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Clash Over East Meadow Mosque - Residents express anti-Muslim feeling

Clash Over East Meadow Mosque - Residents express anti-Muslim feeling

Author: Joseph Mallia
Publication: Newsday
Date: November 29, 2002
URL: http://www.newsday.com/features/religion/ny-limosq293024235nov29.story

Nearly a decade ago, the Long Island Muslim Society bought two small houses on a busy street in East Meadow and began holding prayer services there. Now the Islamic group of about 40 families, mostly of Bangladeshi origin, wants to tear down the houses and build a new mosque and school in their place.

But plans for the mosque, big enough for 300 people but with only nine parking spaces, have sparked a clash with neighbors that may pit quality of life against freedom of religion.

"We want to start an open dialogue between the community and us," Mohammed Rafiqur Rahman, the society's president, told an overflow crowd of more than 200 residents at a community forum Tuesday night.

"We want to build a house of worship to promote our religion for our children and the generations to come," Rahman said at the Council of East Meadow Community Organizations meeting, held at the East Meadow Public Library.

The forum was the Muslim group's first attempt to get local support for the mosque before a scheduled Jan. 29 hearing at the Hempstead Town Board of Zoning Appeals. It needs permission to build with fewer than the required 87 parking spaces.

A few East Meadow residents at the Tuesday meeting protested in moderate tones about the society's planned expansion and its tax-exempt religious status, which they said forces them to pay more than their fair share of property taxes.

But most of the meeting consisted of a barrage of angry shouts and anti-Muslim jeers directed at Rahman, his architect Hossein Alemzadeh, and his lawyer, Peter Morra. Meeting moderator Joseph Parisi, who heads the civic group, banged a gavel again and again, and shouted the audience down, to maintain order.

"Go park in Bangladesh!" one man shouted.

Some said they oppose the mosque because it would attract more Muslims to East Meadow, and they don't like Muslims, especially after last year's Sept. 11 attacks.

"A lot of people died in the name of your god. We don't kill in the name of our god," said Michelle Caio of East Meadow. About half those present cheered Caio's comments, while the rest shouted disagreement, to which she answered: "You don't want to admit it, but that's the issue. Parking's not the issue," Caio said to her neighbors. "I'm against building a mosque in the town I live in. I do not think this is the time after what happened last year."

Gina Caio, Michelle's cousin, also spoke. "We obviously don't want you here," she told Rahman. "Why would you want to be in a community that doesn't want you?"

The society's lawyer responded to the criticism. "Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution," Morra said. And, he said, all churches, synagogues and other religious buildings - including several Christian churches within a block or so of the society's property - are tax-exempt.

Many stores and businesses along East Meadow Avenue, a busy two-lane mix of houses and businesses, were built without off-street parking spaces. Neighbors said parking lots are too small at a nearby post office, a catering hall and a funeral home, adding to congestion. "It will create havoc for the neighborhood," said John Arigo, owner of a pizza parlor and an accounting office - neither of which has off-street parking - across from the proposed mosque site.

Rahman, a pharmacist at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, said about 60 children would attend the new school on Saturdays, and large gatherings would take place only a few times a year. After hearing the complaints, Rahman said the society will now consider building a smaller mosque with more parking. "We're not going to offend our neighbors," he said. "We're going to scale down."

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