Posted by: Lister | July 19, 2007

Children of Abraham

A goodnews story: Jews help Muslims fight for right to build mosque in Missouri.

When Rick Isserman found out last month that St. Louis County wouldn’t allow a group of Muslims to build a new mosque in south St. Louis County, the story sounded too familiar.

Forty-eight years earlier, Isserman’s grandfather, Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, fought to move his congregation, Temple Israel, from the city to the county, where the Jewish population had been relocating for some years. The city of Creve Coeur cited zoning problems and tried to block the move, but the rabbi and his flock took the case to the Missouri Supreme Court and prevailed.

[…] In the spring, the St. Louis County Council refused the Islamic Community Center’s request to rezone a 4.7-acre parcel it bought a year before for $1.25 million. The Muslims — mostly Bosnian immigrants — planned to build a second mosque and community center in addition to the current mosque and center off South Kingshighway in St. Louis.

When Khalid Shah, a member of the mosque and a friend of Isserman’s, told him about the council’s decision, the 53-year-old Department of Agriculture employee began making the connection to his family’s legal legacy.

“I’m fighting the same battle as my grandfather 50 years ago,” Isserman said. “It’s a different community and a different place, but it’s the same issue.”

[…] But the charge of discrimination is contentious, even among Bosnians.

“In my opinion this was not religious discrimination,” said Sukrija Dzidzovic, publisher and editor of Sabah, a Bosnian-American weekly newspaper based in St. Louis. “This was a mistake on Imam Hasic’s part. He should not have bought land that was zoned for commercial use, hoping that he could change the zoning.”

[…] Temple Israel’s rabbi, Mark Shook, who has worked with Hasic to try and get the council to reverse its decision, said Campisi might be wary of rezoning a piece of property that had guaranteed tax income.

“When someone takes a piece of commercial property out of the tax rolls, he is striking at the county’s bottom line,” he said. “But the underlying philosophy in giving tax breaks to religious institutions is that they better the community. That’s the price you pay.”

[…] The Muslims’ property had been approved for a 60,000-square-foot motorcycle dealership and a 5,000-square-foot fast-food restaurant. The owners of the dealership sold the land to the Muslim group last year.

In its report, the county’s planning commission said rezoning the property from commercial to residential to accommodate the mosque made sense for the area. “The proposed community center will also be less intense, and therefore more compatible with the adjacent single-family residences, than the uses currently authorized on this site,” the report says.

Three weeks earlier, a public hearing drew seven neighbors; only one objected to the plans.

“You can understand when there are objections to a plot of land going from residential to commercial,” Shook said. “But when someone wants to upgrade the zoning from commercial to residential and the council objects to that, people start wrinkling their noses.”

[…] Shah and Isserman spoke in June about the case at a monthly study group they started, in which about a dozen area Muslims and a dozen members of Temple Israel read and discuss the Quran and the Torah.

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