Photo Credit: Michelle Pemberton, Indy Star.
Although we are living in troubling times, especially for Muslims in America, there continues to be many Mosques and Islamic Centers as well as schools being built all around the country. Most of the time, they are approved by the local city and county planning and zoning boards without much incident. But once in awhile, due to media attention and heightened Islamophobia, there is some push back from the neighbors and local community of the mosque project. And unfortunately, the members of the Muslim community who want to speak at these Zoning hearings, don’t make the situation any better. With the help of a friend of mine, who is a Professional Architect (and also a Muslim), we came up with a list of the Top 9 things the members of the Muslim community should NOT say at the Zoning hearing of their local Mosque project (NOTE: Most of these are based on actual quotes, but have been edited to protect privacy). Enjoy:
1. “I’ve been in this country for 15 years…” or “I moved here 10 years ago…” (Because then It puts all the focus you being an immigrant or at least “not from around here” emboldening all the locals claiming seniority).
2. “I came here with $5 in my pocket, washed dishes while in school and got a job at …” (The Zoning Board doesn’t care about your personal origin story. They are there to listen about why you want the project here or not. So just get to the point please!)
3. “Islam is a religion of Peace…” (Stop defending Islam. Religion is not on trial here. Don’t be an apologist. Apologizing can make you look weak or appear to be in the wrong).
4. “We just want a place to pray..Raise a family…etc.” (Again, the Zoning Board wants you to have these things too. The question is HOW, not what you intend to do in the mosque).
6. “The Architect may have forgot to mention that we plan to have morgue facilities and a cemetery which everyone in the community can use…” (Don’t ADD facts that the Architect, Engineer, and/or Attorney have left out. There may be a good reason why the professionals didn’t mention it in the first place! Again Less is More!)
7. “We Muslims just sit on the floor and eat and we wash ourselves in the bathroom before our prayers, etc.” (Don’t describe what Muslims do in a mosque. You don’t need to explain how Muslims are different. Your goal should be how mosques are similar to other religious uses such as churches & synagogues).
8. “The people who are speaking against the Masjid are Bigots and Islamophobic!” (Just because bigotry may be the “elephant in the room,” most people against the mosque project strive to stay polite and to the land use talking points. Muslims don’t need to be the one to mention it, but often do. Take the high road).
9. “On Eid-ul-Adha we sacrifice a goat…” (No Explanation Needed. Please Put down the Mic.)
Irfan Rydhan is a Project Manager in the Design and Construction Industry with over 20 years of experience. He has consulted both as a volunteer as well as a paid consulted on several Mosque and Islamic Center projects in the S.F. Bay Area. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org