Backers of the proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay aren’t letting a few angry neighbors and a bomb threat deter them from seeing their dreams become a reality.
“We are not backing off,” Ibrahim Anse, a backer for the Voorhies Avenue mosque project who is also the group’s main architect. “This is our right and it’s a cause we believe in.”
Anse’s words defiantly counter the vitriol spewed on the block between East 28th and East 29th streets last month when 200 protesters inferred that the mosque’s builders were connected to Islamic extremists.
One neighbor even claimed he would blow the mosque up if it was built.
Other opponents have said that the mosque and community center would create traffic and parking nightmares for the neighborhood.
“We’re not racist, we’re realists,” said Susan Gerber, a 30-year resident of Sheepshead Bay. “We are entitled to traffic studies and noise studies and safety studies. People will be walking in the gutter to get around [the mosque]. They’ll be all kinds of fatalities.”
Yet Anse says the four-story building will have very little impact on the block.
The mosque will be open five times a day for prayers, but Anse doesn’t expect more than 20 people to show up for services. About 150 worshippers would come to the mosque during Friday and holiday services, and most of the faithful will come on foot from within the neighborhood.
“And if they park illegally and get a ticket, they deserve it,” he added. “[Opponents] have an image in their heads that this is going to be a school with 500 to 600 students, but that’s a complete exaggeration. There are not going to be that many people coming. It’ll serve about 150 families, but not all of them are going to be gathered at the same place at the same time.
“Some may notice a change in the area, but not in the way the neighborhood thinks,” he said.
The mosque and community center is the brainchild of longtime Sheepshead Bay resident Ahmed Allowey, who envisions a mosque on the first two floors and classrooms and a library on the third and fourth floors.
Once its built, it will be run by the Muslim American Society, a nationwide organization that some claim is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that wants to create an Islamic state in the U.S.
Yet Mahdi Bray, the Muslim American Society’s executive director, said those allegations couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We were formed in 1993 as a Muslim-American organization,” he said. “Even when we talk about international matters, we do it from a Muslim-American perspective. We’re not a mouthpiece for any group outside the U.S.
“We have an excellent record with local law enforcement,” he continued, adding that the Muslim American Society already runs a mosque on Bath Avenue in Bath Beach. “We’ve been across the street from a police station [the 62nd Precinct stationhouse] for 10 years. If we were up to something shady, they would have known about it.”
Lana Safah, an administrator at the Bath Beach mosque, said affairs such as weddings and funerals probably won’t be held at the Voorhies Avenue mosque. Rather, those events will still be held at her house of worship.
“[The mosque] will just accommodate the community in that neighborhood,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to go from Exit 9 on the Belt Parkway to Exit 5 just to say prayers that don’t exceed 10 minutes. It’ll serve the local and the immediate needs of the community.”
And when she says the community — she means the entire community.
Besides religious instruction, other classes, such as English as a second language instruction, will be available, she said.
“The mosque will target the needs of the Muslim community, but be open to anybody who needs it,” she said, adding she hopes residents of Voorhies Avenue and Muslim worshippers learn to respect each other over time.
“We’re not backing away, but we don’t want to force this on the community either,” she said, calling the hate spewed at last month’s rally “unfortunate and disappointing.”
“We do not believe [the anti-Muslim] rhetoric is the sentiment of everyone in that area,” she said. “We know the people of Sheepshead Bay believe in diversity.”