with our religion. Besides the Sunday school, which was held at a local public school for three hours each week during the school year, our children were growing up with little or no knowledge of Islam.
For several years, during the holy month of Ramadan, some of brothers would get together for Taraweeh prayers at a warehouse. There were no arrangements for sisters. Each year we would discuss the need for a permanent place of Salah and Taraweeh. After several years, we started looking for a suitable place. Recognizing our financial limitations, our initial intent was to acquire a small building sufficient to hold for five time daily prayers. There were no funds available, acquiring a large place was out of the question.
Since 1996 we began arranging Jummah and Eid prayer for the community. These prayers were held in banquet halls or school buildings. Some within our community were satisfied with this arrangement however there were those who wanted more for the community. By now our needs had far outgrown the wish for acquiring masjid. We needed; a fulltime school where our children could learn in the Islamic environment, a Qur’an reading school, where parents could send their children to learn to read the Qur’an, a community center where families, friends and community would get together to interact and exchange ideas and propagate the teachings of Islam. Thus the concept of an Islamic center came to life.
A thorough and exhaustive search commenced. All potential sites that could satisfy our requirements were expensive and required immediate payments. There was no way we could afford these assets with our limited resources. During the early period of our search we had come across a site which was in poor condition and posed a safety risk being situated close to a busy highway. For those reasons, this site had been dropped from further considerations. With no other viable option available, we began reevaluating this site for active consideration. We started pondering over its advantages. The site was conveniently located near a highway and therefore easily accessible without imposing upon the neighbors. There was an affordable residential development nearby where we could relocate and be close to the masjid. It consisted of a 1-1/2-story building comprising of over 16,000 square feet of space and was situated on almost 3 acres parcel of land, ample space to satisfy our needs. A single-family dwelling was located on site which could be used as a residence for the imam or guests. The financial terms were attractive as well. The owner was agreeable to an affordable price which he would finance for a period of six years through a non-interest loan.
The site had all the features we needed. Our engineers were let loose to come up with solutions to make it a reality. The building was previously used as a warehouse and would require extensive renovation. The safety concerns regarding the proximity of the highway could be managed. Removing access from the highway and constructing new entrance from the south side of the building changed the orientation of the building. A fence was also installed along the entire frontage that further shields our children from the highway.
We also evaluated the site for compatibility with the township land development ordinance. It satisfied all the requirements for a house of worship. After satisfying all the concerns, AlhamduLillah on November 11, 1998 the agreement to purchase the site was signed. The agreement allowed six months to obtain the necessary approvals including the site plan approval from the township.
Permits and Approvals
With the clock ticking, we went full speed ahead to acquire the required approvals and permits. The necessary inspections were performed to ensure that the building was structurally sound. Environmental evaluation was conducted. In all, nineteen permits/approvals were needed from seven different state and local agencies before construction could begin. The most critical among those being the approval of the site plan application.
In order to achieve positive results, a team of skilled professionals was assembled. This team consisted of an attorney, site plan engineer, civil engineer, traffic engineer, environmental engineer and an architect. Numerous plans and reports were developed in support of the site plan application. Included in with the submittal were design and specifications of the parking-lot layout, lighting and landscaping, grading and drainage, sanitary and storm sewer, municipal water connection, wetland delineation, soil erosion and sediment control, environmental impact and community impact reports, etc. Wherever possible, members of our community landed help with the preparation of the required reports which provided appreciable savings towards the project.
After submittal of the necessary documents and satisfying the township requirements, planning board hearings were held. Four grueling sessions, with full public participation, took place between March 2, 1999 and June 6, 1999. From the start the attitude of the planning board members was negative. Although our site posed no adverse impact on the surrounding area, the local residents came out in droves in opposition to influence the planning board.
On June 8, 1999 after four protracted hearings, the transcripts of which measure well over 500 pages, our site plan application was denied by a 5 to 3 vote of the Planning Board. This action was taken despite the fact that we satisfied each and every condition of the township land development ordinance. The Planning Board’s own attorney informed the board before the vote that there was no legal basis for denying the application. The township mayor of that time was one of the planning board members who voted against our application. Her vote appeared to be largely influenced by the election year politics. She was running for re-election, which was due to take place later that year, and she was openly threatened by the local residents of the consequences if the project was approved.
This was a devastating blow. It was a time of reflection. We turned to Allah for guidance. Special prayers were held. We were at crossroads to making a critical decision i.e. whether to give-up the site and start a fresh or to continue the struggle and go before the appeals court.
With full faith in Allah swt and encouragement from the community we proceeded with the second option. An appeal was filed at the New Jersey state superior court against the planning board’s decision.
On Rajab 29, 1420 (December 7, 1999) just before Ramadan, the superior court judge in-charge of our appeal, summoned a pre-trial case management conference. During this conference, both attorneys briefed the judge on this matter. After listening to both sides, AlhamduLillah, the judge gave a ruling completely in our favor. He indicated that the Islamic Center has met all the necessary conditions required under the land development ordinance. He stated that it appears that there may have been miscalculations made by the planning board. He therefore ordered the Planning Board to grant the preliminary site plan approval. AlhamduLillah, on February 1, 2000 the planning board, during a closed session, approved the resolution for the preliminary site plan approval. A final approval is not given until all the necessary permits/approvals have been obtained.
On Ramadan 9, 1421 (December 5, 2000), after receiving all the necessary permits/approvals, AlhamduLillah the planning board granted the final site plan approval by a 9 to 0 vote.
SubhanAllah, we were now ready to start construction. Due to financial restraints, we planned to construct the Islamic Center several phases.
· On January 11, 2001, Phase 1 construction began. In this phase the renovation of the western section of the building was built for temporary use as prayer halls. This area was to be modified for school use in the future. New washroom facilities were also constructed. The site work consisting of grading, drainage & sanitary system, parking lot and lighting was completed. The work that began on January 11, 2001 was completed by November 7, 2001 despite several weeks of construction shutdown due to terrorist attacks on September 11.
· In June 2003 the Imam residence, which is located on site, was completely gutted and renovated to current building code standards. This work was completed the end of the year.
· Phase 2 construction work began on June 15, 2006 to build the Multi-Purpose Hall, reinforcement of the future 2nd Prayer Hall floor, demolish the section of the building that was in poor condition and complete the school section consisting of 9 rooms. This work was completed by December 6, 2006.
· Subsequently the construction of the Sisters’ Lounge, office and a kitchen on the 2ndFloor which began in January 2008 is nearing completion.
· Our next project is to build a Funeral Room on site where facilities will be provided to final bathing of the deceased under direct supervision of the masjid Imam.
· Our future plan calls for the construction of the permanent prayer halls for the brothers and sisters on the 2nd.
Ma’shaAllah our Islamic Center continues to grow rapidly. ICOB has become one of the major Islamic Centers in New Jersey. We are humbled by the achievements our community has mad in such a short period of time. Included in these achievements are:
- Masjid offers the 5 time daily prayers and Jummah, Taraweeh, Eid, Nikah, Aqeeqa, Funerals and all other religious services that are needed by the community
- Each week, over a thousand Muslims benefit from our services and over 500 attend Jummah prayers
- ICOB Academy with Grades Pre-K3 through 6 will start on September 8, InshaAllah!
- Sunday School successfully operating for the past 6 years. Around 100 students enroll in this program
- The Summer School program is very popular. This summer was extremely successful during which the students were engaged in educational enrichment, Islamic education and physical and recreational activities.
- Carnival events and Bazaar are a regular feature of ICOB. Young and old come to enjoy this family event.
- The ICOB Annual Health Fair provides health screening and medical advice to the community. Over 12 medical professionals participated in this year’s health fair.
- ICOB helps the needy Muslims from our community through the Zakaat fund.
- ICOB maintains cemetery plots and arranges funeral services. During 2008 around 10 funeral arrangements were made through ICOB.
We at ICOB offer our thanks to Allah swt for being given this opportunity to serve the Muslim Ummah of our neighborhood. May He accept our sacrifices and those of our families and associates who have been so cooperative in providing the much needed support. Ameen
Brother Saghir Ahmed
Brother Siraj Bora
Brother Qayyum Sheik
Brother Tanvir Spall
Brother Tasweer Syed