Boston mosque rises above the fray
Muslim and Jewish groups drop lengthy lawsuits, and a house of worship moves forward.
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The DP also questions the fact that some funding for the new mosque has come from Saudi Arabia. The ISB, which got a loan from the Islamic Development Bank, says the bank is a reputable organization that allows ISB to meet the requirements for interest-free Islamic financing.Skip to next paragraph
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When Jewish leaders talked of a complete cutoff of communication with the ISB, one Jewish organization, the Boston Workmen's Circle (BWC), picked up the torch.
"Lawsuits can go on for years, and we started looking at what we could do to keep communication going," says Michael Felsen, BWC president. They held a forum at which attorneys for both sides made presentations, and then began seeking backing in the Jewish community for a public call for mediation.
Meanwhile, a group of young Jews, seeing the challenge against the ISB as "fear-mongering and Islamophobia," launched a website (www.supportthemosque.org) to encourage others in the Jewish community to support the ISB.
At the same time, the ISB was winning in the courts. The suit challenging the land sale was thrown out in February 2007. Efforts by DP to get the defamation suit dismissed were rejected.
An apology and an opening
Then the ISB trustee who had made the inflammatory statements in the Arabic press came to Boston. In mid-April, the BWC hosted a meeting at which Dr. Fitaihi apologized to Jewish community leaders. "We saw that meeting as an important event, an opportunity for leadership of both communities to come together and share views openly and honestly," says Mr. Felsen. "He made it clear he was there to heal, and other Muslim community members there said they were looking for reconciliation."
With the confluence of events, within a month the attorneys were talking, and an agreement was reached in late May to end all litigation: The defamation suit and the appeal of the suit against the land sale were both dropped.
Both sides claim victory. Mr. Robbins, lawyer for the David Project, says the ISB settled to avoid having its officers testify under oath and damaging information becoming public during trial.
"A claim like that cuts both ways, and the David Project had documents they didn't want to come into our hands," says Albert Farrah Jr., ISB's lawyer. "They said they were going to prove my clients had links to terrorists. I don't think had the defendants truly thought they could have proven those claims that they would have dropped them."
While the litigation has ended and the construction of the mosque is again under way, the question now is where the community is headed. The David Project gives indications of continuing the fight on other fronts. And some of its very wealthy members provide important resources for the area's Jewish organizations.
For the mainstream Jewish community, the challenge is how they will address the concerns some people still hold.
"Our goal is to work with people who repudiate the kind of bigotry that exists in the extremist world, whether virulent anti-Semitism ... or anti-Muslim sentiments that characterize all Muslims as terrorists or sympathizers," says Alan Ronkin, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Yet he still voices qualms about "the ISB's 'potential' relationship with Sheikh Al-Qaradawi."
Helping Muslims out of insularity
Dr. Gordis of Hebrew College sees Boston as having the opportunity to become a model for other parts of the country, including helping Muslims move out of insularity.
"Our role in a world which is so torn and so much at risk is to encourage the moderate voices among Jews, Christians, and Muslims," he says. "Suppose there were unhappy things said by some who were leaders of that mosque. The important thing is to make the rank-and-file membership and current leadership participants in community conversations that contribute to an atmosphere of respect for 'the other.' That's not going to take place by vilification or castigation or isolation, but only by reaching out to them."
The Islamic Society itself has embraced the opportunity. On June 27, it hosted an "intercommunity solidarity day" at the new mosque, which is expected to be completed in six months. Representatives from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities prayed together for tolerance and understanding, and planted a "tree of peace." Young Jews from supportthemosque.org presented a check for money donated via their website.
"Worship services may be only 50 percent of what this mosque is for," says M. Bilal Kaleem, ISB spokesman. "The rest involves building interfaith relationships. Our biggest hope goes beyond dialogue to real cooperation on issues of shared interest."