Islamic Cultural Center of New York

If you ever just happen to stroll up third avenue and hit 96th street, there is no way you could ever miss such a sight. Standing solemnly amongst the towering buildings, it resonates most brilliantly.

Ever since the 1960s, the Muslim community in New York strived to claim a sanctuary for itself. Because of the lack of funds, and problems of where the tenants of the area would move to after their homes were demolished, there was very slow progress. Eventually, in the late 1980s, money from all over the Islamic world flooded in for the creation of a new mosque, with Kuwait donating most. After waiting almost thirty years for its conception, the Islamic Cultural Center of New York  (ICCNY) was finally revealed on April 15, 1991, during the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr.

This monument commands the attention of passersby, and welcomes not only Muslims who wish to pray, but also mystified non-Muslims. It is the first of its kind in the city. It is unlike most mosques in New York, which are just ordinary brick buildings. A designer of the mosque, Michael McCarthy stated, “Our instructions were to design a mosque for Manhattan, for the 21st century.’”

The ICCNY entered the ranks of the most illustrious mosques, yet it depicts a paradox. Mosques such as the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and the Jama Masjid in New Delhi are so intricately designed, with lavish colors and curves. They depict the beauty of Islam; not physical beauty, but the universal idea of beauty that one can only feel and understand. This postmodern styled mosque shows yet the other side of Islam, aside from its outward beauty; it is Islam’s plainness and reverence for modesty, humility, and the natural. As UN representative of Kuwait Mohammed A. Abulhasan put it, “The theme of the building is Islam — the simplicity of Islam, the humbleness of Islam, the gentleness of Islam.”

The ICCNY is an international Islamic Center, representing Muslims from all countries. The mosque was designed with no nationalistic architectural influences, with the goal of uniting all Muslims.  We may be different in culture, but we have the most important type of kinship, one bounded by God.

Aly Dadras, an architect who was originally supposed to design the mosque, declared, “New York, in a sense, is the mind of America.” New York and the American spirit embrace the world. Here, I am a Bangladeshi Muslim who can connect to Muslims from all lands, and at the same time, bond with fellow non-Muslims. We are all New Yorkers. We all believe in the equality of man. We all strive to lead our lives to a purpose. And we are all heading for that same end.

After living in the city for more than seven years, this was just my first visit to the ICCNY. The mosque is the confirmation that Muslims too have a legitimate claim to this diverse city, along with the rest of the world. One look at the dome and minaret recalls the legendary Islamic empires that swept through continents and built mosques to not only honor their God, but also show the world Islam’s indomitable force. In a time when Islam is widely misunderstood or unappreciated, to see remnants of that majestic epoch, on the planet’s most cosmopolitan city, strengthens my conviction that it will conquer whatever tries to undermine it. It is overwhelming to see that these old legacies of Islam that began fourteen hundred years ago still persevere, despite so much change in these new modern times.

—- Syeda Hasan

Living on Long Island, I haven’t been exposed to as much as I would have liked. I’ve been going to the same exact Mosque for the past 15 years and rarely ever set foot in any others due to convenience. My dad on the other hand, has been to multiple Mosques. He’s lived all across the city and every time he shifted locations, the Mosque he attended would change too. When i told him about how I would be visiting the one located on 96th street he began telling me about how much he had loved it there and how I would probably find it fascinating. He had also told me to be prepared to be awed. And he was right.

My favorite part of the Mosque was the prayer room on the second floor. It had exceeded my expectations. The area where the imam (person who leads the prayers) prays was very intricately designed. Also, hanging from the ceiling were lights and lots of Arabic artwork adorned the walls. It was very different from the Mosque that i frequented on a weekly basis.

There were many differences I noted between the Islamic Cultural Center of New York and the Islamic Center of Long Island, which is the mosque that I attend weekly. The first obvious difference was the grandiose atmosphere of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.  Everything was so intrinsic and decorative; it definitely felt like a part of history. Meanwhile, the Islamic Center of Long Island is more of a tiny mosque. There is no artwork adorning the walls and it is definitely not as big. However, I feel like the small atmosphere allows for more close-knit relations.

bookshelf with Qurans in various languages
Just one of the various artworks that cover the walls of the Mosque

I enjoyed my visit greatly to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York and hope to go back soon.

—-Samira Khan

What is really significant about this mosque is the architecture particularly on the third floor.  The third floor is an enormous domed hall. There is another prayer hall on the first floor, but this one is usually for the Friday midday prayer. The third floor hall has a second level within it where you can go up and look down at the people sitting, chatting among themselves or reading from the Quran. Beautiful lights are hung from the high ceiling that mesmerized you as you gazed up and embraced the wonderful architecture.

Ceiling Dome

Ceiling Window

Prayer Rug

View from the 2nd level of the 3rd floor

The Imam stands all the way in the front. He has his own prayer rug and a microphone for the call to prayer, the Athan.

Before this visit I wasn’t even aware that the architecture was this beautiful and the mosque was so grand. Even though it was not my first visit to the mosque, it felt as if I was seeing it for the first time.

—-Eman Elzeftawy


The Athan by Sheikh Mishary Rashed Alafasy