Islamic cultural center gets the go-ahead in Serra Mesa

A local Afghan group won unanimous approval last night from a San Diego community advisory board to open an Islamic religious and cultural center in Serra Mesa. More than 65 residents filled a library meeting room for the issue before the Serra Mesa Community Planning Group. Last June, when the Afghani Community Islamic Center first proposed moving into a former bank building on Sandrock Road near Gramercy Drive, anonymous fliers on lampposts and in mailboxes had proclaimed “No Terrorists in Our Community.” But no anti-Islamic fears were voiced last night, only concerns common with any potential high-use project: traffic and parking. Leaders of the Afghan group, which has leased spaces in Kearny Mesa and Miramar since 1994, assured the committee that their center would rarely draw more than a few dozen people at a time, even during its main prayer services on Friday afternoons. Joseph Jawed Hayat, a board member and spokesman for the center, said one of its main aims will be to promote cross-cultural understanding between Afghan Muslims and the broader community. “Our goal is to create a dynamic so we can share information about each other,” he said. The group expects to open the center in two to three months, after obtaining design approvals and a conditional-use permit from the city planning officials.

Afghans again seek permission for center; Fliers labeled them terrorists

A local Afghan group will be back before a San Diego community planning committee tomorrow seeking approval for a religious and cultural center — and hoping this time not to be branded as terrorists. That’s what happened in June, when the Afghani Community Islamic Center first proposed moving into a former bank building in Serra Mesa. A near-record crowd of more than 100 turned out for an informational hearing, many alarmed by anonymous fliers they had found on lampposts and in their mailboxes exclaiming, “No Terrorists in Our Community!” Planning group leaders say the fliers were circulated by a small handful of opponents, at least one of whom apologized afterward. “We’re Americans. We’re not terrorists,” said Akbar Sadat, a board member for the center. “We live here. Our kids grow up here.” The county is home to about 10,000 Afghans, Sadat said. Many live in San Diego, but just as many are in outlying cities such as El Cajon and Vista. The majority have been in the United States at least 10 to 20 years and are U.S. citizens, he said. Sadat, 48, a microchip design engineer who has lived in San Diego for 26 years, said the Afghan center was chartered in 1994. It has operated out of a series of leased spaces in Kearny Mesa and Miramar, offering prayer services and cultural programs to its 400 to 500 members. The center bought the 7,300-square-foot bank building on Sandrock Road near Gramercy Drive for $1.5 million in January 2006 because of its central location. Members donated and raised the $500,000 down payment, abandoning their Miramar lease to pay the $10,000 mortgage in Serra Mesa, Sadat said. But the proposed relocation has been delayed months by building and code upgrades insisted upon by city officials. Serra Mesa Community Planning Group chairman Doug Wescott said projects like this go through two steps with his group — an informational presentation at one monthly meeting, then a vote of the 14-member board at another. Sadat said it has taken until now to be ready to ask the planning group for an up-or-down vote. It’s on the agenda for tomorrow’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa Library, 9005 Aero Drive. Sadat said the center would be used mostly for Islamic prayer services on Friday afternoons and for small, informal gatherings on other days of the week. He said it would have a library and other resources to help researchers and the public learn about Afghan culture and Islam. Part of its goal will be to reassure neighbors that local Afghans do not support the Taliban, Sadat said. “Everybody in Afghanistan hates these people,” he said. “Al-Qaeda and (the) Taliban, they’re destroying Afghanistan. They’re destroying my relatives.”

Autonomous mosques, optional minarets, appeased tensions: Tariq Ramadan pleads for independent mosques

Tariq Ramadan, professor at Oxford and the University of Rotterdam, participated in a conversation on state regulation of mosques in Switzerland. He acknowledged the growing fears of Swiss society of Muslims in their midst, yet urged thoughtful policy. In an effort to clarify the situation and appease tensions, Ramadan cites the work of sociologist Jocelyn Cesari. The building of mosques in Europe and in the United States, she asserts, have nothing to do with an interest in cultural dominance or the refusal to integrate Muslims into the broader society. Rather, it is the wish of Muslims, once installed in a city to construct places of worship that help them navigate their integration into broader society-all the while remaining devout. Ramadan clarifies that minarets are optional parts of mosque architecture, and that Muslim architecture is generally responsive to the new design concepts of changing locations. The only action that could jeopardize this acculturation is state control of Muslim architecture, mosque management and sermons. Islam, however, is increasingly subject in the West to suspicion, supervision, and security. Instead, Muslims must be engaged for creative solutions and be granted independence from populist politicians who garner political support through playing the fears of non-Muslims and xenophobes.

Plan for Arabic School in Brooklyn Spurs Protests

The Khalil Gibran International Academy was conceived as a public embrace of New York City’s growing Arab population and of internationalism, the first public school dedicated to the study of the Arabic language and culture and open to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. But nearly three months after plans for the middle school were first announced, a beleaguered Department of Education is fending off attacks from two angry camps: parents from Public School 282, the elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that was assigned to share building space with the Khalil Gibran school, and a handful of columnists who have called the proposed academy a madrassa, which teaches the Koran. Now the chancellor of schools, Joel I. Klein, is considering other locations for the school, or even postponing the opening for a year, according to several people involved in the discussions, and the whole endeavor has been turned into a test of tolerance – and its limits – in post-9/11, multiethnic New York.

The Islamic catacombs of Andalusia

The Muslim community of Spain and Andalusia is in halfway of a paradox. The so called garage Mosques portrait an image of clandestinely but at the same time every time that a temple construction project is submitted immediately the neighbours start to protest and the political forces erected obstacles.. However every Friday the 250.000 Muslims of Andalusia are in need of a proper place to pray. The garage-Mosques have to be considered as emergency solutions as most of them lack basic health conditions such as bathrooms and this should also be a good reason to fast-forward the building problems as sometimes a Mosque takes 20 years to be operative. Another problem is the dependency of foreign founds and therefore the obligation to follow a certain Muslim doctrine with all the perils that this may enclose.

French Court Backs Muslim School

LYON – A French court in the east-central city of Lyon has overturned a decision by the city’s top educational authority to close a Muslim secondary school. “Justice is served,” the school’s principal Nazir Hakim told on Tuesday, February 20. “We were confident that the French judiciary would give us back our right to open the school under relevant laws that guarantee freedom of establishing private schools in accordance with the state by-laws,” added Hakim, in an upbeat mood. The renovated building in the Lyon suburb of D’cines will be fully operating next year and will mainly teach state curricula in addition to Qur`an, jurisprudence, Islamic civilization and history. Private Muslim schools were an urgent demand by many Muslim families in France, especially after the state banned hijab and religious symbols at public schools.

Muslims ask Pope to Allow Them to Pray in Cathedral

A Spanish Muslim group has asked Pope Benedict XVI for permission to worship alongside Christians in the Great Mosque of Cordoba, turned into a cathedral in the 13th century. They sent a letter on Christmas to the Pope’s Spanish representative, asking that the building be opened for prayer by all religions as a model of tolerance and inter-faith dialogue. They hoped to follow up on the Pope’s recent gestures of goodwill towards Muslims on his trip to Turkey. “We invite you to create a new example, to send a message of hope to the world,” says the letter, which was published yesterday on the Spanish Muslim website Webislam. “Do not fear. Together we can show the violent, the intolerant, the anti-semites, the Islam-phobes and also those who believe that only Islam has a right to remain in the world, that prayer is the strongest weapon imaginable.” In 2004, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue rejected a similar request, leaving the decision to Spanish church authorities, who oppose Muslim prayer at the cathedral.

Mosque to be Built on Dairy Site

Plans to build a mosque on the site of a Windsor dairy will go forward after the Borough of Windsor decided not to appeal the ruling of the government planning inspector in favor of the Islamic center. Local councillors were disappointed at the advice to not challenge the appeal, but they are now working with planning officers to regulate usage of the building, including a ban on weddings, celebrations, and extended hours of operation. Despite the racially motivated violence that took place at the site in October, councillors said that good community relations could be maintained if Medina Dairy respected that the property was in a long-standing residential area.

In Berlin, Yet Another Mosque Controversy

It was to become a meeting place, where Muslims and non-Muslims could come together. Inssan, a German Muslim organisation, applied for a building permit in Neuk_lln for a large site with a mosque, seminar areas, a youth club and a women’s centre. However, the district administration opposes the project, citing Inssan’s possible connection with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially seen in Germany as an organisation that misuses Islam to further its own political ends. Inssan, in contrast, repeatedly emphasises its commitment to an open, German-speaking Islam and for social toleration. To exemplify this, representative Chaban Salih refers to their current campaign against forced marriages.

Participation Instead of Assimilation

Social participation is one of the immigrants’ most important demands. Most of them do not want to be integrated, if that means completely giving up their culture, language and religion. Most concepts, however, ignore the immigrants’ opinion and expectations altogether. “Do not threaten immigrants with sanctions and deportation”, asked the T_rkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (TGD) a few months ago. “The goals of integration cannot be achieved in any case by threats, but by providing equal opportunities in education and on the job market, by equal treatment, participation, co-operation and by the inclusion of the immigrants in the development process.” To date, not even the linguistic, cultural and religious variety of immigrants has been taken sufficient notice of in German society and in its social discourse, according to the TGD. Islam as a component of millions of immigrants’ religious identity represents a distinctive challenge to integration into German society, shaped as it is by its Christian past and present. “The legitimate fear of many Muslims, namely that integration would lead to assimilation, must therefore be pre-empted in the context of the integration process, with confidence-building measures”, insists the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. Conversely, two sets of developments have been observed so far. Some immigrants make do without their cultural-religious traditions, and thereby hope to secure faster social acceptance and integration. For another group, the fear of losing their traditions leads them to a renewed interest in religion.