ANTIOCH — A year after a suspected arson fire destroyed the Islamic Center of the East Bay, Mohammad Chaudhry stood in an asphalt parking lot and gestured toward a new building rising on the same spot.
"Beauty will emerge from the ashes," said Chaudhry, founding president of the Islamic Center.
On Wednesday night, close to 50 people gathered at the Islamic Center's West 18th Street site for a prayer service and vigil to mark the anniversary of the fire and to mark the unity that somehow came out of the incident.
The new mosque, still under construction, is set to be finished in about two months — just in time, members hope, to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
As the event started, a group of Muslim men and women stretched a sheet and a prayer rug onto the ground and performed evening prayers while cars streamed by in the fading daylight.
In addition to the center's Muslim members, the Antioch mayor and city councilmen, police officers and representatives of other faith communities joined the prayer service and glow-stick vigil (leaders determined it unsafe to light candles at a construction site).
As they addressed the crowd, the mosque's leaders emphasized their appreciation for the support they said they have received from the city and its residents.
"You gave us new hope, and we all feel exceedingly grateful," Chaudhry said, adding that the evening's lights were a symbol of knowledge and of the new awareness gained through the past year's experiences.
Abdul Rahman, the Islamic Center's board chairman, said its members plan to continue the outreach that was initially forced by the fire by visiting other congregations and inviting different faiths to come to the new mosque to learn about Islam.
The Rev. Tom Bonacci, associate pastor at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch, was among the other faith leaders who spoke at the vigil.
"Last year's fires of destruction have become this year's fire of love," Bonacci said.
On Tuesday, Antioch Detective Steve Bergerhouse said the investigation into the Aug. 12, 2007, fire is still open, but he would not comment further on the case.
In November, Bergerhouse told the Times that the fire, while deliberately set, did not appear to have been a hate crime. Police theorized that it had been set by transients angered by the mosque changing its policy and forbidding them from sleeping there.
"They had homeless sleeping there, and they were upset when they were locked out," Bergerhouse said in November.
But mosque officials said homeless people were never allowed to sleep inside the mosque.
Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas took his own turn to say thanks to the Islamic community for deciding to stay in Antioch and to rebuild on the site of the former mosque.
"Good will always prevail over evil," Freitas said.
Reach Hilary Costa at 925-779-7139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.