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Riverdale mosque plans expansion, park

By Ed Brock

Outside the Masjid al-Ihsaan on a Friday afternoon, worshippers take off their shoes and kneel on carpets to take part in the salat al-jumu'ah, a congregational prayer.

Inside, Salem Fofana, the mosque's acting "imam," or prayer leader, sermonizes in Arabic to a packed house, loudspeakers broadcasting his voice outside. At one point a member of the mosque calls to some of the men outside.

"There's room for five more. Come inside, come inside," the man says.

Among the cars that fill the Riverdale mosque's parking lot to the brink are several taxis, like the one 40-year-old Abdelmonim Elemom of College Park drives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

He comes here because it's close to work.

"This is the only masjid," Elemom said.

Like all devout Muslims, Elemom is required to pray five times a day. Most of the time Elemom and fellow cab driver Noh Abdelrahman can find a little room in the taxi bullpen at the airport to fulfill their obligations.

Fridays are different.

"We cannot do Friday congregation prayers there," Abdelrahman said.

The Masjid al-Ihsaan sits on an 8-acre lot on East Fayetteville Road, surrounded by pine trees and a few neighbors. It opened in 2000 and for the past two years at least it has grown tremendously as Hartsfield-Jackson has grown.

Fofana himself works in the baggage department at the airport. He started coming to the mosque six months ago.

"From six months ago to now people are coming and coming," Fofana said. "Anybody working for the airport, they come here."

On most days 20 to 30 people come to the mosque, said Masjid al-Ihsaan "ameer," or president, Shahir Raslan of Fayetteville. On Fridays that number goes up to 200 or more.

A good Muslim is not allowed to miss congregational prayer, Raslan said.

Raslan said there are plans to expand the mosque in the future. For now they have some people willing to donate construction work on the old house that sits behind the mosque.

"We're going back to the house and fixing it," Raslan said. "Some people will be praying in the house until we can expand the mosque."

If enough money is raised the mosque hopes to begin the expansion in 2006.

Meanwhile more employees are coming to the airport, and therefore more than likely more worshippers will be coming to the mosque.

The fifth runway, expected to be finished by next year, is expected to bring about 5,400 new jobs to the airport, Hartsfield-Jackson spokeswoman Felicia Browder said. The Consolidated Rental Car facility scheduled to open the same year is expected to create about 3,400 jobs.

And by 2008, when the Maynard Jackson International Terminal is scheduled to open, more than 10,000 new employees could be coming to work at the airport.

Browder said the airport's chapel does provide space for Muslim worshippers.

But it doesn't provide nearly enough room, Raslan said.

Also in the works for the masjid this year is a Muslim park next door to the main building on the four acres currently used for excess parking. It will include playgrounds, barbecue pits and ball fields.

"The whole neighborhood will be invited to use it," Raslan said. "It's literally a gift to the neighborhood."