2009-06-11 / Front Page
Islamic group holds groundbreaking for school
First phase of expansion expected to take two years
Hundreds of members of a townshipbased Islamic group were joined by South Brunswick officials for the groundbreaking of an expansion project at the religious organization's 17-acre site.
A school has been operating on the premises of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey (ISCJ) on Route 1 for about 16 years, and started with pre-kindergarten and primary school students. It later expanded to middle and high school students, and there are roughly 500 students in the full-time school. Another 500 students participate in the weekend school for children who do not get a religious education at their schools during the week, said chairman of the board Dr. Parvaiz Malik.
"This is more than 1,000 students that are going to benefit from the building we are going to be putting up," Malik said.
The first phase, which is expected to take two years to complete, includes the creation of an entrance and exit to the site on Promenade Boulevard, in order to relieve traffic from Route 1. The project's first phase will center on laying the foundation for a new facility for Noor-Ul-Iman School, and the parking lot is going to be expanded from 194 to 650 spaces.
While students in pre-kindergarten to first grade are currently in the organization's annex building, Malik said the rest of the students are in three temporary trailers. The group earned approvals for the entire project and the school is going to be constructed as an 86,000-square-foot facility during the second phase.
Malik said the group's plan includes a 40,000-square-foot commercial office building next to the 12,000-square-foot mosque for the purposes of raising revenue by having doctors, lawyers or other professionals operate out of the building. In addition, the mosque would be doubled in size, Malik said, noting that this would likely not be done until after the other phases of the project are complete and only after adequate funds are raised.
The groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday was followed by a graduation ceremony for the students who attend weekend school at the facility. Arif Patel, a board of trustees member, said that the ISCJ facility dates back to 1970, and he noted that the school's expansion would not increase enrollment, as mandated by the township.
South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said the organization worked out issues with the police department and nearby residents to everybody's satisfaction for this project. One issue that was resolved was to mandate that no left turns be made from the exit that will be built to Promenade Boulevard.
"The biggest problem with the site was it was relatively small for what they are trying to accomplish," Gambatese said. "The Islamic Society is an important part of our township, like any other faith group or school in our township; we're very pleased that the project is underway."
Malik said the entire project is going to be expensive, and he said that releasing cost estimates would be premature, since the numbers are likely to change.
Malik said that the group also had a funeral home constructed, since the Islamic religion calls for the preparation and washing of the body, and its practitioners do not embalm bodies or preserve them for periods of time. Instead, the body is buried on the same day.
Malik said the group is culturally diverse, in part because it is not made up of people exclusively in one sect. He also said they reach out to people of other faiths for cooperative endeavors and the organization's location between Princeton University and Rutgers University is a strategic advantage for its members and students.
"We feel that it is a great source of information for students of religious studies," Malik said. "We get very frequent visitors, we have a rainbow of cultures: people of Arab descent, Asian descent. We are all kinds of nationalities, not one sect of people. … This makes it very unique. We always have two or three females in our board, we have youth in our board, so we represent all of the ages."
The organization's Islamic leader, Imam Hamad Chebli, attended the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, and he leads prayers and other ceremonies for the group, Malik said. He noted that Chebli is involved in the South Brunswick Area Clergy Association.
"He has a very good working relationship with surrounding churches and synagogues," Malik said.
The group will hold a fundraiser with the Muslim comedian Azhar Usman this weekend in order to raise funds for the project. The event will be 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are on sale at www.iscj.org.
Contact Michael Acker at