The former home of the on Fulton Avenue had been vacant for nearly four years, much to the dismay of a newly-elected mayor and local officials.
But, that all changed last month when the former Jewish community center reopened as a place of worship, now a mosque.
Farmingdale’s first mosque, called Masjid Bilal or Bilal Mosque, sits on 1.65 acres with 21,000 square feet of building space and parking for 44 vehicles.
The mosque is also Long Island’s first synagogue converted to a mosque, according to Habeeb Ahmed, a vice-president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, based in Westbury.
Abdul Majid Khwaja, a representative for the new mosque who lives near SUNY Farmingdale, said that between 35 and 40 local families, many who used to worship in Bethpage, will be using the mosque.
He said that the new congregation is a welcome addition to the area, making it easier for Muslims to meet their prayer needs. Devout Muslims pray five times daily.
Khwaja, a native of Afghanistan who has lived in Farmingdale for 12 years, said the building is still undergoing renovations despite the fact that worshippers are already using the facility.
“We’re not really ready yet, we still have much to do including painting and putting carpet down,” Khwaja said.
“I think it’s very good for the neighborhood and it will help to alleviate traffic at other, smaller mosques on the Island,” Ahmed said.
He estimated there are about 24 mosques that serve a population of roughly 75,000 Muslims living on Long Island.
The former synagogue congregation, led by its president Seymour Fruchter, had left in 2007 to merge with the nearby Wantagh Jewish Center.
Following some administrative snafus with the village, including a missing certificate of occupancy for one of the synagogue’s original buildings, the property was sold to Khwaja’s congregation on July 17 for $2.3 million.
Fruchter, 87, said that his dealings with Khwaja and the mosque’s representatives were all “very pleasant and very professional.”
But, he questioned why the sale of the synagogue to Khwaja’s group took nearly two years to complete. Fruchter recalled that they went to contract in August of 2010 and then didn’t close until July of this year.
“There were many stoppages by the village…maybe they didn’t like the buyer, I don’t know,” Fruchter said.
However, at the center of the delays was in fact a missing or misplaced certificate of occupancy or CO as it’s commonly called, for the synagogue’s original 1948 building. Neither the synagogue nor the village was able to locate a valid CO for the building.
According to the Town of Oyster Bay’s building department, a seller must have a valid CO in order to sell any commercial or residential building in the town.
The CO affirms that the structure is in compliance with all local code requirements, including fire and electrical.
“It’s a legal question but my understanding is that any purchaser’s attorney typically advises their client to have a valid CO of the property they are purchasing at closing,” said Brian Harty, clerk-treasurer for the Village of Farmingdale.
And, Fruchter said that Khwaja did not want to proceed with the sale of the building until a valid CO was issued.
But, Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said the sale was alldone by the book and that Fruchter was told exactly what he needed to do in order for the sale to proceed.
“The rules say you have to go before the zoning board to get the CO and that’s what the synagogue was told,” said Ekstrand, who related that he’s known Fruchter for more than 30 years.
“I believe that once they went to the zoning board, they had the CO within 60 days,” Ekstrand said.
Asked about their new neighbors, residents at the Woodbridge Apartment complex at 477 Fulton Avenue, just next door to the mosque, had mixed feelings.
One woman, who said she was visiting from Florida to help her 99-year-old mother at the complex, said she respected the worshippers’ right to assemble but was nervous that others will not be so tolerant.
“I’m concerned that some nut might try to do something to the mosque…I mean we’re right next door,” she said, referring to a recent attack on a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
One woman living nearby complained about noise to the village.
Mayor Ekstrand said the noise was likely part of celebrations that ended the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which concluded last week.
“I’m really not getting many complaints about the mosque,” Ekstrand said. “Most people ask about the place out of curiosity.”