Muslims fight to gain right to build mosque

  • A house in Yonkers, N.Y. that the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Weschester hopes to convert into a mosque is seen on Monday, June 6, 2016. The Islamic Community Center faces hurdles now that the home they purchased has been given a historic landmark designation limiting how it can be altered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • Holes are seen in the ceiling near stained glass windows at a house in Yonkers, N.Y. that the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Weschester hopes to convert into a mosque on Monday, June 6, 2016. The Islamic Community Center faces hurdles now that the home they purchased has been given a historic landmark designation limiting how it can be altered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • A house in Yonkers, N.Y. that the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Weschester hopes to convert into a mosque is seen on Monday, June 6, 2016. The Islamic Community Center faces hurdles now that the home they purchased has been given a historic landmark designation limiting how it can be altered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • Arshad Shariff, chairman of the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Weschester, speaks to a reporter in the house the group hopes to convert into a mosque in Yonkers, N.Y., Monday, June 6, 2016. The Islamic Community Center faces hurdles now that the home they purchased has been given a historic landmark designation limiting how it can be altered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • Arshad Shariff, chairman of the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Weschester, speaks to a reporter in the house the group hopes to convert into a mosque in Yonkers, N.Y., Monday, June 6, 2016. The Islamic Community Center faces hurdles now that the home they purchased has been given a historic landmark designation limiting how it can be altered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

Associated Press
Published: 6/11/2016 9:10:24 PM

After months of searching to find a home for their mosque, a Muslim group settled on a century-old, three-story Tudor in a leafy neighborhood of a New York suburb, a fixer-upper they say would be perfect with the right renovations.

While city officials insisted the landmark status wouldn’t prevent the home being used as a mosque, the Muslim organization saw something more sinister.

“We feel that we are being targeted,” said Arshad Shariff, chairman of the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Westchester.

It’s a refrain that’s been heard around the country, from Muslims who say they have faced all kinds of zoning and other obstacles as they’ve tried to build or expand mosques. Some of the conflicts have gone to court, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law passed in 2000 that forbids using zoning laws in such a way.

More recently, a Muslim group in Basking Ridge, N.J, has been facing zoning and other obstacles for several years over its plan to build a mosque, resulting in a federal lawsuit against the town’s planning board.

Houses of worship from all faiths can and do face issues related to their land usage, said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Communities don’t like them for a number of reasons, either because of the crowds they can bring or the lack of tax revenue, or sometimes because of bias against the faith in question, he said.

Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, a grassroots Muslim outreach group, says that backlash has been fueled by anti-Muslim rhetoric has become more prevalent in the mainstream in recent years.

“Where people see a mosque coming into a neighborhood or community, they’re not seeing it as fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim,” he said.

In Yonkers, Islamic Community Center leader Shariff said the dispute with the city has delayed the opening of the mosque indefinitely.

Shariff said the group never planned major changes to the exterior of the $750,000 home to make it a mosque. It primarily wanted to add an entrance ramp for handicapped visitors and another entrance.

Shariff said they had met with city officials before the sale went through to ask if there was any historical significance to the property, and were told there were no records indicating any.

In a statement announcing the landmark designation last month, Mayor Mike Spano said the home was significant because it was one of the original homes to be built in the city’s historic Colonial Heights section.

“It’s important for the neighbors to understand we are their neighbors,” Shariff said. “We are part of the American fabric.”




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