Shuttered for more than two years, the former Burger King location at 2481 Knapp Street has been converted into a temporary prayer space for local Muslims to observe Ramadan.
The Muslim American Society has taken over the space with a one-month lease, allowing them to celebrate one of the religion’s most important holidays near their homes. The group sought out a temporary place of worship while their permanent location, 2812 Voorhies Avenue, nears completion.
“The [Voorhies Avenue] building wasn’t going to be ready for Ramadan, and they need a facility, so they rented that place. They have a lease. They have all their paperwork. They’re only there for one month,” said Kenan Tashkent, the 61st Precinct’s liaison to the Muslim community. Tashkent met with the mosque’s congregants and leadership yesterday, and noted that the Voorhies Avenue location remains a few months away from completion.
Paper signs have been taped up in English and Arabic at the Knapp Street storefront. The interior has been carpeted, with a curtain separating prayer spaces for men and women, as is tradition.
“They were very nice, very cooperative. They told me everything. They’ve got all of their paperwork and they don’t need to disturb the neighborhood or anything. It’s their holiday,” he added.
Ramadan began this past Saturday, June 28, and ends on July 27. It’s the most sacred month for Muslims, marking Muhammed’s first revelations. It is observed by fasting, donating to charity, prayer and recitation of the Quran.
Prior to establishing a local site, area Muslims had to travel to Brighton Beach, Bath Beach or head further north in Brooklyn to attend a mosque. More than just miles away, many of the institutions are far over capacity, causing overflows onto sidewalks and streets during high holidays like Ramadan – which the mosque organizers hope to reduce by establishing a local site.
Organizers from the mosque could not be reached for this article.
Storobin’s original letter focused largely on building and zoning issues related to the project, but closed with a suggestion that the mosque’s backers, the Muslim American Society, has ties to radical organizations.
A request for a copy of Bloomberg’s letter to Storobin did not receive a response, but something in it must have made Storobin ditch all that language about zoning, and focus solely on those alleged ties and the “well-being of my constituents.”
Mosque construction in February. (Photo by nolastname.)
The ongoing issue of the proposed mosque and Islamic community center slated to be built in Sheepshead Bay has the community divided and the local politicians spinning the story from all angles.
Most recently, we covered a backpack giveaway that occurred at at 2812 Voorhies Avenue, at the mosque’s construction site. The giveaway was sponsored by the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and it received no less debate than the proposed mosque itself. In fact, there was a small protest at the site on the day of the giveaway event.
The New York Times ran a piece that tied the backpack giveaway to the larger issue of the split opinions related to the construction project.
The Times writes:
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.
Those against the mosque cite parking and traffic concerns mainly.
“We understand that this is the First Amendment, that everyone has a right to pray, but what about our rights as a residents?” said Victor Benari, 58, one of the two protesters on hand last month. “It’s provocation, 100 percent. Why here? Why not build on a nice big commercial street?”
There are, however, others who believe that it will divide the neighborhood.
“Yes, they are smiling, but you know what’s behind their smiles?” said Leonid Krupnik to the Times. He was one of the two protesters at the giveaway. “Hatred. They want to create a caliphate. They want to push people out of this neighborhood.”
Krupnik belongs to a local group who calls themselves the Bay People. The group’s efforts center on blocking the mosque from being erected. However, due to laws which make it very difficult to oppose a house of worship, the best they can do is delay the project.
The Times writes, “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.”
It does seem, however, that opposition is loosening. Whereas last year, the police were called to the backpack giveaway to keep order, this year only the two protestors came. For the backers of the project, this is good news.
To celebrate the new school year, local Muslims, the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) are teaming up to give out free school bags and school supplies to the Sheepshead Bay community this Saturday, August 25.
A total of 300 school bags containing notebooks, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, rulers, crayons and more will be distributed. The giveaway is part of a larger event organized by ICNA, in which 5,000 bags packed with supplies will be given out to needy children around New York City through August and September.
“Many families in New York are under financial pressure; some have lost jobs and find it difficult to buy school supplies for their children,” said Salman Khan, Project Director for ICNA NY. “We hope this initiative will cater to these needs of low-income families, and help build a better future for our children.”
When: Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.
Where: MAS Sheepshead Bay Center, 2812 Voorhies Avenue
Other dates and locations can be found on the organization’s website. Above is a video produced by ICNA promoting the event.
Reader and Bay People member Victor Benari e-mailed us last week, attaching a quote from Ben Akselrod, who is facing off against Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in the Democratic primary next month.
The quote, originally published in the Russian newspaper The Reporter, refers to the so-called “Ground Zero” Islamic Center, as well as the proposed mosque at 2812 Voorhies Avenue. It was translated as follows:
I do not believe that most representatives and officials from the state and the city approve of the construction of a mosque at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack and in this neighborhood in Sheephead Bay where Muslims certainly don’t live. These representatives are quiet and vote “yes” because it is politically correct. They lie to themselves and their constituents. I’m not a xenophobe; I’m not against mosques, churches and synagogues. But if one mosque – an insult to the memory of victims, the other – a challenge to the community living in this area, so I would like to sort things out, who is behind this, and where does the financing come from for this provocative demonstration. And I would request an investigation as to how the city officials gave permission for the construction of such a large-scale structure on the narrow Voorhies Ave and which officials have signed-off on this.
There are so many things that I simply cannot tolerate as a citizen, but I see that my representatives and the representatives of people like me circumvent this issue-no matter what the outcome as long as they don’t hurt themselves.
The quote confirms what Sheepshead Bites speculated back in May, when Akselrod announced his campaign, when the candidate made thinly-veiled references to the mosque construction in an attack against Cymbrowitz.
“Nobody should be defending illegal construction in your backyard because of political correctness,” Akselrod said.
The quote appeared to be in reference to the Sheepshead Bay mosque being built at 2812 Voorhies Avenue. Opponents of the mosque frequently mix arguably legitimate complaints about building violations and zoning with racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric– and the main opposition group, Bay People, along with the Brooklyn Tea Party, has slammed Cymbrowitz in the past for not speaking out against the mosque’s development. Akselrod appears to be doing no different here, conflating concerns about over-development with fear-mongering speculation about the mosque’s financing.
Akselrod elaborated on his concerns regarding the mosque’s backers to Brooklyn Daily.
“The Muslim American Society — the organization behind this mosque — originate from the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was outlawed in the U.S.,” said Akselrod, alleging the mosque backers have terrorist roots.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood has not been “outlawed” in the U.S., and the government even recognizes some of its more radical chapters. The group is not considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and has renounced violence – though is sympathetic to violent anti-Israel groups such as Hamas.
The mosque is not in Cymbrowitz’s district, the district that Akselrod is running for.
Akselrod took to a podium in front of Baku Palace (2001 Emmons Avenue), flanked by two dozen or so supporters on Sunday, touting his Russian immigrant roots and commitment to conservative Jewish values. Among those who stood with Akselrod were Russian leaders including radio host Gregory Davidzon and Ari Kagan, as well as local rabbis and Akselrod’s former boss, ex-State Senator Seymour Lachman.
(Akselrod begins speaking in the above video at the 20:00 mark.)
To find a prelude to those successes one must only look back two years, to the last time Cymbrowitz faced a challenger: Republican opponent Joseph Hayon in 2010.
Spending only $615, Hayon reaped 43 percent of the vote – a narrow victory for an incumbent with a sizable warchest.
Akselrod appears to be cribbing from the GOP campaigns of his upstart predecessors – especially Hayon.
For example, Akselrod spoke of curriculum requirements in New York schools that challenge conservative Jewish customs.
“[Students are] being taught alternative lifestyles,” Akselrod stated. “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school. We deserve to raise our children with the values that we cherish. We should be able to do what is right for us.”
In reality, the bill Hayon and, presumably, Akselrod refer to is the “Dignity For All Students Act,” passed in 2010, to protect students from harassment and discrimination. The bill establishes mechanisms for schools to report and address discrimination and harassment based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, gender and – the one that Hayon and now Akselrod have focused on – sexual orientation. The legislation also issued a broad mandate to school regents to develop instruction in “civility, citizenship and character education.”
Private and religious schools are exempted in the bi-partisan bill, which passed the Assembly 138-to-four, and has not yet been implemented.
Though Cymbrowitz’s name was never uttered during the announcement, other elements of Akselrod’s platform were thinly-veiled attacks on the sitting assemblymember.
“Nobody should be defending illegal construction in your backyard because of political correctness,” Akselrod declared, as he rattled off his stances on issues as varied as education (above), small business regulations and integrity.
Notably, at least two members of Bay People were at the announcement to support Akselrod.
Also notably, the mosque is not in Cymbrowitz’s district.
As the campaign gears up, it will be an interesting battle for political observers. If, as in the Fidler-Storobin campaign, the 11-year incumbent seeks to snap up the Jewish and Russian voting blocs by trying to appear more aligned with their interests, he’ll likely lose the battle of public perception to the candidate who is actually Russian and a devout Jew – despite the fact that Cymbrowitz has directed a bevy of funds to Jewish causes over the years and supported the community’s social agenda (such as his vote against legalizing same sex marriage).
However, an Akselrod win would blunt the campaign of David Storobin, who many believe may attempt a general election challenge for the seat as well. Party labels aside, Akselrod and Storobin appear to have almost identical stances on most issues.
However, if Cymbrowitz takes a different tack – a rather unlikely one – and mobilizes new voters from other portions of the community to pull a win, he could redefine the evolving political narrative of the area and create a new power base. But once he gets past those primaries, if Storobin jumps in the race, he’ll be pressed to make the same case twice.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper update on the Sheepshead Bay mosque (2812 Voorhies Avenue). Last we heard, the opponents of the mosque, Bay People, lost their zoning challenge against the construction, but vowed to push forward with their lawsuit against the mosque’s backers (who, it should be noted, have filed a countersuit).
As the picture above illustrates, construction at the site has been moving along swiftly. The steel and cinder block frame is just about done on the first two stories, and work has started on the third (and final) floor. The third floor will be recessed from the front.
For what it’s worth, several readers have sent us e-mails noting that it’s not nearly as big as they expected.
That hasn’t soothed the fears of Bay People members, though. The opposition distributed an informational packet to media and local leaders in January summarizing their complaints and compiling letters to and from elected officials, attorneys, city agencies, et cetera. The packet also blasted some leaders that they felt were ignoring their concerns.
Though the group insists in the document that their concerns are about traffic, parking and quality of life, they also cast doubt on the background of the organizers.
“The organization behind the project ‘has a troubling history of associates with radical organizations and individuals that promote terrorism, anti-Semitist and reject Israel’s right to exist,’” they write.
The complete packet can be seen at the end of this post.