Black preachers plan protests against new mosque in Pompano - cite financial exploitation and recruiting of converts
July 14, 2006
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 11, 2006
The City Commission decided last month to allow the Islamic Center of South Florida to move 2 miles, from the northeast side of town. City leaders said the mosque met all legal requirements. The current mosque is too small, its owners said. On a 4.8-acre patch of land they bought a few years ago, they plan to build a 29,000 square-foot center equipped with a preschool, a soccer field and a basketball court.
Opponents say the land is better suited for affordable homes. Others agree with Commissioner E. Pat Larkins, who last month told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that people in his northwest district have a perception that Muslim grocery store owners take advantage of the community.
Some say Islam has no place in mostly black and mostly Christian northwest Pompano Beach. The residents will be led by a contingent of about 10 pastors -- including the Rev. O'Neal Dozier, who on Sunday resigned from a panel that helps recommend Broward County judges to the governor because of comments he made against Muslims. The Rev. Charles Branch, of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, who helps run a radio show, also will protest in front of City Hall. The City Commission's regular bimonthly meeting is tonight.
No other churches have contacted City Hall to weigh in on the mosque.
"We want to make such a fuss that the Muslims will pack up," Dozier, of the Worldwide Christian Center, which has more than 100 members, said at a meeting with fellow pastors recently. To leaders of the Islamic Center, the answer is not in protests and anger.
"We should be looking at mending fences and bringing our community together and try to spread tolerance and understanding rather than tension," said Imam Hasan Sabri.
The negative reaction to a mosque being built was a wake-up call to the state of relations between the black and Muslim communities in Pompano Beach, Islamic leaders said.
"We have to start reaching out to the community in that area," said Areebv Naseerv, a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "In the end, they will see the good that comes out of this center."
The council sent Dozier, as well as several other leaders in the community, a letter on June 19 asking him for a meeting.
"Let us sit down under your leadership and work towards enhancing the experience of all peoples, so that our community can make further progress, fostering peace, harmony and friendship," wrote Altaf Ali, the organization's executive director.
"He said, `Let us come together and reason,'" Dozier, standing behind a pulpit, recounted on a recent Sunday to his congregation. "Now what do I look like? Do you think I would sit down and talk to them and compromise?"
So in Dozier's office last week, pastors planned their protest, surrounded by photos of Dozier posing with President Bush, Gov. Jeb Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"Can we get a podium?" Dozier asked his counterparts.
"Can we get a bullhorn?" the Rev. Alonzo Neal, of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, said.
Their agenda was clear: Make their congregations aware that they will protest at the City Commission meeting tonight, even though the issue is legally settled.
"We want to tell our people from the pulpit," Dozier said, sitting in a large brown leather chair behind a well-kept desk. "I've been talking on it every Sunday."
"Me too," Neal said.
"History will judge us badly if these people came to our area and converted a lot of poor black people into that cult," Dozier continued.
Neal jumped in: "The only thing we as men of God can do is stand and be counted."
Not all residents of northwest Pompano Beach agree with the pastors. Some who live directly across the site of the future mosque say Islam should be welcomed.
"What does that have to do with me?" asked Shantell Barber, carrying a toddler. "Half these kids need religion. Even if it is Muslim."
INSIDE: Dozier confirms he was asked to resign from the Judicial Nominating Committee after controversial remarks on Muslims. He resigned on Sunday.
Seeking a new mosque, they find a cultural turf war
A Muslim congregation is stunned when black leaders in Pompano Beach angrily protest their building plans.
By MEG LAUGHLIN
POMPANO BEACH — Two years ago, the congregation of a small but growing mosque in Pompano Beach raised money to expand because it needed more parking.
"They picked that spot because they were sympathetic to the black struggle and believed the feelings were mutual, especially since the persecution after 9/11," said Altaf Ali of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
They began attending zoning meetings in the summer of 2004. As expected, everything went smoothly. The new mosque would have a social hall, basketball court and playground, open to all. It would also be a storm shelter and a place to vote.
The local zoning board gave a routine go-ahead in May. Then, things got strange.
"Our dream suddenly turned into a nightmare," said Hasan Sabri, the imam of the Islamic Center of South Florida.
In the 22 years of the mosque's existence several miles away, no one in Dozier's church had complained. But now that it was moving closer, they had plenty to say.
They didn't want a mosque in their neighborhood, they said. They wanted affordable housing. Dozier called Muslims "dangerous," said they were "terrorists." Another black minister in the area warned they would "try to convert young black men." A black commissioner said Muslim shopkeepers were "not good business partners."
"We thought, if we talked to them, these black Christians would listen to reason," said Sofian Zakkout, head of AMANA, the American Muslim Association of North America.
But Zakkout was wrong.
Tuesday night, Dozier and his supporters protested again at the Pompano Beach commission meeting.
A former NFL player with a law degree, Dozier arrived at City Hall at dusk, surrounded by a "church security force" to protect him from "terrorists." Ali, of CAIR, was also there.
The two men talked outside the building, as about three dozen Dozier supporters gathered nearby with signs that said "No mosque" and "No jihad in my back yard."
What began as civil debate quickly plunged into an anti-Islamic diatribe with Dozier and his security force shouting at Ali that "Islam is evil" and "the Koran says to cut off heads."
That a 57-year-old black Christian minister, who gets teary-eyed when he talks about how he was "excluded as a young black man," is dead set on excluding Muslims is surprising enough. But even more surprising is who supports him and who doesn't.
Besides the three dozen, mostly black, protesters from his church -— which his deacon says has "over 300 parishioners" — Dozier is supported by two other black ministers from the area and about four local Jewish supporters, led by Joe Kaufman, founder of "Citizens Against Hate" and the "Republican Jewish Coalition of South Florida."
Opposing Dozier: Willie Larson, head of Broward County's NAACP chapter, and Andrew Louis, head of the county's Democratic Black Caucus.
When the commission meeting started, opponents of the mosque spoke.
"People in the neighborhood feel less safe knowing Muslims are invading," Dozier said.
"This mosque should not exist on American shores," said Kaufman, who got a standing ovation from the predominantly black audience.
Larson, the NAACP head, went to the podium to caution against "religious intolerance." He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
The audience booed.
"Now, I've seen it all," Louis said. "Black people booing King. Just how crazy can this get?"
On his office wall, Dozier has framed photos with both Bushes. A profile in a community paper tells the story: "From Picking Cotton to Presidential Confidante," it says.
But last week, the White House distanced the president from Dozier, referring reporters to a 2002 statement:
"Islam," Bush had said, "as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others."
Monday, Jeb Bush asked Dozier to resign from the judicial nominating committee, where Bush had appointed him.
"He's entitled to his beliefs," Bush said, "but I felt it was appropriate for him to resign from the JNC. He agreed."
Meanwhile, residents at the Holiday Springs condominium, about 10 minutes down the road from Pompano Beach, say that they are closely monitoring the battle, ready to jump in.
"We care about what happens and are watching," said condo activist Lee Goldman, who characterized the population in the 35 buildings at Holiday Springs as "70 to 80 percent elderly Jewish."
Goldman recalled that, when a different mosque was built next to their condo a few years ago, she and many of her condo neighbors protested. "We saw the mosque as a threat," she said.
But last summer — when Hurricane Wilma hit the area, knocking out electricity and trapping many condo residents in their upper story apartments — that changed.
It was then, say condo residents, that the people from the mosque next door brought water, homemade vegetable soup, spaghetti and coffee, carting it up the stairs from door to door to stranded residents, for eight days. "Those people we hadn't wanted in our neighborhood saved us," said Goldman.
"They wanted nothing in return," said resident Marlene Ashkinasi.
As a result, many of the Jewish residents at Holiday Springs Condominium and their Muslim neighbors became friends.
"Anyone who doesn't want these good, compassionate people for neighbors is making a huge mistake and we're prepared to say so," said Goldman.
Sofian Zakkout, of AMANA, said the Muslims in the area are "very thankful" for the Jewish support, but hope they don't have to rely on it.
"We pray the steam goes out of this protest," he said.
But Dozier says it won't.
Before he left City Hall on Tuesday, he announced his next step would be a lawsuit against the city if it doesn't rescind approval for the mosque. Then, he walked to his PT Cruiser — which his church security force had searched for a bomb — and drove off.
Times researchers Caryn Baird and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report