DUBAI // Worshippers across the Emirates can soon offer prayers closer to home in 140 new or refurbished mosques scheduled for completion this year.
The General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) plans to build or refurbish 35 more mosques in 2011 than it did last year.
Worshippers welcomed the announcement, saying they would not have to travel as far now to express their devotion to God.
"I used to pray at a mosque that is further from here, but now I pray at this mosque," said Mohammad Abbas, 26, of Egypt, who worships at Hamad bin Ghanem Al Shamsi mosque in Al Jurf, Ajman.
After opening earlier this year, the mosque can accommodate about 1,500 worshippers.
"People from the community have really benefited from having a new mosque in the area, because some of the others were further away," Mr Abbas said.
Among the new places of worship will be eight mosques in Bani Yas, 16 in the Western Region, eight in Al Ain, 20 in Sharjah, 19 in Ajman, 15 in Fujairah, nine in Umm al Qaiwain, 27 in Ras al Khaimah and eight in Khorfakkan.
Additionally, "one mosque in Fujairah and another nine in Ras al Khaimah were rebuilt", Mohammed Obeid Al Mazrouei, Awqaf's executive director for Islamic affairs, said in a release.
Obeid Al Zaabi, Awqaf's Ajman office director, said several benefactors had expressed their interest in building new mosques and renovating old ones.
"We supervise the mosques from the initial stages of them being built to completion when the mosque is handed over to Awqaf," Mr Al Zaabi said. "We hire an imam and some mosques have a unified azan [call for prayer]."
The new mosques are also resonating with other residents of Ajman's Al Jurf area. Two houses of worship already opened in the area during the first quarter of 2011. The Hamad bin Ghanem Al Shamsi mosque there has a large courtyard, a prayer hall and a prayer room designated for women. Like the other mosques, it has been built according to standards set out by Awqaf, which ensures consideration for the environment and sustainability.
Hamad bin Umeir, a 20-year-old Emirati who lives in the area, said he frequently visits the mosque to pray.
"It helped residents of the area a lot because rather than going to a far-off area, we come here. I pray here every afternoon and also on Fridays, when most worshippers from the community come, and it is full," Mr bin Umeir said.
Another resident who did not wish to be named said he liked to pray in a mosque close to his house on Fridays, but prays at the Hamad bin Ghanem Al Shamsi mosque during the working week.
"I think it's good that the people who live in the communities around here can use the mosque, especially for Friday prayers," he said.
Mr Al Zaabi said that during Ramadan and soon after, about 50 mosques will be completed. The houses of worship will vary in size and in the number of worshippers they can accommodate.
"The mosques will cater to between 200 worshippers and 500 worshippers or more ... benefactors come from all parts of the UAE," Mr Al Zaabi said. "The sheikhs of the emirates contribute generously, and there are always contributors and philanthropists who get in touch with the various branches of [Awqaf]."
According to a statement released by Awqaf earlier this year, the 19 new mosques completed in Ajman this year will accommodate a total of 18,912 worshippers.
One worship centre that is currently in the works in Ajman is called Mafhas Al Qatat mosque. It will accommodate 900 worshippers. The project is expected to be completed in 14 months at an estimated cost of Dh7 million, according to Awqaf.
"Contributions were received from many benefactors for this mosque in Ajman, which we expect will be ready towards the end of 2012," Mr Al Zaabi said.
"The design of the mosque is very unique and was selected from among 40 designs that were presented."
The most recent mosque inaugurated by Awqaf is the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Khalifa mosque in Abu Dhabi.
The mosque, in the Muaskar Al Nahyan area, has room for 1,500 worshippers. It has a courtyard, a female prayer room on the second floor and a hallway preceding the courtyard.
Mr Al Mazrouei said all the mosques would be opened in accordance with the authority's human, financial and administrative capabilities.
In Islam, building a mosque is viewed favourably. The Prophet Mohammed said in a hadith that anyone who builds a mosque for the sake of God will be rewarded by God with a place in paradise.