Sarasota County — Diversity.

That’s what Hytham Bakr said he thought Sarasota was all about.

But since county commissioners imposed restrictions on the mosque he attends that other houses of worships don’t have to follow, he questions whether diversity is just talk.

“Are they truly interested in diversity?” Bakr asked about county officials. “They want to talk about diversity, but they don’t want to see us around.”

Bakr’s assessment comes two weeks after county commissioners gave the mosque on North Lockwood Ridge Road permission to expand, but without any portion that would be visible above the tree line. Commissioners placed a 40-feet height restriction on the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, the only mosque serving Sarasota and Manatee counties.

That restriction hasn’t been imposed on any of the 14 other religious groups seeking county commission approval for similar permits since 2002…

The mosque’s troubles, however, fit in with a pattern of stories that Islamic-American groups in the United States say have become more prevalent since Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’m not surprised,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C. “We see stories around the country of Muslims having an extra-difficult time getting things approved, and getting permission to build or expand mosques.”

Ahmed said the 9/11 attacks increased fear and misconceptions about Islam and the people who worship at mosques. Those emotions have created subtle barriers that make it more difficult for Muslims seeking local approval to grow their communities, Ahmed said.

Even in communities that pride themselves on diversity, she said, it has become more difficult to establish new mosques. Similar fights have arisen in Raleigh, N.C., and in parts of Illinois, she said.


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