Building of Islamic Center in Florida sparks outrage in black community who accuse Muslims of ill treatment and exploitation
June 14, 2006
"...Some against the mosque say that if they would have been allowed to speak, they would have mentioned the poor treatment they received from some of the Muslim-owned grocery stores in their northwest neighborhood.
"If you're going to be in our community, treat us better," said Kathryn Neal. "Don't be leaching on us..."
Pompano Commission says yes to Islamic Center and plans to build mosque
By Jean-Paul Renaud & Gregory Lewis
June 13, 2006, 10:17 PM EDTPOMPANO BEACH -- The opposition that rose against allowing a mosque into a mostly black and Christian area has exposed strong cultural rifts between the African-American and Muslim communities, angering some members, motivating others and leaving the rest in shock.
"These are attacks against our religion, attacks against our American freedom," said Sofian Abdelaziz Zakkout, director of the Miami-based American Muslim Association of America. "I don't believe what I am seeing here. They are trying to produce hate against us, and this wrong."
City commissioners agreed Tuesday to let the Islamic Center of South Florida, now at 507 NE Sixth St., build a new, bigger mosque on land at 1501 NW 16th Ave., property on the city's northwest side set aside for homes.
More than a hundred supporters and foes of the mosque attended the commission's evening meeting. Instead of debating whether to allow the mosque, city leaders discussed zoning technicalities until Commissioner E. Pat Larkins forced the issue.
"A lot of people in that community have the perception, either right or wrong, that the Islamic community in large part are not good business partners in that community," Larkins said to applause from a cheering legion of supporters.
"I've talked to many of my black Muslim friends who happen to agree with me on this issue. We want them to be part of our community. We don't want them raping it," he said.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to end discussion and allow the mosque to move forward. They did not allow the audience to speak.
Tension between blacks and Arab businesses have played out in many urban communities, such as Detroit and Oakland, Calif.
"This is exposure to a problem that has been festering in Pompano today but really throughout South Florida," said Naomi Parker, the community relations coordinator for Broward County's Civil Rights Division.
"The Muslim stores were once black owned," Parker said. "Blacks left because of crime."
But Islamic Center leaders say their reason for moving is not centered around religion or economics, just pure logistics. They need more space. They say that in the land they bought in the city's northwest area, they can build a 29,000 square-foot, Mediterranean-style center and still have ample space for a basketball court and soccer field.
"These Islamic centers, no matter where they've been built, have been open to everyone," said Assad Mirza, a Muslim attorney from Pembroke Pines who came to show support for the mosque. "If you need help, we'll give it to you. It has nothing to do with being Muslim."
Still, some residents in the northwest say it's inappropriate for a mosque to open near their homes.
"Mainly, it is about beliefs," said Billy Smith, who lives next to the lot where the Islamic Center wants to build their mosque. "If they were Jewish, I wouldn't have a problem. It's when it's Arabs, with the Allah and all that, no."
Some against the mosque say that if they would have been allowed to speak, they would have mentioned the poor treatment they received from some of the Muslim-owned grocery stores in their northwest neighborhood.
"If you're going to be in our community, treat us better," said Kathryn Neal. "Don't be leaching on us."
Jean-Paul Renaud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4556.