Relocation of mosque into black community escalates tensions in Pompano By Jean-Paul Renaud South Florida Sun-Sentinel June 13, 2006 Pompano Beach · A clash fueled by angry words has erupted over a plan to move a mosque from Old Pompano to the northwest part of the city, underscoring tensions between some in this city's black and Muslim communities. The Islamic Center of South Florida wants to move to a largely black, Christian section of Pompano Beach, where they have bought land meant to support their growing Muslim membership. But some leaders of the northwest area -- elected, religious and civic alike -- oppose a strong Muslim presence entering their neighborhoods. Muslims "don't contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community," said Commissioner E. Pat Larkins, who represents the area where the mosque would be located. "Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away." While Larkins cited frustration with Muslim market owners, others in the black community gave religious and ethnic reasons for opposing the mosque. Elected leaders will consider tonight whether the Islamic Center, which has operated in the Old Pompano neighborhood on Northeast Sixth Street for more than 20 years, can build a bigger mosque in the 1500 block of Northwest 16th Avenue. Larkins said he will ask the city attorney how the mosque can legally be prevented from opening its doors. "This is really shocking, and for it to come from a commissioner, it's really disturbing," said Imam Hasan Sabri, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center. "We should be working to bring people together and not create divisions among people." Others on the City Commission said they saw no problem with allowing the mosque into the northwest part of town. "This country is about freedom of religion and that means everybody," said Mayor John Rayson. "I'm going to listen and go on the merits of the issue and I'll certainly listen to the people who may be opposed, but if it's based strictly on religious grounds, I will not weigh heavily upon that type of argument." Commissioner Lamar Fisher also said he had no problem with the mosque. The Islamic Center wants to build a 29,000-square-foot complex on nearly five acres of land it owns. Plans call for a preschool, daycare, basketball courts and a soccer field -- facilities the center's leaders say the entire community would be welcome to use. The land is currently set aside as residential. The mosque needs permission from city commissioners to use it for a religious center. City Attorney Gordon Linn said commissioners have no basis to reject the Islamic Center's request solely for religious reasons. "I have no problem with them personally, but it does not flow well with the Christianity in our community," said Walter Hunter, who heads the nearby Collier City Neighborhood Council. He said the area would benefit more if the land were used for affordable housing. To Brian Willoughby, managing editor of the national magazine Teaching Tolerance, Larkins' comments "perpetuate stereotypes or one-dimensional views of one group of people." "The root of the word prejudice is to prejudge and that's clearly what's happening here," said Willoughby, whose magazine is published by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. The new mosque would be in an area where city officials count more than 100 churches. Some residents even call it the region's "Bible Belt." "Why are you coming into an all-Christian area where there aren't any Muslims?" asked the Rev. O'Neal Dozier of the Worldwide Christian Center, which is in Pompano Beach's northwest section, not far from where the mosque would be located. "Is it because you want to make converts or is it because you're not welcome any other place?" Sabri said the 250 Muslim members of the center, of which 15 percent are black, have outgrown their current mosque. They need more space, and a location close to Interstate 95 and other major roads. "We are supposed to believe that all people are equal, as all of us came from God," Sabri said. "It seems to me that they are not familiar with the Muslim community." Larkins, who is one of six votes on the City Commission, says a large mosque in his district will exacerbate deep-rooted tensions from a black community that feels mistreated by the few Muslims it encounters, mostly the owners of small grocery stores. "The fears that the people have are legitimate fears," Larkins said. "While the religious thing is what seems to be igniting the whole thing, I think a lot of people in the community have this bad taste in their mouth about the Muslim community not being good corporate partners in the community. They charge everything sky-high, donate to nothing and very seldom hire black folks." Sakher Hmeidan, a Muslim who has owned Starnet Groceries for 10 years, says he has always tried to keep a good relationship with the community that shops at his store--donating to the local high school, letting people pay him when they can, even giving away an occasional free meal. "If you're hungry or thirsty, I give it to you, that's no problem," Hmeidan said. "But don't come to me everyday." He then pointed to several small slips of paper taped near the cash register -- his system for tracking IOUs. "This guy owes me $100, but that's almost 3 months old," said the Jerusalem native. "I lost it. That's OK." City commissioners will have the final word Tuesday at their regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at Pompano Beach City Hall, 100 West Atlantic Boulevard. Jean-Paul Renaud can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4556. ----------------------------------------------- Photo: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/media/photo/2006-06/23886940.jpg Sakher "Rocky" Hmeidan, right, a member of the Islamic Center of South Florida, visits with customer Greg Williams at his small store in Pompano Beach. Hmeidan thinks reports of tension between the Muslim and black communities are not true. Some member of Pompano Beach's black community are upset over plans for the Islamic Center to move its mosque into their neighborhood. (Sun-Sentinel/Joe Cavaretta) Jun 13, 2006 -------------------------------- A tough decision. I wonder if the reverse would be the SAME. I guess "ruthless" white still stirs up trouble for all except himself. Their decision has been made.