Groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for new mosque

Hundreds of people gather in front of the Victoria Islamic Center for a service. The mosque burned down early Saturday morning.

Almost four months after the destruction of their place of worship, members of the Victoria Islamic Center will begin to rebuild.

"Everyone is invited," said Shahid Hashmi, the center's president, about a May 27 ceremony to mark the beginning of the mosque's reconstruction.

At the event, Hashmi and congregation members plan to show off the new mosque's design, created by Victoria architect Rawley McCoy, with whom they have worked closely with for months. With reconstruction yet to be officially scheduled, the ceremony will be symbolic but nevertheless momentous, Hashmi said.

The event will occur on the first night of Ramadan, a monthlong Islamic holiday of daily fasting and spiritual cleansing, Hashmi said.

McCoy said he has completed a floor plan for the new mosque and is now working on 3-D modeling of the structure. The architect is communicating with builders and construction experts to provide the mosque "real-time" cost estimates of the project as changes to the design are made.

Hashmi said he anticipates almost all of the $1.1 million raised through a Gofundme.com account will go to redesigning and rebuilding the mosque. He said completion of the project may even require private donations from congregation members.

"Everything that we have collected is going to be used," he said.

McCoy, a Victoria native with decades of experience in building design, said he fell in love with the trade when he was 16 years old. Since then, he has been commissioned for numerous high-profile projects, including Victoria College's Emerging Technology Complex, the Leo J. Welder Center and DeLeon Plaza Bandstand.

The architect said that about a week after the mosque was destroyed by fire, he began consulting with Hashmi and other mosque leaders, who heeded his initial advice to remove the former structure's foundation.

Although McCoy said the new building will feature traditional characteristics common to many mosques, such as minarets and domes, he is also tailoring the project to the congregation's specific needs.

"We are trying to create a mosque that is meaningful to this group," he said.

The new building will be constructed around a prayer hall, which must be oriented toward Mecca. It will also feature an office, kitchen, common room and other areas.

Hashmi said his congregation hopes the new design will allow a variety of religious and community events from funerals to lectures to dinners.

McCoy said this project marks his first time working on a mosque, although he has designed churches.

As research, congregation members chaperoned him on three weekend visits to six mosques in San Antonio and Houston, he said. During those visits, which McCoy described as inspiring, he learned about mosque architecture as well as the Islamic faith. He was especially moved by the Islamic practice of wudu, the physical washing of hands and feet before prayer.

"It dawned on me that it's not a cleansing of the body - it's a cleansing of the mind," he said. The architect's lessons on wudu and other particulars of the Islamic religion have proven essential in his work on the new mosque, he said.

But the experience has proved personally illuminating, said McCoy, who is an Episcopalian.

"This project has even brought me deeper into reflection in my faith journey," he said.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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