Proposed Temecula mosque sparks heated emotions for, against plan

An emotional standoff during a religious service last week has spotlighted tensions over plans to build a new mosque in Temecula.

A 90-minute rally by mosque opponents and an even larger show of support from religious rights advocates unfolded last Friday under the watchful eyes of about a half dozen Temecula police officers.

The standoff – which drew nationwide attention and widespread media coverage – came as Temecula officials added a new layer of study for what has become the most controversial house of worship to be planned in the city in about a decade.

The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley wants to build a 24,943-square-foot mosque on 4.3 acres along Nicolas Road in Temecula’s northeast corner. If it is built, the mosque would be located near two existing Christian churches.

About 25 people, many of them carrying signs and taking turns speaking into a bullhorn, participated in the protest. The speakers, including one man who described himself as a prospective Temecula City Council candidate, were critical of Islam and the land use proposal that is expected to be reviewed by planning commissioners in November.

The protesters anchored a corner of Rio Nedo across from an industrial building that has served as a regional Islamic center for many years. Zorinda Bennett of Temecula brought her dog – Meadow – in part because rally organizers had stated that Muslims dislike dogs.

“We need to take a stand and have our voices heard,” said Bennett, who carried a sign fashioned in the shape of a cross. “This is America. This is a Christian country, not a Muslim country.”

Many of the mosque foes equated Muslims to “terrorists” and blamed them for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Americans elsewhere. Ernie White, who described himself as a possible candidate for Temecula City Council in November, was among the most outspoken critics of the mosque plan.

Much of the backlash stemming from the rally centered on the request for mosque opponents to bring dogs. Other scrutiny came from mosque supporters and religious rights groups who sought to identify the rally organizers.

The anti-mosque rally was largely publicized via a July 18 electronic newsletter that was distributed to newspapers and local conservative political activists. The rally notice was listed among opinion pieces and upcoming activities planned by Republican and Tea Party activists.

As news of the protest spread, leaders of local Republican and Tea Party groups issued separate news releases that denied any involvement.

Ted Wegener – writing on behalf of Tea Party activists in Menifee, Murrieta and Hemet – said he and other leaders “wish to emphatically state” that they were not involved.

Similarly, leaders of the Murrieta Temecula Republican Assembly said their group “has not or will not take a position for or against the construction of the Temecula mosque.”

The protesters were outnumbered by mosque supporters – some from as far away as Los Angeles and San Diego – who carried signs and gave speeches of their own. Many of them sat under a shade awning in front of the Islamic Center and wore lapel tags with the word “Friend” printed upon them.

“We are here to enrich America,” Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, government relations director for the national Muslim Public Affairs Council, said in a brief speech. “We are here to be part of America. We are here to serve America. That is why we left the Middle East.”

Several of the pro-mosque participants said they represented Christian congregations or other faiths.

“Judaism teaches tolerance and respect,” said Jeff Schwimmer, who wore a yarmulke during the event and said he had traveled from San Diego to participate. “I think it is important that we stand up for these issues.”

At times, representatives of the two groups ventured across the street to speak to or shout at the other. After letting these confrontations unfold for a moment or two, police officers shooed the event participants to their respective sides.

Islamic Center leaders had “requested a police presence” to ensure the safety of the group’s members, according to a press release. “We have advised our community members not to respond to those who seek to disrupt us during our time of prayer.”

An afternoon prayer service inside the existing mosque attracted about 130 men, women and children.

Kathleen Hamilton, a De Luz resident who is active in regional environmental issues, initially joined mosque supporters outside the Islamic center. Hamilton, who said she is a Catholic, subsequently slipped inside to join the worship service.

“I think it’s very important to dissipate the fear that so many people have,” she said. “Fear tends to build hate, and that’s a very destructive emotion.”

After the service, Basemeh Rihan of Murrieta thanked Hamilton for venturing inside. Richan, who said she teaches communications at Mt. San Jacinto College, said she had prayed that people of different faiths would help open a dialog over the proposed mosque and other related issues.

She said the center – which currently serves more than 150 families from the Temecula and Murrieta areas – needs room to grow and flourish. She said much of the misinformation that surrounds Islam stems from cultural, not religious, beliefs.

“It’s a fear of the unknown,” Rihan said to Hamilton. “If they (mosque protesters) would talk we will talk back to them. The shouting doesn’t get us anywhere.”

14 Responses to "Proposed Temecula mosque sparks heated emotions for, against plan"

  1. alex   August 6, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    no more mosques, churches and temples

  2. Hadayai   August 7, 2010 at 4:46 am

    I am glad the rally turned out for the most part okay and that the Republican Party and Tea Party group in CA denied having any part.

  3. Marc   August 8, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    If you hate freedom of religion, then you hate the Constitution. Get out of America!

  4. Grandma Patriot   August 9, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    No, the Tea Party was not involved in this protest. The Tea Party believes in the Constitution. I’m sorry that someone felt they had to involve the Tea Party in this event.

  5. wayne   August 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Temecula is not the only place mosques are going up – Get ready to be annoyed 5 times a day with loud speakers and a call to prayer for muslims aka; Adhan – I remember 6 PM Church bells. This is FOREIGN to America.

  6. Chablis   August 24, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Wayne #5
    And what if there be no prayer calls on loudspeakers? Will a mosque in your area then be okay or will you think up of something else? Its possible that your antipathy to a mosque is more deeply rooted than what you suggest and you must come to terms with it. Find out from your analyst what the problem is before it gets much worse. Really, I am serious.

  7. British Citizen   August 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    yes, we thought too that at first we needed to support freedom of religion, until mosques were built faster then all other religions COMBINED, and that is one of the reasons I left England. Parts of Europe has it even worse, Holland is being taken over. I have seen them in the streets calling for the islamazation of all of Europe. beware………

  8. Angel Torres   August 28, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Just let them be, Muslims in America for the most part aren’t radicals. The imam for the Temecula Mosque is a self described conservative and has said that Ronald Reagan is one of his heroes. Sounds like most Temecula residents to me.

  9. Mary   August 31, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    If you educate yourself about Islam and Sharia Law, which I challenge everyone who writes a message, then you might understand why the Mosque is so controversal. Go on the web and see what has happened in some of the states where there is a large population of Muslims. How it has effected the schools, restaurants and neighborhoods. How Muslims want more and more of their ways intergrated into American ways. When the choise is made to live in another country, the ways of that country are usually adopted. It is unimaginable to think that we could go to Iraq, or any Middle Easterned country and expect to have any of the freedoms we have here. So why do they want to change our law to Sharia Law. Change our schools for Muslim studies. Change our neighborhoods to be without dogs.

    If I were going to live in another country I would not expect that country to bow to my ways. but would honor that country by accepting their laws, schools and neighborhoods. Again, educate yourselves so you have a better understaning.

  10. Kim   October 27, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I bet the Muslims that got on the planes that day looked nice, acted nice and would have said anything to get the job done. These people have an agenda, to convert America to their Muslim beliefs, first by tolerence. We let biblical teaching be removed from our schools by being complacent….look at the shape our schools are in. Look at our youth and what is happening with them, if we don’t teach them I guess the Muslims will. They will have no knowledge of the bible and the Muslims will take advantage of that, preaching that they are a peaceful religion, when they are not.

  11. American by choice   November 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Here we are in America watching our freedom go right out the door…where are our church bells, why can’t the Salvation Army ring their bells at Christmas time? why aren’t our children saying the pledge in school? why has Easter vacation turned into Spring Break, why is Christmas vacation now winter break? why are we so afraid about being so politically correct? I went to a public high school, we never had these problems, no one ran to school and demanded we change because we may offend someone….I went to school with every race and religion and we all got along.

    Islam is not just a "religion"..if one is a true Muslim, they must follow the Quan….word for word…we are the devils in their eyes..they want one world government and it’s not ours!!!!! Look at Europe and whats happening there with the Muslim/Islam..
    I am sadden that we as Americans have let our county fall apart. If Muslim/Islamic people want to pray, great…just don’t take my freedom away..

  12. Greg   November 26, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Just remember, when thinking about joining ANY religion, or even staying in one, remember the underlying mission statement of ALL religions:

    "Other religions and sects are teaching / preaching false doctrine, WE are the true path"

    That should tell you something.

  13. Embarrassed Christian Resident   December 2, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Just out of curiosity, how many of you, the peaceful. Jesus loving, Muslim hating Christians, have more than a high school diploma?

  14. American Athiest   December 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    We the poeple shouldnt be fighting over such things. America was based on a free country which means there can be any and every religion not just one. Me i dont really care if poeple from diffrent counrties come to our land and crate a new home, but as soon as people start fighting it becomes all of our problem. And we have to stop what hard work we are doing just to calm down a bunch of Cristains who decide that America is a Cristain country. America is a free country, people have the right to practice any religion they want as long as it abides the laws. Not the laws of religion, the physical laws of our world. All we are supporting is steriotypes which boild down to hated of another race of people. Yes the 9/11 was terrible, but that was long ago when one person inspired others to do horrible things to our land. Some people still hold that grudge against muslins to this day, and people need to just let it go so we all can live a peaceful happy life. We are here in america to make friends and be with the ones we love, not to disgrace our own soil by breeding hate in the people


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