New Jersey: Mosque takes over church, quickly disrupt neighbors quality of life…AND THEY DON’T CARE
CLIFTON – A new Richfield mosque’s leadership shot back at fierce critics who claimed its burgeoning congregation created parking and quality of life issues during the month-long Muslim celebration of Ramadan.
The Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) held its grand opening on June 3 at 259 Pershing Road, the former home of the Richfield Christian Reformed Church. In the weeks which followed, incensed residents complained that worshipers tied up nearby residential streets, blocked driveways and, on one occasion, parked in front of a fire hydrant.
A contentious debate spilled over into the Clifton City Council’s July 5 meeting.
“I’ve approached this council three times now and, to date, [received] no answers, no solutions and an enormous amount of lip service,” said Mary Fran Simmons-Falluca. “I am angry.”
Officials countered that City Manager Dominick Villano and Clifton Councilwoman Lauren Murphy have met with the mosque’s decision-makers to rectify the problem.
A Pershing Road resident, Simmons-Falluca said car headlights light up neighborhood homes “like Christmas trees” and that she was unable to get out of her own driveway on Saturday. During last weekend’s end of Ramadan celebration, she said more than 500 congregants converged on the neighborhood which, she said, “without a doubt” exceeds the volume the area can accommodate.
According to ICPC officials, the mosque has formed a volunteer crew to self-police anyone blocking driveways or fire hydrants on Pershing.
“The problem for the mosque is that [Richfield Christian Reformed Church] was a sleepy hollow because it was dwindling and dwindling and dwindling in numbers,” Mayor James Anzaldi said. “So, now it’s a vibrant congregation and we’re in need of solving a parking issue there.”
The mayor said the City’s administration and council members have discussed the possibility of constructing a parking lot on the mosque’s three-acre property.
Pastor Mike Weber, of the United Reformed Church of Clifton, expressed concern that some residents went too far in voicing their opposition to the new house of worship.
“There have been some very racist and bigoted remarks on social media regarding the presence of this mosque in our community,” the pastor said. “I sense a dis-ease in our community over the presence of the mosque. I would like to encourage the council not to take legislative action but to facilitate discussions between those who’ve been affected by the parking and the mosque itself.”
Weber said he was optimistic that the two sides could arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.
Councilman Peter Eagler supported the pastor’s recommendation of bringing the two sides together via the offices of City Manager Villano.
“I think it’s a good idea because there’s misinformation out there that keeps getting things twisted around,” Eagler said.
Councilman Joe Kolodziej said the municipal body hears and agrees with the complaints residents registered but stipulated government is “a large wheel” that turns slowly.
“Once it gets moving you have momentum but that takes a lot of time, consideration and effort,” he added. “So, to all the people who think that this council is not listening to the complaints I can assure you that that is not the case. We share those concerns.”
Kolodziej opined the over-parking in the area is an example of the new house of worship experiencing “growing pains.”
The Islamic group’s outreach coordinator, Salaheddin Mustafa, contended there should no longer be an overflow of parked cars since Ramadan ended. He said the ICPC expects Ramadan to present a “one-month” issue each year.
“But, we want to be good neighbors,” said Mustafa, whose Donna Drive home is a few blocks from the mosque’s property. “I want that neighborhood to be quiet as well and I don’t want my property value to go down either.”
Mustafa said the group is “willing to do anything” to resolve the problem but prefaced that the community must trust the Islamic organization. He added that anyone who parks in front of a fire hydrant is “an idiot who should be ticketed and towed” but stipulated that the mosque should not be blamed for the mistake of one individual.
The tone of Tuesday’s meeting escalated during the public recognition portion.
At the close of Simmons-Falluca’s comments, she held up a photograph which she said showed Councilwoman Murphy dressed “in the garment of a Muslim.” Simmons-Falluca said the image “rattled her to no end” before demanding that Murphy step down from the Council, claiming she was “in conflict of interest” and that she “clearly is not working for all taxpayers.”
Anzaldi came to the defense of his council colleague, stating that he wears a yarmulke whenever he attends a Jewish funeral or removes his shoes if it is customary when entering a particular church.
“That’s just respect for the house of worship,” Anzaldi said. “So, if a member of public life wears something to show respect for that religion, that’s what America’s about. Freedom of religion is such an important thing for all of us.”
Murphy, a Catholic, said she covered her head “out of respect” for the mosque.
“I am concerned as a resident and father of four kids by the nature of some of the commentary,” said Mustafa. “Given the rhetoric out there by political candidates, it’s not easy being a Muslim nowadays.”
He said Murphy’s decision to wear a head cover at the mosque’s grand opening was “the respectful thing” to do. “To call that anything other than a nice gesture, or to intimate that has anything to do with a bad intention, tells
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