BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – The faithful stood — shoulder to shoulder — for Friday prayers, wedged into a low-slung building that sits in the shadows of one of Boulder’s busiest commercial stretches.

A handful of men prayed in an overflow room at the back of the 1,500-square-foot Islamic Center of Boulder, while close to 100 Muslims filled up the main room. At one point during the ceremony, congregants were asked to move forward to make room for late arrivals.

Women have to wait until the 1:10 p.m. prayer session on Fridays because the prayers an hour earlier barely accommodate the men that come to worship. Parking at the center, which is located behind a strip mall, is at a premium.

“We have been here for the last 30 years,” said Abu Hira, a member of the center for the past decade. “It’s time to move to a larger space.”

Abu Sarah, who has worshipped at the tiny mosque for five years, agreed. He said there are more than 300 Muslim families in Boulder County and the Islamic Center of Boulder can only accommodate 90 worshippers at a time.

“We are trying to extend the mosque because this is a very small mosque,” he said just before noon prayers last week.

But he said establishing a new mosque in Boulder County is easier said than done.

“The market is very expensive right now,” Sarah said.

Nonetheless, the Islamic Center of Boulder continues to move ahead with its efforts to raise funds for a new facility, complete with mosque, Islamic school, adult Arabic and Islamic studies area, and youth sports center.

Called the New Masjid Project, the fundraising effort is halfway to its goal. It has set $700,000 as the amount needed to buy a suitable piece of land.

But Sarah said it could take as long as a decade to finally find that piece of land, or more likely, a building in the county that the center can renovate into a mosque. That may mean moving out of Boulder, where the center has been located since 1981, and into Lafayette or Louisville.

Ahmed Elsayed, of Superior, said he personally wouldn’t have a problem with a mosque in east Boulder County, but he voiced concern about the heavy contingent of University of Colorado students who frequent the mosque because it is close and convenient.

It was Muslim CU students who started the Islamic Center of Boulder back in the 1970s, but the mosque has seen more families walk through its doors as the local tech sector expanded over the last 10 to 15 years and attracted professionals to the area.

“The Muslim population has steadily grown over the past decade,” said Taj Ashaheed, spokesman for the Colorado Muslim Council in Denver.

He said the larger Muslim community in the metro area has been trying to help its brothers and sisters in Boulder find a bigger space.

“We do a lot of fundraising in terms of building mosques and also in terms of helping Boulder,” he said. “They probably wish we’d do more.”

There are seven mosques in the Denver metro area, the closest outside of Boulder being Masjid Ikhlas in Northglenn.

Sarah said he’s noticed that as the crowds have grown larger at the Islamic Center of Boulder, more and more of the faithful are making the drive east to attend services.

“Because of the space issue, some people are no longer coming,” he said.

– By John Aguilar, The Daily Camera

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)