The Real Deal New York

Mosque opens on SI without controversy

August 19, 2011 11:59AM

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180 Burgher Avenue

The Muslim American Chapter for Brooklyn and Staten Island has quietly opened a mosque in the Dongan Hills neighborhood of Staten Island, without the controversial uproar that accompanied the same group’s plan to open a mosque in a former Catholic convent in Staten Island’s Midland Beach, the New York Times reported.

Last year, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York ended up rejecting the sale, even though the parish’s priest had originally approved it. This year, at a July 29 open house, neighbors joined local government officials at the building at 180 Burgher Avenue. The largest concern for most residents seems to be parking, and neighbors say that the mosque’s members have been responsive to those issues. Ibrahim Mossallam, the organization’s director of outreach, said his group had learned from their experience to improve their outreach efforts in their new attempt.

Members sought the conversation with neighbors beforehand, and promised that the building could also be used by community groups like the Boy Scouts of America. Mosallam said the group moved quickly to purchase the building not only so it could be ready for the Muslim fast celebration of Ramadan, but also to prevent anti-Muslim groups from gaining traction.

The purchase of the building required no zoning changes or votes by trustee boards that could have sparked debate, and the building in the largely Catholic neighborhood had previously been a Hindu temple. Some residents admitted that they were still slightly uncomfortable with the mosque in the neighborhood. But City Council member James Oddo said that in addition to the better outreach effort this time around, a lot of the anger on the previous plan had stemmed from the secretive way in which the Catholic parish had gone about trying to sell the convent.

Meanwhile, a proposed plan for a mosque by developer Sharif El-Gamal in Lower Manhattan is still an issue in Brooklyn and Queens’ ninth congressional district, where businessman Bob Turner and City Council member David Weprin are running for Anthony Weiner’s old seat in a Sept 13. special election. Turner recently started a TV ad campaign criticizing Weprin and President Barack Obama for their support of the project. He also said in his campaign that the mosque should not get any public money. But as the New York Daily News reported, the developers do not yet have the nonprofit status necessary to receive funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and so their application for $5 million in funding cannot be fulfilled. It would have gone against 266 other projects worth $191 million competing for $17 million from the LMDC. [NYT] and [Daily News]

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