NJ mosque uses NYPD surveillance to emphasize in an ad campaign that it has nothing to hide

NEWARK, N.J. — The leader of a New Jersey mosque that was listed in a secret NYPD surveillance report is using the incident to try and recruit new members and promote a more positive view of Muslims.

Imam Mustafa El-Amin of Masjid Ibrahim in Newark ran an advertisement Thursday in The Star-Ledger newspaper urging people to read the Quran, denouncing terrorism and emphasizing that his mosque has an “open door” policy.

Under a bold-letter headline that reads: “NYPD Surveillance of Muslim Community,” the ad says there’s no need for the NYPD or any other agency to conduct secret surveillance of the mosque, because: “We have nothing to hide. Our doors are open.”

El-Amin says he came up with the idea after reflecting on a phrase in the Quran — “With every difficulty, there is relief” — and realizing that finding a positive, teachable moment out of a negative experience is a concept deeply rooted in Islam.

“We’ve heard a lot about the negative effects, but once you get this level of exposure, one of the best things about it is, if you’re positive, than the positive will win out,” he said.

Attendance at El-Amin’s largely African-American mosque, housed in a converted storefront along a gritty commercial strip in Newark, has not waned in light of the NYPD revelations, he said. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to run the ad for a variety of reasons: to attract new people to the mosque — potential Muslim converts, law enforcement officials or people of any faith wanting to learn more about Islam — to emphasize the mosque’s long-running stance against terrorism, and to set non-Muslims at ease, especially those who were once friendly to the mosque but are now wary of visiting Muslim businesses or mosques that were listed in the NYPD report.

NYPD’s Muslim surveillance extended well beyond New York

NEWARK, N.J. — The report was stamped top secret.

Inside was a confidential dossier compiled by the New York Police Department documenting “locations of concern” in Newark — the city’s 44 mosques, Muslim-owned restaurants and businesses and Islamic schools.

In 2007, the NYPD began an undercover spy operation within New Jersey’s largest city to find and document where Muslims lived, worked and prayed.

Now, city officials and many of those targeted are voicing anger at the disclosures, which came in the wake of an Associated Press report showing that a secret NYPD surveillance program aimed at Muslims had extended well beyond New York City.

In Newark, the NYPD apparently cataloged every mosque and Muslim-owned business in the city — from fried-chicken joints to houses of worship located in private homes.

There was no mention of terrorism or any criminal wrongdoing in the 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, which described the aim of the surveillance as compiling “the existence of population centers and business districts of communities of interest.”

Islamic group sues NJ town over its refusal to allow a mosque in a former banquet hall

NEWARK, N.J. — An Islamic group has sued a suburban town it says engaged in religious discrimination by abruptly changing zoning regulations to prevent the opening of a mosque.
Members of the Al Falah Center and local residents filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Trenton against Bridgewater Township’s mayor, council and planning officials. “What should have been an uncomplicated approval of the application then foundered in a storm of anti-Muslim sentiment and hysteria,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the sudden zoning changes thwarted plans the group had been working on, with the township’s knowledge, to convert a closed banquet hall in a mostly residential area into a mosque and community center. It accuses town officials of bowing to pressure from protesters and an anti-mosque Internet campaign.

Town officials voted to change the rules for houses of worship, prohibiting them in residential zones unless they fronted on state highways, court papers say. The ruling affected only the mosque, the suit says, as 17 existing religious facilities in Bridgewater — several in residential areas — were allowed to remain. The suit seeks to block enforcement of the ordinance and allow the group’s application to be processed.