The bid to build a $100 million mosque and Islamic center two blocks from ground zero has ensnared a president and engrossed a nation. But New York isn’t the only city debating a new mosque. Here are four of the most controversial battles nationwide.
– Ron Scherer, Staff writer
1. ‘Stop the Mosque’ – Florence, Ky.
For more than 20 years, the Islamic Center of Northern Kentucky has rented space for a mosque in Florence, Ky., a suburb of Cincinnati.
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The congregation kept growing, so the center’s leaders purchased 5.5 acres to build their own mosque and Islamic center. Work was supposed to begin next April.
But this week, a website spouting the words, “Stop the Mosque” sprang up, and someone who dubbed himself “the vigilante” started handing out fliers to people who live in the neighborhood, urging them to try to stop the construction.
“I don’t think it’s even a dispute, it’s a tempest in a teapot,” says Karen Dabdoub, executive director of the Cincinnati chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The area where the facility will be built is already zoned for churches, synagogues, and other religious facilities, she says. In addition, opponents will be hard-pressed to complain about traffic since the mosque will be built across the street from one of the largest malls in the Cincinnati area.
City officials say they have had phone calls about the mosque and have tried to inform residents about the zoning. Nevertheless, the flier urges residents to “stop the takeover of our country.”
This language irks Ms. Dabdoub, who adds: “We’re Americans, we have the right to build a house of worship so we and our families can go to worship God. It’s one of the founding principles of our nation, and it is un-American to say everyone has the right to freedom of religion except for you all.”
2. ‘It needs a turning lane’ – Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Not all the angst in America about mosques is about the religion’s terrorist fringe. Opponents of a proposed 52,000 square foot mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., raised questions about traffic and the environment at a recent Rutherford County Commissioner’s meeting.
“That thing will be about half the size of a Wal-Mart,” says Mike Sparks, a former county commissioner now running for state representative, in an interview with the Monitor. “It will be a dangerous intersection, it needs a turning lane.”
According to local press reports, the Tennessee Department of Transportation will conduct a study of the road to determine if it needs improvement.
The issue of traffic and congestion can sometimes resonate. In March, the Lomita, Calif., City Council turned down a zoning change that would have permitted a new mosque. The council said the mosque would bring in too much traffic to the residential neighborhood.
The same argument has been used against churches, but a federal judge this week ruled that Greenburgh, N.Y., can’t use traffic issues to try to block a Pentecostal church from being built. The judge was adamant that the town violated a law banning religious discrimination in land-use decisions by placing unnecessary hurdles on the church.
The judge said the town could be considered liable. The church is asking for $4 million in damages.
In Tennessee, meanwhile, fears that the mosque might train radical jihadists or be linked to terror organizations are not entirely absent from the debate.
Supporters of the right of Muslims to build the mosque maintain government has no right to interfere with religious freedom. And, they say there is no evidence the mosque, which is in a much smaller space now, has been used to train terrorists in the past.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro did not return phone calls asking for comment.
3. ‘No Allah Law Here’ – Temecula, Calif.
Protesters with bullhorns have shown up during afternoon prayers at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in California.
The Muslim group there hopes to erect a 24,000 square foot mosque and Islamic center on some vacant land it owns.
The protesters were mainly concerned about Islam, carrying such signs as “No Allah Law Here.”
The mosque has also been criticized by Bill Rench, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, which would be the mosque’s neighbor. Mr. Rench has told the Monitor in the past, “We don’t want to do anything that encourages Islam.”
But the imam of the mosque, who has the support of a local interfaith council, has tried to mend fences with Rench, offering to explain Islam. “I would like to have a meeting with the pastor,” Imam Mahmoud Harmoush told the Monitor earlier.
So far, mosque officials say that effort has not been successful.
Officials hope to complete the mosque at the end of next year.
4. ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ – New York
The battle over Cordoba House, the mosque and Islamic center planned two blocks from the World Trade Center site, is expected to heat up with protests planned for Sunday.
Protesters will include the families of 9/11 victims, residents of the neighborhood, veterans, and construction workers. The same groups are also planning a rally against Cordoba House on the anniversary of 9/11.
Some opponents have said they will sue the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, claiming it did not follow its own rules when it denied landmark status to the building where center will go.
Polls have consistently found a majority of New Yorkers are opposed to the mosque at that site.
But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the right of the Muslim community to build the mosque, as do many other New York politicians.
Gov. David Paterson’s office has said he would seek a meeting with the leader of the mosque, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, to explore finding a different location. The Imam has been out of the country as part of a State Department effort to reach other moderate Muslim groups.
Despite the uproar, whether the mosque ever gets built is still not clear. According to an article on Aug. 19 on the website Politico, the organizers have very little of the $100 million they plan to spend.