Two years ago, thousands gathered at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx to mourn 10 people who were killed in a house fire. On Friday, many who gathered at the center for prayers found that the building itself had been badly damaged in a fire.
Just before 11:30 p.m. Thursday, a fire began in a grocery store and restaurant that share the building, at East 166th Street and Clay Avenue in Morrisania, and spread to the cultural center. Worshipers at the center were there later than usual to commemorate the holy month of Ramadan, and emerged to see flames coming from the store.
"I prayed that everybody got out safely, and thank God, that was what happened," said Hajie Tunkara, a coordinator for the center, which caters to a large West African Muslim community.
"We have eight different mosques that are connected to this center," Mr. Tunkara said. "This is where all mosque members come to meet. This is a tremendous loss for the whole community."
Firefighters were still trying to determine the cause of the fire, but "it doesn't look suspicious," Joe Schiavone, a Fire Department spokesman, said Friday. Investigators suspect electrical wiring may have caused the fire.
On Friday afternoon, men gathered to pray in front of the building, kneeling on a blue tarp behind police tape. They used bottled water for a ritual handwashing before praying.
Inside, the center was a scene of charred disarray, with ceiling ducts littering the floor. Mr. Tunkara estimated that 80 percent of the center's interior had been damaged.
Before the fire, Mr. Tunkara said, there had been plans to build a second floor and open a day care center. "At this moment, right now," he said, "we are just trying to hold on to our faith, and we're making plans to try and rebuild."
In March 2007, nine children and one woman of Malian descent died in one of the city's worst residential fires, caused by a space heater. Hamidou Gumaneh closed his store then to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in the community observing the funeral, with mourners filling East 166th Street.
On Thursday night, Mr. Gumaneh, who rents space from the center, lost his store in the fire. "Everything was destroyed," he said. But he might again see a similar scene outside. The center had been planning a big celebration on Sunday to mark the end of Ramadan. Now it intends to hold it in the street.