Masjid An-Nur means "mosque of the light" in Arabic. It was established in 1990, and in 1995, the mosque's leadership acquired a building on the corner of 18th and Lyndale Ave. N.
In its past life, the building once held notable restaurants like Skip's Barbecue and Rick's Cafe. Its future will look much different.
During the groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning, Asia Robinson, 12, recited a passage from the Quran.
In front of her, about 40 members, well-wishers and an ecumenical roster of guests gathered in the parking lot behind the mosque. By this time next year, this area will be a large dining hall.
The ceremony included the unveiling of a full color picture of what the mosque will look like after renovation is complete.
The 6,000-sq. ft. expansion will double the size of the worship hall and include new offices, conference rooms, classrooms, a nursery and a library.
But the defining characteristics of the new building will be the inclusion of a dome and a minaret or tower. Mosque president Jeff Hassan says they are symbolic features of Islamic architecture that also have practical uses.
"Back before the days of microphones and other broadcast media, the person who would call people to prayer would go to the top of the minaret and call out the prayers so that the surrounding community could hear," said Hassan. "So that was the functional purpose of the minaret. And the dome held a similar function inside, that would allow the sound to circulate."
Hassan says the mosque's current membership is about 250 people and growing. The space is getting too small to host prayer services as well as the mosque's community outreach efforts, which include adult education classes and a monthly food giveaway.
"Right now, particularly in cold weather and inclement weather, we have to do it right here in the hallway. And so it doesn't make for a very easy way to distribute," Hassan said. "So by being able to expand, we can move it down to the lower level and have people come down there."
"I think it's time we spread out because we're kind of packed in there," said Richard Amos, a member of Masjid An-Nur since 1992. He estimates that Friday prayers can draw about 150 people. About half that number can fit in the prayer hall, while the rest have to fit in an overflow area. Amos also says the expansion will allow the mosque to spread its message outside its walls.
"We talk to people out on the corner who may be alcoholics, drug addicts or something like that, about changing their lives and welcoming them to the community," said Amos. "Even without changing their lives, come on in to the community, and maybe they'll feel like it's time to change."
The imam of Masjid An-Nur, Makram El-Amin, is a native of north Minneapolis, which is home to some of the poorest and crime-affected neighborhoods in the city. He says he feels an obligation to try to help his community, and thinks others should as well.
Instead of re-inventing the wheel, El-Amin says the mosque can use its resources to add to efforts that are already underway.
"There are many good people doing many good things around here. And we don't want that to be lost in the shuffle. I think this is what we feel is our contribution to what we're doing here," El-Amin said. "We want the community to know that we're here and to look and view us as a resource."
El-Amin says there are more than 100,000 Muslims in the Twin Cities area, more than could fit in all the existing mosques in the region. He expects his membership to grow as the mosque's expanding capacity makes room for more.
The first phase of the renovation is scheduled for completion next spring.