AUSTIN, Texas — Two years after its mosque burned down, the Islamic Center of Lake Travis has opened its doors, hosted its first Ramadan celebration and is about to get a new spiritual leader.
In January 2017, the center was destroyed by fire while under construction. Investigators were not able to determine the cause of the blaze, but after the community rallied behind the group, its leadership began rebuilding in the same location.
The center had a soft opening in May, just in time for Ramadan. Before then, people in the area were traveling about 12 to 15 miles away for service.
"That's why this location was important because there was nothing covering people living in the area," said Shakeel Rashed, a board member at the center. "There are lots of (Muslim) families moving into this area; maybe about 200 plus families."
The two-story building features an upstairs and downstairs prayer rooms, nursery, washrooms and a small basketball court.
"This is not very huge by our standards, but it works as a place of gathering in the community for everybody around here," Rashed said.
Rashed said that since its opening in May, the Hudson Bend mosque has begun to find ways to get more families and youths involved.
This month, the congregation will welcome its first full-time imam, Sheikh Umer, who has worked in the Austin area as the imam for the University of Texas and other area mosques.
For its weekly Friday prayer service, Rashed said the mosque would invite guest imams such as students from UT, and sometimes more experienced people to give service. Rashed hopes with a full time imam, the area's congregation will bring in more families and children.
"We have been a leaderless group from a spiritual leadership point of view and this is our next big step," Rashed said. "We hope this will help grow our congregation and get more people involved. An imam is what people come to a mosque for, so I think (Umer) will fill that role very well."
The mosque also offers Sunday school for children ages 5 to 14. Children will learn about Islam, morality and community, Rashed said.
A new deck just outside the mosque also can be used for celebrations. Rashed said that in the past few months, it has hosted a few events and they have always included food. The mosque does not allow food inside, so the deck was a perfect addition, he said.
As founding members of the Interfaith Ambassadors of Lake Travis, a group that was created as an avenue to bridge faiths within the community, the mosque holds quarterly community events inviting residents to meet other community members and learn about each other's faiths.
Rashed said that in the past few months, the mosque has also hosted monthly lecture series and participated in food distribution with Mobile, Loaves & Fishes.
Moving forward, Rashed said there are a few projects the mosque hopes to complete by the end of the year.
Before Ramadan begins in May, Rashed said the mosque hopes to expand its parking lot in anticipation of future growth. A dirt lot near the mosque has been designated for the project. The cost is about $200,000.
A bigger basketball court, estimated to cost $25,000, and a new playscape, estimated at $12,000, are also on the congregation's wish list this year.
"Like most religious organizations, we want to involve the youth," Rashed said. "One of the ways to get younger people involved is to have a few (basketball) games here and there."
The interfaith group is also working on establishing medical clinics. Rashed said there are a lot of doctors in the community and the mosque would like to open up a free clinic to the entire community offering routine check-ups.
Projects, events and other congregation efforts are supported through donations and fundraisers.