As a crane hoisted a 5,000-pound, copper canopy toward the top of a red brick tower in Roxbury yesterday afternoon, thousands of area Muslims looked upward, some with tears running down their cheeks.
"This is the moment we have been waiting for for two decades," yelled Yousef Abou-Allaban , chairman of the Islamic Society of Boston .
In the crowd of several thousand, many people held up cellphones and cameras to snap pictures of the topping-off.
Traffic on nearby Malcolm X Boule vard came to a stop. The top, adorned with an American flag waving in the cool breeze, was finally set in place at 1 p.m.
The capping of a mosque's minaret has special significance in Islam, signaling that the building is completed, said Abou-Allaban. But the capping of the 140-foot tower at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center had even more significance for local Muslims because of the controversies that had dogged the project.
"Allah . . . was probably testing us to see how much perseverance we had," Abou-Allaban said. "There were all kinds of tests, and who knows, we may have tests coming in the future," he said.
A lawsuit dismissed earlier this year questioned the sale of the land to the Islamic Society in 2003, contending that the Society had bought the land from the city at an unfairly low price. The Society dropped its own lawsuit last month, alleging that media outlets and others had defamed it in an attempt to derail the mosque project.
The daylong ceremony yesterday started with a 1-mile march beginning at Washington Park and ending at the mosque, a red-brick structure with a large dome near the intersection of Tremont Street and Malcolm X Boulevard.
The march, slated to start at 10:30 a.m., got off to a late start. At the beginning, there were only about 20 people holding white placards, huddled under trees to avoid a constant drizzle. About an hour later, the crowd had grown to about 300, and the parade began.
As boys passed out green and yellow fliers with information on the day's events to onlookers, men in flowing robes were followed by women pushing strollers or hand-in-hand with children. All chanted, "Allahu akbar" [God is great].
About a half-hour after it started, the parade reached the 70,000-square-foot mosque, where organizers estimated about 2,500 people were waiting.
The crowd included local Muslims who hail from countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as American-born black Muslims. Most people took off their shoes and sat cross-legged on a large blue tarp covering an expanse of gravel that is soon to be paved over to become the mosque's parking lot.
Bilal Kaleem, associate director of the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society, was enthusiastic about the diversity of the crowd.
"This shows the blessing and mercy of Allah, and this is that beauty of universal brotherhood and unity."