BERNARDS - Adding to the difficulties facing Muslims in building their worship places in the United States, a new mosque in Bernardsville in New Jersey's Somerset County is facing growing opposition from neighbors and anti-Islam activists.
There is always resistance to any mosque, Yaser ElMenshawy, head of the Islamic Center of Hunterdon County in Flemington, told My Central Jersey website on Sunday, January 13.That's why Muslim groups spend a lot of time when they look for a mosque to find a project that can't be turned down based on the law.
Seeking to build a place to fulfil their religious duties, the Muslim community in Bernardsville hired an architect to design their new mosque.
They wanted a building that would serve its purpose as a house of worship and fit into the colonial and bucolic character of the township's Liberty Corner.
The result was outstanding, given that the 4,252-square-foot building with white siding and a gray roof could be mistaken for a large home.
But many residents are not as appreciative.
When they look at this building, all they see are the letters M-O-S-Q-U-E, said architect Daniel Lincoln, who also is president of the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.
The resistance meeting Muslims groups in New Jersey is not new.
In 2011, the Al Falah Center of Somerset County bought the former Redwood Inn restaurant in Bridgewater to build its own mosque.
As in Bernards, a mosque was a permitted use in that township's land-use laws.
But months later, the Township Council changed its zoning laws in an effort to stymie the proposal. That case is now part of a continuing lawsuit in federal courts.
During a hearing on Bernardsville's proposal Tuesday evening, mosque attorney Vincent T. Bisogno suggested that the Planning Board may be discriminating against his client after the board doubled the parking requirement for the proposal from 50 to 110, a claim denied by officials.
I'm not seeing any unfairness or inequity, Planning Board Chairwoman Carol Bianchi said.
We are just trying to get through the testimony to make a good decision.
Lawyers cite anti-Muslim prejudice as a main reason behind the opposition to the mosque.
There is no doubt it's because it's a mosque, ElMenshawy said.
It's part of the terrain nowadays.
One of the most vocal opponents of the Bernards project is Lori Caratzola, a Minuteman Court resident who lives nearly 2.3 miles away from the proposed mosque property.
Though Caratzola focuses on technical issues during Planning Board meetings, on the internet there is no question she dislikes Islam.
At her profile titled GlobalInfidel.tv at a social networking site, her only listed friend is Eric Allen Bell, a filmmaker who compared Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) to a rapist during an interview with Fox News last summer.
Khurrum Ali, civil rights director for the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said there is little Muslim leaders can do about that.
We can try to educate those individuals that there is nothing to fear and we can try to educate them about Islam, he said.
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.
In the last five years, there has been "anti-mosque activity" in more than half of the US states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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.