Saturday, 25 November 2017

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I Islamophobia

Islamic Center of Ft. Pierce targeted in year since rampage

By Will Greenlee, For USA Today Network, On 12 June 2017, Read Original

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ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Since Omar Mateen went on a deadly shooting rampage at an Orlando nightclub, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce where he worshiped has been the site of several violent incidents.

But congregants remain committed to the area. Even after an arson fire significantly damaged the mosque on West Midway Road, it could be said they’ve doubled down on investing in the area.

“Even in the midst of the peak of hate incidents and hate crimes happening, this was a very resilient community,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who has been the spokesman for the mosque.An association with Mateen, the Fort Pierce resident whose gunfire spree last June at the gay nightclub Pulse left 49 people dead and dozens injured, isn’t the only issue the mosque faced in the past year.

The same month as the Pulse shooting, dozens of motorcycle riders repeatedly circled the Islamic center, revving engines.

The month after the shooting, investigators said Taylor Anthony Mazzanti, of Port St. Lucie, attacked a congregant in the parking lot and yelled at him to "go back to your country.”

In September, Joseph Schreiber, of Port St. Lucie, set fire to the mosque, destroying portions of it and damaging other portions. Schreiber, 32 at the time, in February was found guilty of arson of a structure evidencing prejudice.

After the fire, services at the mosque shifted to a smaller building on the north side of the property, where there are no restrooms.

The imam, or religious leader, at the mosque is Dr. Syed Shafeeq Rahman. Ruiz said Rahman and the Islamic Center’s board of directors decided to buy a new property rather than renovate after the fire.

To rebuild at the existing site would require the installation of a sprinkler system to adhere to new building rules, and to bring the necessary water line to do that would cost $250,000, he said.

“The debate whether to stay in the same property or move physically from that property instead of repairing it was more strictly a financial one,” Ruiz said.

Rahman could not be reached, and Ruiz said Rahman did not wish to speak until Ramadan ends in late June.

Ruiz, who said he and Rahman didn't want to discuss in detail the location of the new mosque, noted security measures haven’t been completed there.

“Examining what has happened in the past, and the many events (such as the arson) … because of that is the heightened security,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he thought the congregation size has remained relatively steady since Mateen was identified as a former congregant, and there's been continued solidarity and support from the community, such as people offering building or remodeling services. 

Ruiz said roughly $225,000 has been donated, including money given through a LaunchGood campaign.

Ruiz said the new property, about 1.5 miles from the existing mosque, is more accommodating to Ramadan rituals. Ramadan, which ends June 24, is the Muslim holy month. During that time, Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset. The fasting is for purification spiritually and physically, and is one of five pillars of the Islamic faith.

Fort Pierce city spokeswoman Shyanne Helms said via email the city’s clerk, commission, building and planning offices have received no inquiries or concerns about the mosque.

Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson was unaware of the mosque’s new location.

She said officials there must meet all city requirements “just like any other applicant.”

“It’s a religious building just like any other religious building,” Hudson said.