Another Mosque Emerging In Southern California?

It is like a disease when it spreads, and it has to be cured before it collects more victims!

Temecula, California, has little in common with New York City. But the debate over a new mosque in the sleepy suburban town east of Camp Pendleton echoes many of the themes expressed in the controversy surrounding the Park 51 Islamic center to be built near the World Trade Center site.

In Southern California, the question is whether the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley should be granted a permit to build a mosque on land it owns next to two established churches. The Islamic Center presently holds prayer services in a warehouse next to a pipeline company, down the street from a smog-test station and masonry supply yard. And during Friday prayers on July 30, around 25 local conservative activists stood outside shouting slogans of hate through a bullhorn, carrying signs with messages such as “No More Mosques in America”, and brought along several dogs, hoping to offend Muslim sensibilities.

(Does America have a Muslim problem?)

“We’ve never had a problem with anybody before this,” said Iman Mahmoud Harmoush, the Center’s spiritual leader and a lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino. “It is common sense that you don’t disrupt a religious service by creating noise and bringing dogs.”

Some locals, however, rallied to the Muslim community’s defense. “We had about 75 people in solidarity with the mosque,” said Rev. Joe Zarro, co-chair of the local interfaith council. “The Temecula area is very fair and tolerant. There are a lot of social conservatives but they mostly support the mosque. The people speaking out against the mosque don’t have any relationship with Islam and are coming from a place of ignorance.”

(See photos of Muslim life in America.)

Certainly, from a place of paranoia: One of the anti-mosque protest leaders, Diana Serafin, 59, says Muslims want to take over the United States from within. “We have a constitutional right to freedom of religion,” she argues. “But Islam is more than a religion. It is an ideology to enforce Sharia law [Islamic jurisprudence] in America, and Sharia law is in direct contrast to the American Constitution.”

The proposed 25,000-square-foot mosque would be approximately the same size as the churches next door and hold between 150 to 300 worshipers, say mosque officials and city planners. Assistant Temecula City Manager Bob Johnson says the city will do a traffic study before the mosque goes before the Planning Commission for final approval in November. In addition to the protest and a petition drive against the mosque, the Islamic Center of Temecula must also contend with a church neighbor whose pastor is anything but friendly.

(Watch a video on a play targeted toward post 9/11 life for Muslims.)

Pastor Bill Rench, whose Calvary Baptist Church sits just across the cul de sac from the mosque site, says Islam and Christianity are like “oil and water” and that Islam is “intolerant at its core”. He argues that when Islam becomes dominant in a society, “you also see a repression of freedom of speech and religious expression. In my view, building a mosque in Temecula would act as a magnet. It would embolden the more aggressive acting on the beliefs.” In an interview with TIME, Rench accused the Imam of refusing to disavow Islamic terrorism. Harmoush says this is patently untrue. “Unconditionally, I have explained to him (Rench) and others, that I disagree and condemn all sorts of violence by the mentioned organizations,” Harmoush explained. On Tuesday, Rench and Harmoush squared off on CNN in an interview conducted by John King. They did not bridge their differences.

Ron Patterson, 65, says a lady recently canvassed his nearby neighborhood with a petition to stop the mosque. She told him that 3,000 people would be attending the mosque with services three times a day. The retired mailman signed because he is concerned about increased traffic and about possible religious extremists. “I am sure most mosques are perfectly fine, but it is a natural concern.” Patterson says he thinks the mosque will be built. “If the city says okay, what are you going to do? It’s freedom of speech and religion.”

Antagonism towards Islam in Temecula breaks largely on generational lines. At a small well-manicured park near the churches and proposed mosque, a group of young adults playing basketball tended to shrug off the controversy.   Finishing a jump shot, Dante Paez, a 29-year-old African American, said, “I am not religious, but it seems something like that should never be wrong. I say build it.” Paul Lopez, 34, added, “Why are people mad about something that brings joy to people. To each his own.” Brianna Bowers, 16, has Muslim friends and said there had been discussions about the controversy at school and at her home. She says her Muslim friends observe that there are dozens of churches in town and wonder what is wrong with building one mosque.

Bowers, who is African-American and Latino, says, “I think it would broaden the culture in Temecula.”

At a local shopping center, Disa Dearie, a 39-year-old mother of four and born-again Christian was not hostile

to the local project, although opposed the New York City one. “I don’t have a problem with the mosque down the street,” she said. “[But] I have a problem with the mosque in New York at Ground Zero. The mosque in New York is an aggressive affront to our nation. I believe in religious freedom, but a landing gear fell on that site — why not a non-denominational chapel?” She said opposition to the local mosque in Temecula came from older residents, not from her peers.

Read about another local mosque issue in a town in Tennessee.

Watch a video that goes inside the proposed Ground Zero mosque site.

via KEVIN O’LEARY Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010

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