MA: Attacks Stall Boston Mosque Project

MA: Attacks Stall Boston Mosque Project

Yvonne Abraham and Stephen Kurkjian, Boston Globe
Boston’s new Mosque and Cultural Center was meant to be a beacon of tolerance, a symbol of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, the unfinished red-brick shell at Roxbury Crossing has become just the opposite.

Conceived before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and blessed by the city, the mosque has been beset by challenges. A Mission Hill man is suing the city, alleging that the land deal that got the project underway was unfair. Others have accused officials of the Cambridge-based Islamic Society of Boston, which is building the mosque, of sympathizing with Islamic extremists.

The accusations have battered the project. Donations have slowed to a trickle and Islamic society officials blame the allegations of extremism, which they have vehemently denied, for deterring benefactors. The funding difficulties have all but halted construction and forced the society to seek bank loans to complete the project, a step they had long hoped to avoid, given Islam’s prohibition on charging and paying interest. However, those loans were denied, society officials said.

Mosque supporters say the harm done goes beyond bricks and mortar, that the rancor surrounding the project has deepened suspicions between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Roxbury site has become a setting for conflicts that extend far outside the neighborhood, into issues of constitutional rights, Middle East politics, and national security.

“One of the major objectives of this project was to be interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in recognition that there is a lot of misunderstanding among Americans about Islam, and quite frankly among Muslims about American culture and society,” said Salma Kazmi, assistant director of the Islamic Society of Boston. “This feeds a lot of resentment and mistrust, the sense of people generally being against us. It’s not a healthy environment. . .”

In October, Islamic Society officials filed a lawsuit because of media reports and statements by various groups linking mosque officials to terrorist groups. The defendants include The Boston Herald, WFXT-TV (Channel 25), the David Project, a pro-Israel group, and Steven Emerson, a specialist on terrorism. In the suit, the Islamic Society vehemently denies any connection to radical Islam. The suit alleges that the David Project, reporters, and others joined together “in a concerted, well-coordinated effort to deprive . . . members of the Boston-area Muslim community of their basic rights of free association and the free exercise of their religion” under the Constitution. . .

Mosque supporters describe the efforts to link mosque officials to Islamic radicalism as intolerance at best, a witch hunt at worst. . .

“I’m not aware that any formal charges have been brought against anybody at the mosque, said Gail Marcinkiewicz, spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston. . .

The difficulties surrounding the project have raised concerns among Muslims in the area, who thought the new mosque was to have symbolized “the Muslim community coming into its own in Boston and in Massachusetts,” said Hamza Pelletier, a Muslim political activist.

“While some people might say there is a constitutional backing for what they’re doing, it seems that it’s more a front for people [who want] to disrupt the progress of the Muslim community in Boston,” Pelletier said. . .

“Muslims are very upset,” said Mushtaque Mirza, an Indian Muslim who has been active in the community for 30 years. ”Muslims finally had a feeling this is really a mosque, with a dome structure, a minaret. Anybody would feel it’s discrimination that when it comes to the mosque, it is always depicted as [supporting] terrorism.”


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