Vandalized West Kendall mosque reaches out to other faiths

| July 12, 2009

First it was a spray-painted swastika on a sign out front. Then bricks through the windows. Then a shower of 51 bullets.

Now, after a tire-slashing and more broken windows — this time by teens who told police they think ”all Muslims are terrorists” — how can members of a mosque protect themselves and educate others?

That was the main topic of conversation Tuesday evening at the Islamic School of Miami in West Kendall. Leaders at the school and mosque met with community members to discuss how to prevent more vandalism and maintain civil dialogue with other faiths.

”We want to debunk stereotypes and myths portrayed about our people and our faith,” said school spokesman Nidal Hozien.

”We are professionals, taxpayers, we give to the community and want to be treated in a reciprocal manner,” he said.

To the 25 or so folks gathered in a circle, there seemed to be no doubt that the school and accompanying mosque, Masjid An-Noor, is a continuing target of hate crimes. It’s been vandalized five times since 2004.

The most recent incident, which took place June 26, was the only one that led to arrests, said Imam Zakariah Badat said.

”We’re open to dialogue with them and with their families about the root causes of these types of tensions,” he said.

Although Miami-Dade police are checking the grounds of the school at 11699 SW 147th Ave. three times a day, mosque leaders said the place needs more security.

The group decided to start an interfaith petition drive to collect signatures and present them to state officials, hoping to get state financial aid to hire a security guard or pay for off-duty police to patrol the campus.

Kendall resident Francesca Contreras, a member of a progressive Jewish network, said she will ask her mother to get signatures from fellow members of the Beth David Congregation off Coral Way.

George Francis, who worships at Our Lady of Lebanon Catholic Church in Miami, also promised his help.

”As soon as I get a copy of the petition, I will circulate it,” he said. “I want to encourage other religious institutions to help prevent hate.”

Meanwhile, mosque members are taking their message to Congress.

St. Thomas University law student Muhammed Malik and some classmates will visit U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek’s office next week and are planning to meet with the county’s Asian-American Advisory Board.

The group is also looking for young Hispanics to help put on a production of The Hijabi Monologues, written by Middle East scholar Sahar Ullah, a student at the University of Chicago.

”It focuses on the experience of women Muslims, and we hope working on it will help us bring the Latino and Muslim communities together,” Malik said.

The Islamic School of Miami will hold an open house at 10 a.m. Aug. 1. For information, call 305-408-0400.

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