Tahir Zafar, an investment banker and president of Zafar Associates at 475 Wall Street, knows the importance of giving back to the community.
He spent three years on West Windsor’s Human Relations Committee and volunteers his time in various community service activities organized by the Institute of Islamic Studies New Jersey (IIS), based in East Windsor, which range from soup kitchen work to participating in interfaith programs.
Zafar and other members of IIS say they want to expand their programs and open their doors to the community – they just don’t have the space to do it; let alone, the space for their own programs.
Members of IIS – which has proposed construction of a mosque that will be reviewed by the Weset Windsor Zoning Board on Thursday, April 7 — say a new facility would provide the space needed by any religious group to carry out its activities.
IIS wants to develop 7.17 acres of currently vacant land at 2030 Old Trenton Road into a 15,000-square-foot house of worship for its congregation. The proposed two-story would include a 3,500-square-foot prayer hall and a similarly-sized multi-purpose room with seating for about 170 people. There would also be smaller rooms, including an office, conference room, library, clinic/exam room, and food preparation room.
The second floor would feature a 5,000-square-foot, open Sunday school area large enough for 128 students. There would also be smaller rooms, including housing for the Imam (high priest), two guest rooms, an office, and food handling room, as well as storage.
The 7,000 square feet of space IIS now has on the first floor of a building in a commercial complex on Princeton-Hightstown Road cannot accommodate the youth programs, community programs, and even the free medical clinic it plans to open to the community in addition to its religious services.
The site on Old Trenton Road not only gives them the ideal space needed, it is located within West Windsor, where most of their members choose to live because of the township’s diversity.
“Half of our members’ kids have graduated from school,” said Zafar. “They don’t have to stay here, but everybody loves it so much, nobody wants to move out.”
To become a part of West Windsor’s community, however, may be a challenge, as some residents within the community have already expressed concerns about traffic, a loss in tax ratables, and a number of other issues. But that is not stopping the IIS members from trying. “People will have their concerns; that’s all right,” said Simin Syed, a lawyer and IIS member who lives in West Windsor. “We’ve done all the evaluations.”
Syed, Zafar, and other IIS members have taken the approach that they want to be good neighbors, which is at the core of their beliefs. “An integral part of our faith is to give back to everybody,” said Syed. “In Islam, your neighbors have the biggest rights over you. We want to respect them, and we want to respect our religion by respecting them.”
Part of their outreach to neighbors will include working with them on their plans for the mosque, they said. For starters, the mosque building that they want to construct does not include a dome and is as simple as possible, they said. “It’s more for practical purposes,” said Syed.
Once the new mosque is up and running, the goal is to have a free medical clinic for the community. Since many of the IIS members are physicians, they will volunteer to supply time and supplies to help run the clinic, said Zafar.
Zafar, who moved to West Windsor in 1995, said there has been a need for more of a youth center for IIS’s programs, and that IIS officials have been hoping for one and telling the youth for about 10 years now that they can have one soon.
“Hopefully, the next generation won’t have to go through that,” said Zafar, whose father was a principal and whose mother was a writer.
For adults, the mosque also helps people who have lost their jobs, with services like counseling and monetary loans.
IIS member are hoping they can invite more people to spend time with them if the mosque is approved for construction. Zafar says he understands that “people have a fear of the unknown,” but he hopes IIS can add value to the community.
“We want to be a part of their lives,” Syed said. “We don’t want to be known as ‘those people.’ We want to be part of the community. We want them to know we will grow, and they will benefit from it.”