CAIRO - Rising slowly at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, a three-story Islamic community center is facing sharp criticism from the mostly Russian-Jewish residential neighborhood despite Muslims' repeated efforts to reassure them on the mosque peaceful message.
Wherever we go, there's always going to be that negative first reaction, because a lot of people aren't educated about Islam, Jose Luis Solis, 27, of Bensonhurst, who helped at the charity event, told The New York Times on Saturday, September 8.
We just got to stand our ground and be positive.
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Built on Voorheis Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, the mosque was first introduced in 2008 to offer prayers' place to 150 to 200 Muslim families who live within walking distance from it.
Despite assuring the community that the mosque would be an asset, providing afterschool activities to children and a Boy Scout troop open to all and charity events, the mosque has been capturing criticism from the area residents.
Recently, the Muslim community has organized back-to-school giveaway to hand out free school supplies to a line of needy families in front of the construction site.
Opponents, however, were determinant to reject the new mosque as beachhead for Muslim expansion in Brooklyn and a so-called beacon for anti-Semitism.
Yes, they are smiling, but you know what's behind their smiles? said Leonid Krupnik, 62, one of the two protesters late last month.
Hatred. They want to create a caliphate. They want to push people out of this neighborhood.
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.
A report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender said that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll had found that 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least a little prejudice against Muslims.
Leading a legal battle against the mosque, a group of opponents to the mosque who call themselves the Bay People have grown increasingly frustrated as each of their legal efforts failed
We understand that this is the First Amendment, that everyone has a right to pray, but what about our rights as a residents? said Victor Benari, 58, the other protester last month.
It's provocation, 100 percent. Why here? Why not build on a nice big commercial street?
Trying to end the construction as soon as possible, Muslims have spent $500,000 on the building so far.
Though its construction has been slowed by frequent complaints, the mosque officials are hopeful the mosque would open next spring.
I wish we could do something to make them like us, said Allowey Ahmed, a Yemeni immigrant and laundromat owner who bought the area for the mosque.
But thank God our rights aren't subject to people whether they like us or not. We have guaranteed rights, and that's what makes this country wonderful.
Brooklyn mosque was not the first to face opposition.
All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.
At least 18 mosque projects from Mississippi to Wisconsin have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net