Bethpage, New York: officials say mosque closure was politically motivated

Officials at a mosque on Long Island that was shut down on the eve of Ramadan say they are the victims of fallout from the recent Ground Zero mosque controversy.

The Masjid Al-Baqi has occupied a building at 320 Central Avenue in Bethpage for the past 12 years but last week, it was forced to close after inspectors from the Town of Oyster Bay appeared to do a surprise inspection.

“First and foremost there was no certificate of occupancy,” said Deputy Town Supervisor Leonard Genova. “Then there were plumbing issues and a gas leak. It’s our responsibility as a town to make sure people are protected from such hazardous conditions.”

Genova said they inspected the mosque after receiving more than a hundred emails and letters from Bethpage residents voicing their concerns about a second proposed mosque at 600 Broadway, the site of a former Jewish community center. Some of those residents also asked the town to inspect the Masjid Al-Baqi.

“With all that’s going on the world there’s a heightened sensitivity to this issue,” said Genova. “Once we found the violations though, we had to make sure they were adequately addressed.”

Town officials said this is not a question of “politics” but the need to protect congregants from unsafe conditions.

Mosque officials though question the timing. They showed News 4 New York documents that indicate they had been working with the town since April 2008 to change their certificate of occupancy. The building has a CO but from the days when it was a pizza restaurant, not a place of worship.

“There is no question this is a political issue,” said Syed Quadri, secretary of the mosque. “If the conditions are so poor, why did they not close it down twelve years ago?”

“Unfortunately, the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque has affected my client,” said Steven Morelli, an attorney for the mosque. “They are members of our community they have the same right to pray as we all do. That is a basic Constitutional right.”

Morelli is prepared to file a discrimination suit against the Town of Oyster Bay if the mosque is not re-opened soon. Meanwhile, during the holiest month in Islam, congregants of this Bethpage mosque are without a spiritual home.

“We just go there stand in the parking lot and stare at the building,” said Quadri. “We hope we can re-open and hope we’ll be able to pray.”

NBC, 18 August 2010