A year ago, a Muslim group tried to open a mosque in a vacant Roman Catholic convent in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island and set off furious protests, with many opponents raising the specter of the 9/11 attacks to explain why they did not want a mosque in their midst. The controversy was so heated that the affiliated church’s board of trustees, whose members included Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, eventually rejected the sale of the convent, even though it had originally been approved by the parish’s priest. But the same Muslim group, the Muslim American Society’s chapter for Brooklyn and Staten Island, quietly opened a mosque this summer on a street of modest brick and wood-frame homes in the nearby Dongan Hills neighborhood, and there has been little public outcry by neighbors or anyone else. Lately, dozens of Muslim families have streamed to the mosque, an orange cinderblock social hall on Burgher Avenue, to mark Ramadan, the monthlong daylight fast that features late-night and early-morning prayers and light communal meals. Many neighbors have been annoyed by cars parked on stretches of street that by neighborhood custom have been used by residents’ second cars. But those people have not responded with the public rage that undermined the previous effort. “We did a way better job of outreach,” Ibrahim Mossallam, the Muslim organization’s director for outreach, said. “We learned our lesson from last time.” This time, members of the society knocked on doors to get acquainted with neighbors. They promised that the hall would also be a community center for groups like the Boy Scouts. And on July 29, they held an open house at the mosque, and dozens of neighbors, along with representatives of the local congressman and assemblywoman, went to dine on pita and kebab. Because they wanted the building ready for Ramadan’s start on Aug. 1, Mr. Mossallam said, they moved quickly to complete the purchase before those groups “who were making a profit out of spreading Islamophobia and motivating outsiders to protest” could mobilize. The society was also fortunate that its purchase of the building required no zoning changes or votes by trustee boards that might have created forums for public debate. And the highly publicized controversy over a proposed mosque near ground zero, which seemed to fuel the anger in Staten Island last year, had died down. It was also important that the Dongan Hills building, in a largely Catholic neighborhood, had previously been owned by a Hindu group that used it as a temple, so another relatively unfamiliar religious group like Muslims was not regarded as very exotic.
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Unreported by the Times is that the MAS was identified in a Hudson Institute report as a part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and closely tied to the Egyptian organization. Earlier posts have reported on the controversy surrounding the proposed Staten Island center identified in the Times report as well as various other planned MAS mosques in the NY area. Another post discussed an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood editorial in support of new mosque construction in the U.S. and Europe referring specifically to the planned new mosques in New York, on Staten Island, and the proposed Islamic facility close to the site of the World Trade Center attacks.