Commentary :: General

South St. Louis County Locals Try to Block New Masjid and Some Lessons for Muslims

Muslims face a fight to in plans to open new mosque in Lemay.
A group of Bosnian Muslims in St. Louis who spent a signifigant amount of money have recently been denied a rezoning permit for the mosque and school they seek to build in the south St. Louis suburb of Lemay.

The story has been covered recently in the St. louis media and is something a lot of people have approached me and asked me my thoughts on and first and foremost I will tell anyone that a house of worship is a benefit to any community and that I am upset that the local community has put up roadblocks; but, besides that, there are many other issues at play here.

We should not see the issue of the Lemay mosque by itself; rather we should see it in the context of other masjids that have had probelms with local governments and communtiy groups across the country. In Memphis, TN a Muslim graveyard was blocked after a right-wing radio talk-show host stirred up anger in the communtiy towards Muslims, in Northern Virginia the community made the masjid grow tall trees all around the premises so people would not know the building was a mosque, and in Boston it took several years for a new mosque to be built in the face of the opposition from a Pro-Israel([search]) group.

All of these cases, as is the case in St. Louis, are examples of anti-Muslim bigotry; because had this been any other religion other than Islam trying to establish a house of worship there would not have been such oppostion no matter what is said and everyone knows this while dancing around the issue, and the talk on the street in Lemay and amongst others in St. Louis reflects the anti-Muslim bigotry of those who reject the plans for a new mosque.

However, I want to also adress this issue from a Muslim perspective and an issue I have been looking at for years having to do with our decisions to build masjids where we do and the lack of understanding many Muslim groups often have about the society we live in.

There are some areas in the St. Louis area, just like any other metro area, that are more open-minded than others, some that are more affluent, some that are more economically depressed, and some that are more closed-minded and bigoted. As Muslims we can basically move into and operate in any of these areas described with relative ease with the excepetion of the closed-minded and bigoted areas, so it would be very wise for any Muslim group to study the area they are seeking to set roots in and make sure it is not such an area. In the case of this mosque, I will tell you absolutely 100%, that Lemay is known to be one of the most racist places in St. Louis.

Lemay is a lilly-white community made up of poor and working-class white people and, while there are a lot of hard working and decent folks in Lemay, it is also the home of a lot of meth dealing and other drug dealing, criminal activity, neo-nazi skinheads, and it is very common to see confederate flags being flown in Lemay and right-wing bumper stickers on trucks.

It was the misunderstanding and the misreading of the nuacnes of the local culture that led the Bosnian Muslim group to even consinder opening a mosque in such a location and they are not alone. Even though Muslims are much more likely to be accepted and not recieve problems in cities and are often welcomed by their neighbors; Muslims flock to the suburbs where people are much more likely to be conservative and anti-Muslim by their nature.

Aother group of local Muslims, Salafis to be exact, are opening a new masjid in South City just off of the South Grand pedestrian area, and not only are they not gettitng any problems from the local community, but the Aldderwoman of the neighborhood, Jennifer Florida, has said she will do whatever she can to help with the project. That is the difference between the culture of South Grand and Lemay and something that new Muslim immigrant groups may not be sophisticated enough to realize.

As Muslims we need to realize that in America we are often not alone but should compare ourselves to other groups who have had similar situations as us such as living as religous minorities in America, like Jews. Having the knowledge of this, Rick Isserman, and some affilaited with Temple Israel, a synagouge in the Western St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, took on the cause of the masjid and have become very active in this effort with the memory of the fight they had from the local community 5o years ago in their effort to buld a new synangouge ( which, today, is a pillar of the community).

Out of the bad of these events good can come such as the knowledge that Muslims and Jews can work together in America and we have a lot in common. The lesson can also be learned from people like St. Louis County Exectuitve Charlie Dooley, an African-American Democrat, who has said that he will do anything he can to help the Muslims and the silence of those in the GOP, and the lesson can be learned by Muslims about who our natural allies are, and who will always oppose us no matter how moderate we try and make ourselves.

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An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.
-- Mark Twain
Source: "Glances at History" (suppressed)

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