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After fire, members update Islamic Center of Greater Toledo

Steven W. Echard

The Islamic Center is located in Perrysburg right off of I-75, near the exit for 475. It’s been at the Perrysburg location for about 30 years, before that it was in Toledo.

Often seen merely as a landmark along the highway, the Islamic Center represents much more to the people who attend it.

White and gold with ornate Turkish stained glass windows, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo stands just off I-75 on about 40 acres of land.

About a year ago, on Sept. 30, 2012, a man set part of the mosque on fire. Though the area damaged by the fire was relatively small, almost the entire building was damaged by smoke and water.

A year after the fire, everything is still not back to its previous state.

“[There were] 65,000 gallons of water,” said Cherrefe Kadri, president of the center. “Sprinklers in that room and the adjacent room [went off].”

The fire started in the worship room, but the water ended up in every single room of the building, she said.

Smoke also spread and permeated several rooms in the building, damaging several books and pieces of furniture, Kadri said.

The center is waiting on carpeting to arrive for the damaged room, and Kadri expects it in November.

The library is still unorganized, as all the books were thrown around during clean-up, and community members are working to get them back in order.

Meena Kahn used to be a librarian at the center and was helping reorganize the library on Friday afternoon.

The library has been closed for more than a year, according to Kahn.

“As a member, I would say it’s been a great place to be part of,” Kahn said.

She said the library should be up and running again in a few months.

While an event like the fire is never good, it did show the center the support of the community.

“A lot of community members showed up the night of the fire,” Kadri said.

For a few months, the center found other places in the community to host services and prayers. For a while they were at the Perrysburg High School. The center also used the Holiday Inn Express and Gold Medal Sports, a local gym.

“I think people in this area know us … we’re a very open community, we’re neighbors,” Kadri said. “We have a vested interest in it and keeping it a safe place and keeping it a loving place … we’re a part of all that.”

Kadri said members of the community were hurt and confused.

“We don’t go out and actively seek to hurt somebody,” she said. “We’ve been here so long and the greater community knows us … it’s more like shock.”

The Islamic Center has been at its Perrysburg location for about 30 years, after moving from a building on Bancroft in Toledo, Kadri said. It is not only for Muslims, but for the greater community.

Farooq Abo Elzahab is the center’s imam, or spiritual leader, and he said the center has a job.

“It’s our job really to make Islam accessible and to make the Islamic Center a learning institution, not only to [Muslims] but to the whole community,” he said.

The center is open to everyone, and Elzahab said its services have never been only for Muslims.

At least now, the community is back in the center, Kadri said. From when the fire happened until April 2013, members weren’t allowed in the building.

The arsonist got in through a door that was ajar, and since the fire, members of the Islamic Center have put all new doors and new door frames on the outside doors, Kadri said.

“All those things you say you’re going to do, we got around to,” she said. “[It was a] lesson learned.”

Elzahab was shocked by the fire.

“We never thought this would happen to us here,” he said. “I regret what he did. It was shocking, really, to see someone come out of the blue … the man was not of the Toledo area.”

Kadri said she thinks the center became more visible.

“You figure out how to get yourself back to where you were,” she said. “You can’t change it, you can’t fix it, you can’t understand it.”

“It’s OK, we’re in our building and that’s really what’s important, we’re together,” Kadri said.

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