A small sign rests on a table in the lobby of the new Burnsville mosque, offering a simple message:

AHLAN WA SAHLAN

(Welcome and be comfortable)

"We tell all people that it is their place as it is ours," said Amin Kader, one of the founders of the mosque. "When you say this is a mosque, you are saying this is the place of God. God's place is open to all of his children."

A look inside offered plenty of sights a churchgoer would recognize: a sign posted on a bulletin board asking for donations to pay for installing new carpet. Another serving as a reminder that the community room is open for weddings, birthdays and parties. A flier promoting an upcoming bake sale.

The weekly Friday afternoon group prayer demonstrated the customs of the Islamic faith. Worshipers removed their shoes before entering the prayer area, where they knelt on the carpet.

About 150 men, women and children attended the prayer, which was led in English. Whenever words were quoted from the Qur'an, they were spoken in Arabic, then translated.

"I used to teach a class in Poland every year at a Catholic university," Kader said. "A couple of [school officials] came over here and came with me [to a mosque]. They said a lot of what they heard was the same they heard in their church. I said, 'What did you expect?' It's the same thing."

The mosque is under the direction of the Islamic Institute of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization formed by Kader and two others. Kader left his native Egypt in 1963 to attend the University of Michigan. In 1974, he took a position at Augsburg College, where he continues to teach accounting and a course on Islam.

Kader estimates there are 150,000 to 175,000 Muslims in Minnesota. There are 35 mosques scattered throughout the Twin Cities, he added, but a number of them are small. The Burnsville location was chosen, he said, to provide a nearby mosque for Muslims living south of the river. The institute operates two others, in Eden Prairie and Maplewood.

The institute acquired a building along Hwy. 13 last year that used to house a Snyder's drugstore. After 10 months of remodeling, the mosque held its first Friday prayer June 5.

"[The first] Friday prayer, you could have counted the number of people here on two hands," Kader said. "Now, they are coming."

Kader said he couldn't be more pleased with the reception the mosque has received from Burnsville officials from the outset.

"We had to go to the City Council to get a special-use permit,'' he said. "I've never seen more kind people. They worked with us very hard, very closely, getting the place ready.

"As I told them at the time, this mosque is founded in a partnership with the city of Burnsville. Without them it would not have materialized."

The Burnsville mosque also filled another need by including a room, licensed by the state of Minnesota, that is used to prepare bodies for Muslim burial.

"It is a simple ritual," Kader said. "When you are going to be with God, you need to be clean. It is simply a wash."

Bodies are not embalmed, nor are they placed in a casket. The bodies are wrapped and placed in a bottomless vault for burial.

The institute established the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery in 2006. It is just down the street from the mosque on Hwy. 13. The Islamic religion calls for burial as soon as possible, which necessitates the need for a separate cemetery.

"Honoring the dead is by burying them," Kader said.

Honoring the living is making them feel welcome.

Dean Spiros • 952-882-9203