Fire Destroys NYC Mosque Where '07 Funerals Held

CBS 2 - September 19, 2009

by Cindy Hsu

NEW YORK (CBS) - A fire in the Bronx destroyed a well-known mosque, leaving hundreds of Muslims searching for a place to pray as they celebrate the end of Ramadan.

The fire lit up the sky on East 166th Street in the South Bronx at around 11p.m. Thursday. It started in the basement ceiling of the Islamic Cultural Center and spread to the grocery store next door.

On Friday, members of the mosque are heartbroken.

"It is a difficult thing to see something we struggled to build for 11 years, to be all torn down to the ground," Bakary Camara said.

Normally, hundreds of Muslims visit the mosque to pray 5 times a day. Instead, police have shut down the street so prayers can be said outside. Muslims have been fasting during the day for a month for Ramadan, and this weekend the community was set to celebrate a holy holiday.

"If there was no fire today, after the prayer of Juma there would be a full house here today and people would be reading their bibles and talking to each other about the upcoming holiday that's coming," Camara said.

On Friday, the streets were filled with leaders in the community and members from other mosques, who are offering their help and their facilities.

Two years ago, the mosque was the setting of funerals held for nine children and a woman who died in one of New York City's most tragic fires.

"If there's a tragedy, that tragedy affects everybody, so we all come here equally concerned," Ysadique Wai, of the United African Congress, said. "Some of us don't even pray here, but when it happens to one of us, it directly affects us, so that's why we're all here."

Leaders at the mosque say they'll start rebuilding the minute the city gives them the all-clear, and they plan on building their new Islamic Cultural Center even bigger and better than the one before.

Investigators say the fire is not suspicious and likely started with electrical equipment in the mosque. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, and were treated and released.