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A group of Muslims in Prince George, B.C., pray at a rented venue in 2007 during Eid el Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. They'll soon be able to worship at their own local mosque. ((Courtesy of Ibrahim Karidio))

Construction started Sunday on a mosque in Prince George – the first in northern B.C.

The Islamic Cultural and Educational Centre will be built at 5th Avenue and Foothills Boulevard on a site that once housed a drive-in movie theatre.

Sharifa Mohamed is one of the many Muslims in Prince George celebrating the start of construction.

"We were waiting for this for a long time," he said. "We were hoping one day we will have something, you know, to pray, as everybody else have."

When Ibrahim Karidio arrived in Prince George, he combed the phone book, cold-calling anyone with an Islamic-sounding name to find others with whom he could worship.

He said the mosque is important to the Muslim community.

"I think it's a sense of identity, a sense of belonging," he said.

The two closest mosques are in Kelowna, B.C., and Edmonton, Alta., both a day's drive away.

Without a mosque, Prince George's 200 Muslim families have been worshipping in rented motel rooms, family homes, the Native Friendship Centre and in the hall at the Knox United Church downtown.

They say they still need to raise two-thirds of the money to complete the $1.5-million project, but they're adamant the mosque will be finished in one year.

Locals are turning to Muslims in Vancouver and Edmonton to help raise the money they need to complete the Islamic Cultural and Educational Centre.

With files from Betsy Trumpener