A ‘truly disgusting’ arson attack on a mosque is being treated as a hate crime, police have confirmed.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at the Al-FalahMasjid Islamic Centre, on Heywood Street, in Cheetham Hill, at 10.30pm onSunday reports Manchester Evening News.

Crews found the ground floor alight and spent several hours battling to put out the flames.

Al-Falah is in the middle of being refurbished and the fire destroyed building materials, windows, part of the ceiling and a carpet that had only recently installed.

Fortunately, the mosque was largely empty at the time and no one was injured.

However, crowds of more than 500 gather during prayer times and police said the incident could have been deadly.

Religious leaders also said it will cost thousands of pounds to make the repairs.

A group of two or three males were reportedly seen running from the scene, and officers are now appealing for eyewitnesses and anyone with dashcam footage to come forward.

Detective Inspector Muz Kernain of GMP’s City of Manchester Division, said: “Fortunately, no-one was injured in the fire but had it been earlier in the day, this could have been a very different story.

“Attacking a place of worship is truly disgusting and I can assure you we will not be taking this lightly.

“It’s so important we find who has done this – the pain and upset they have caused is deplorable.”

Imam Maaz Waheed, 24, said: “I was upstairs and someone came and said ‘there’s smoke’

“I came down and the smoke was everywhere, the fire was quite big. I called the fire service and they came and did an amazing job.

“They were through in a flash. They think someone threw something that started the fire, I don’t what.”

“I didn’t see or hear anything, but residents said they saw two or three guys run off.”

Mr Waheed appealed for calm in the wake of the attack, and said relations with the Cheetham Hill have generally been positive in the few months since he has arrived.

But some worshippers, who have attended for decades, say it has been plagued by anti-social behaviour.

One taxi driver said his car windows have been smashed several times.

He said the problems were even worse when Al-Falah was based directly across the road in the former Apollo pub.

“People weren’t happy when it became a mosque,” the taxi driver said.

“They smashed the windows and put petrol bombs through the letter box, sometimes there was racial abuse.”

It is also believed racist graffiti has been left on the mosque walls in recent years.