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Published: Thursday, 12/23/2010

Former Toledo mortuary to be mosque by January

The Toledo Muslim Community Center, whose present location on nearby Holland-Sylvania Road is having trouble accommodating its growing congregation, purchased the funeral home for $400,000 in September at a foreclosure auction forced by Huntington National Bank. However, the mosque's board of directors did not close on the transaction until Tuesday.

Now that it has taken title to the three-acre property, the Toledo Muslim Community Center plans to make a few alterations to the 5,678-square-foot, two-story building, but the renovations shouldn't take long and the building could be ready for use by Jan. 31, said Mohammed El Nahal, a community center board member.

"There is one room in the building that can be used as prayer hall," he said. "It has close to 1,000 square feet. The rest of the building would be looking good as well. It has good size rooms for a school, some lounges.

"I think overall, the place can accommodate the functions we need from social, religious, and cultural aspects. I think it will serve the community well."

The former funeral home at 5045 West Sylvania and its contents were auctioned to help the bank recoup most of a $520,000 judgment it had against the mortuary and the late J. Jeffrey Fretti, 48, who died from a heart attack in April, 2009, in Florida. At the time of his death, he was being investigated by the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors after accounting records showed that nearly $180,000 in advance funeral funds could not be found.

The state board later determined the money had been diverted to business expenses for the funeral home, which was in financial difficulty.

The auction attracted 17 bidders and the property drew six active bids, but after 30 minutes, the Toledo Muslim Community Center held the winning bid.

Its center at 3303 North Holland-Sylvania Rd., is just 1 years old, using leased space that once was home to an insurance firm.

Beginning in April, 2009, with 20 members, the mosque has grown enormously and far faster than its founders anticipated.

Friday prayer services, typically the largest gatherings of the week for Muslims, are nearly full.

"It wasn't a problem until the last eight months," Mr. Nahal said. "Now it's too tight to accommodate many activities … We needed a bigger place."

The mosque rented another nearby site, but even that has grown crowded, he said.

The new location should greatly alleviate the crowding and should be ready once a special prayer carpet is installed, he explained.

The building also has six large rooms perfect for weekend religious and language classes, he added.

About the only thing the former funeral home doesn't have, which Toledo Muslim Community Center officials want to add, is more restrooms.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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