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US Mosque Projects Face Opposition

US Mosque Projects Face Opposition
US Mosque Projects Face Opposition

As Americans debate a plan to build an Islamic center near the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, protesters in several communities across the United States are trying to block local mosque expansions.

Plans for a proposed Islamic center near the site known as "Ground Zero" have sparked protests and counter-protests in New York City.

But new mosques or mosque expansions at other sites across the country have also fueled protests in central Tennessee, among other places.

Tennessee resident Gary Middleton worries that the mosque could house extremists. "It's just another mosque, training kids to be terrorist," he said.

Stan Whiteway also objects to a new mosque for local Muslims. "I'm sorry, but they seem to be against everything that I believe in.  So I don't want them necessarily in my neighborhood," he said.

At the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in Southern California, worshippers meet in an industrial warehouse.

Plans to build a new mosque on the outskirts of town have met opposition, mostly from the Baptist church next door.  Its pastor says Islam and Christianity are incompatible.

The mosque's spiritual leader, Imam Mahmoud Harmoush, disagrees.  He says the two faiths have a common heritage and shared values.  Harmoush says the new complex will include additional classrooms, a basketball court and other facilities for children and families.  He says he believes people who oppose this and other mosques have a variety of motives.

"[For] some of them -- [a] misunderstanding of who we are.  [For] some -- [a] negative sentiment about Islamic religion at large.  And probably because of what's going on internally in the country -- some frustration regarding the economy and the politics," he said.

The imam says the fact that the United States has been fighting wars in Muslim countries might also have fueled fear of American Muslims.

Christina Abraham at the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sees a wave of prejudice that she says is fomented by conservative activists.

"And it's a scary thing to have grown up in a country where you are told that you have a constitution, everybody has a certain set of rights, these rights are inalienable, we are a diverse country and we should all love each other and get along.  And then to see this erupt so abruptly and so viciously, is scary," she said.

But in Los Angeles, some Muslims find cause for hope.

At the Islamic Center of Southern California,  worshipers say they are well-integrated in the community and have had no problems with neighbors.  Nevertheless, spokesman Maher Hathout is worried by what he views as scattered incidents of religious intolerance around the country.

"We will do America and we do ourselves great disservice, if we violate the Bill of Rights [of the U.S. Constitution] and the freedom of religion that actually are the soul and spirit of America," Hathout said.

In Temecula, Imam Harmoush says he hopes that will not happen.  He says most of the telephone calls that he has received have been supportive.  He listens to one on his answering machine.

"I just wanted to call and say that I am a citizen of the United States and I live in Temecula and I am all for this mosque being built," the message said.

One of the founding members of the Temecula mosque, Mohammad Khaled, says he came to the United States 35 years ago to enjoy its freedoms, including freedom of religion.  He says the mosque celebrates its American heritage and educates its youngsters to be better citizens.

"They are coming out lawyers and doctors and teachers.  They are all coming out of here, the new generation of the Muslims," he said.

Worshipers at Temecula's mosque say they hope that despite the controversy elsewhere in the country, approval for construction of their new facility will be granted later this year.

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