South Florida Muslims add voices to mosque debate

In Pembroke Pines, imam Shafayat Mohamed plans a sermon on Islam's stance against excess, citing the proposed $100 million Islamic community center near ground zero. In Miami, hotel broker Ahmed Kabani is torn between his love of Islam and his belief that the project's location is insensitive to victims of 9/11. In Kendall and Miami Gardens, mosques are hosting voter drives to get Muslims involved in elections where Islam has taken center stage among candidates.

The controversy over the Islamic community center in New York has hit home for South Florida's 70,000 Muslims. Not everyone is on the same side, but for many Muslims, the debate reflects a growing tension about Islam's role in America and a chance to engage the region's burgeoning Muslim community during the highly religious month of Ramadan.

"Muslims should have the equal right to build a mosque anywhere they wish," said Mohamed, who leads the Darul Uloom Institute mosque in Pembroke Pines, echoing President Barack Obama's controversial statement on religious freedom at a White House Ramadan dinner last week. "But I say they should build 10 mosques all over America instead of one big center."

Days before Tuesday's primary elections, candidates -- in races from governor to Senate and local offices -- have declared their opposition to the New York center, with a handful supportive or maintaining neutrality. Caught in the middle are local Muslims.

"This whole week I was thinking, 'Why is this happening?' Religion should not become a political issue," said Kabani, 63, who organizes cultural events for the area's Pakistani community. "As a Muslim, I'm proud that they are building, but I also feel that we should be respectful."

Some Muslims are taking advantage of the heightened attention toward Islam to get Muslims more involved in politics and civic matters.

On Saturday evening, after Muslims break their daily Ramadan fast, Masjid an-Noor in Kendall and the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens will host voter-registration drives. At about 25,000, a little more than a third of eligible Muslims in South Florida are registered to vote, said Farooq Mitha of Emerge, a nonpartisan Muslim civic organization based in Miami.

"People are using the Islamic center to start a cultural battle about the moral compass of America," said Mitha, a Sunrise-based attorney. "This is not a Muslim issue, this is an America issue. You're going down a slippery slope. Who's next?"

In early September, Muslim activists are hosting an interfaith rally in downtown Miami in support of religious freedom to combat what organizers call several disturbing trends, including opposition to the New York center and other mosque projects around the nation and a Gainesville church's plan to burn Korans on 9/11.

To read the complete article, visit

Related stories from McClatchy DC