A cluster of young Muslims in matching yellow T-shirts and broad smiles handed out free school supplies to a line of needy families in front of a gated construction site in the waning days of summer. Across the quiet residential street, two men glared at them, holding up protest signs.
The narrow avenue divided the two views of a three-story mosque and Islamic community center that is slowly being built on Voorheis Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, capturing the lingering tensions over a project that has split this multiethnic, but mostly Russian-Jewish, residential neighborhood that hugs the Atlantic shoreline.
The mosque’s backers say 150 to 200 Muslim families who live within walking distance are in need of a local place to pray. The mosque, they want to reassure neighbors, will be an asset, providing afterschool activities to children, a Boy Scout troop open to all and charity events, like the school supply giveaway.
But a determined group of opponents see in the half-built concrete and brick frame a provocation. To them, it is a blight, a source of future traffic congestion and worse: a beachhead for Muslim expansion in Brooklyn and a beacon for anti-Semitism.
“Yes, they are smiling, but you know what’s behind their smiles?” said Leonid Krupnik, 62, one of the two protesters late last month. Like many of the mosque’s opponents, he has strong memories of anti-Semitism as a Jew from the former Soviet Union. “Hatred. They want to create a caliphate. They want to push people out of this neighborhood.”
Mr. Krupnik and other opponents say they are being unfairly typecast as xenophobes and racists. They do nevertheless worry that the neighborhood will change so much that non-Muslims will want to leave and they fear that the mosque will be used to promote radical thinking.
“If the area, suddenly, is like a suburb of some Muslim country, it’s not very pleasant,” said Alexandr Tenenbaum, who lives several blocks away. “I am always scared because you see these kind of people, but we can’t say it.”
Mr. Ahmed and the Muslim American Society, which bought the property from him, say the suspicion is unfounded. They also say the statements by the politicians engender hate.
Mr. Ahmed, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1997, said that because of the tolerance he found in Brooklyn over the years, he had not expected such determined opposition.