NY: MUSLIMS LOOK TO PLANT ROOTS IN NORTHERN WESTCHESTER
It was 10 years ago that a group of highly educated, affluent Muslims who had been drawn to the comfortable lifestyle and top-ranked schools of northern Westchester began to pursue a vision of a new community.
They would set up a temporary mosque, begin to meet their neighbors, and start raising money to build a full-fledged Islamic center among the many well-to-do synagogues and churches north of Interstate 287.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 intervened - bringing unexpected waves of attention to their faith and forcing many American Muslims to explain politics in far-away lands. But the focused leadership of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society pressed on, and the community is now ready to plant Muslim roots in the upper county's pricey real estate.
The group bought 8.3 acres on Pines Bridge Road in New Castle in 2004 for more than $1 million, and has introduced plans to construct a two-story building there that would include a mosque, social hall and classrooms. The town's review process is just getting under way.
"I think people here are educated," said Rhonda Khalifeh, 16, a student at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua who is growing up as a suburban Muslim- American. "They understand that just because there are crazy people in the world, it doesn't have anything to do with us."
Developing a mosque this year is a major undertaking, and not only because Muslims must raise cash in lieu of taking out loans that include interest, forbidden by the Quran. With many New Yorkers still basing their impressions of Islam on international news reports, members of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society have to introduce the very concept of an American Muslim community that, in many ways, is classically suburban.