Allah Drops In

The Christian right tries to muscle a Pompano Beach Islamic congregation.

He rings up customers — a heavy man buying an all-black Atlanta Falcons cap, a woman sheathing 16-ounce Miller High Lifes in individual brown paper sacks — while he considers the rest of the charges. The drinking? Well, a lot of guys do come early in the mornings, and while they wait for the landscapers or pool maintenance companies to come by and pick up day laborers, they might kick back with a beverage.

"Why they do it, I don't understand why they do it," Jad says. "But we do have people who like to sit outside, against the wall, especially after work, and they drink. And it's harmless. We rarely call the cops here. We rarely have a problem."

To make his point, he turns to a customer standing across the counter, near the lottery tickets, wearing a straw hat and white tank-top.

Colby Katz

"People been coming to this store for a long time," Jad prompts. "People bypass going to Winn-Dixie and Publix just to come here."

"You all got that book in the drawer," the customer drawls, "where you can get on credit with no money."

It's a spiral notebook with columns full of scribbles where dollar amounts have been scratched out, revised, scratched out under accounts identified under names like "Ricky" and "Husky." Ike pulls it out one afternoon when his sunglasses distributor is unpacking $5.99 pairs of shades onto a rack. Funny thing, the guy says. Out of maybe 100 stores in the black neighborhoods he services, he knows of precisely none that is black-owned.

After the foofaraw on the front steps, the city commissioners finally settled down and brought the night to an explosive anticlimax.

At issue was the city's zoning board's decision to grant the mosque the right to build on its land. The developers had let a zoning special exception lapse and went to renew it at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on May 18. There, residents voiced concern about the surfeit of churches in the neighborhood. (According to an unofficial transcript of the meeting, one resident complained, "I am sick of the churches and car lots and body shops in our residential area." Said another: "Every corner you turn, there's a church.") When the board reapproved the mosque, members of the neighborhood filed an appeal with the city manager asking the city to reconsider the special exception.

Their objections? Traffic congestion. The fact that the mosque wouldn't add to the tax base. A suggestion that the space would be better given to recreational facilities, a middle school, or "sit-down restaurants."

"Beheadings" did not appear on the list.

Unfortunately for the protesters, media reps, and other residents who came to see the commission debate those issues, procedures required that a verbatim transcript accompany the residents' appeal. The transcript that came instead appeared homemade, littered with errors in spelling and punctuation.

"I must say," Mayor John Rayson said from the dais, "the record is pitiful."

Commissioner E. Pat Larkins, whose district includes the northwest section, upbraided Rayson: "It shows once again what happens when poor folk want to oppose something." He added that he believed the mosque's traffic would conflict with that of the neighboring elementary school. He also charged that Muslim shopkeepers who sold spirits at 4 a.m. on Sundays, individual cigarettes, and "reefer packs for you know what" were a blight on their neighborhoods.

"We want to be friends with the Muslim community and all that, but we want them to be a part of the community," the commissioner said. "We don't want them raping it."

The commission declined to reconsider the zoning board's decision to allow the mosque, and the crowd filed out in obvious disappointment.

Later, Ali and Dozier had another small showdown after their contretemps in front of City Hall. They convened at a Davie television station for a remote appearance on Fox News Channel, then spoke at length afterward.

The meeting left Ali with slim hope for consensus.

"He was very adamant that Islam is evil, that Islam breeds terrorism, that Islam is a cult," Ali says. "I said, 'Reverend Dozier, are you calling me a devil?' He said, 'No, you're maybe OK, but others are devils.'

"I said, 'Listen, man, I follow the same religion that others follow. You cannot blame all Muslims for the actions of a few. If you apply the same analogy to the African-American people, then you have a very serious situation at hand.' It's not an informed decision. When you look at the Ku Klux Klan — they are Christians! Are we going to say that all white people are predisposed to hating immigrants or people with dark skin or Jews?"

It sounded like an argument that Smith, the protester, had offered outside the meeting when a reporter asked him about the danger of stereotyping people on the basis of race or creed.

"Look how long I've been stereotyped against, as a black man in America, my race," was his reply. "And we are yet to blow up a trade center. You see where I'm coming from? I don't hate anybody of the Muslim religion. It's just, why are you going to build something somewhere that nobody wants you? Nobody."

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