Dispute Over Mosque Sheds Light On Black, Muslim Split

Gregory Lewis, Sun-Sentinel, July 17, 2006

There was a time when many black Americans and Muslims got along because of shared experiences of fighting discrimination.

They meshed in black neighborhoods when Arab businesses opened in many urban cities, extending credit and sometimes jobs to poor African-Americans.

So when black people in Pompano Beach opposed a mosque’s planned move to their community and the outspoken Rev. O’Neal Dozier called Islam “a cult,” many were stunned.

That unsettles people like Genard Hassell, who wonders how a black preacher can condemn another religion and lead an effort to bar other minorities from the neighborhood.

“Martin Luther King must be turning over in his grave,” said Hassell, 45, a Lauderhill paralegal. “Dozier sounds like an old South Mississippi bigot of my youth. We of all people should understand that.”

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Much of the dispute centers on the mistrust blacks in Pompano Beach have for Arab storekeepers. Some residents say the storeowners disrespect customers, overcharge for items and some sell tobacco and alcohol to minors.

That has affected how some black residents view Muslims, many of whom are immigrants and minorities. Muslims can be of any racial group.

“They don’t contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community,” Pompano Beach Commissioner E. Pat Larkins said of Arab-American proprietors. “Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away.”

Muslim leaders say black community residents should be glad they have those businesses. “The very fact that a Muslim person is brave enough to come into a neighborhood that most other business owners will not come into is very commendable,” said Altaf Ali, executive director of the Council On American-Islamic Relations.

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Dozier and other ministers, however, say they fear the mosque could attract vulnerable young black men and women to its ranks and turn the neighborhood into a “breeding ground for terrorists.” Dozier and the Rev. Alonzo Neal of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church repeatedly have said that all Muslims are “dangerous” because “they must declare war on other religions” to enter heaven.

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Still, tension between blacks and Arab-Americans is on the rise, particularly in urban areas of San Francisco and Detroit, where Middle Eastern immigrants have purchased stores in black communities.

“Black Americans are not wanting to venture out of their belief set, not professionally or socially,” said Dr. E. Carol Webster, a Fort Lauderdale psychologist. “People are pulling away if they don’t fit in that configuration and rejecting anything to do with another group.”

Psychologists, diversity specialists and sociologists say the widening cultural gap, and the antipathy of blacks toward Muslims likely are rooted in economics.

“Black folks traditionally are sick of being on the bottom,” said Barbara Cheives, a West Palm Beach diversity specialist. “They see an entire group come over and buy up your neighborhood. You resent or hate what you don’t understand and we don’t understand the attire.”

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As they do, the hateful rhetoric from black preachers worries many people.

“It’s disturbing to see a black man fighting against civil rights,” said Assad Mirza, a Pembroke Pines attorney who is Muslim.

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