Muslims in the city of Temecula have won final approval to build the first major Islamic mosque in Southwest Riverside County. After a marathon nine-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Temecula City Council denied an appeal by opponents, who claim the mosque would become a haven for Islamic extremists.
For months, opponents tried to derail the two-story, 25,000-square-foot project based on what mosque supporters called unfounded allegations. Under law, the city cannot deny a building permit on religious or political grounds. So in its written appeal, opponents stuck to land use issues. That didn’t stop many critics of Islam from going on the offensive.
Santa Monica Rabbi Nachum Shifren challenged the Islamic Center’s Imam to denounce Muslim groups classified as terrorist organizations. Something Shifren has done on several occasions.
“Do you want a mosque leader in your community that supports what the United States of America has determined to be a terrorist organization? That’s exactly the issue! It has nothing to do with parking, with floodplains … ” said Shifren.
There is no evidence linking Temecula’s multi-ethnic Muslim community or its leaders to such groups. Worshippers have gathered at another location for years without incident.
“We keep hearing this kind of Islamophobia time and again,” said Asif Balbale, a U.S. Navy chaplain who lives in the Temecula Valley.
“Islam is part of the fabric of this nation and it is here to stay,” he said. “This is our nation as much as it is anybody else’s.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Temecula planners refuted a range of land use complaints brought by critics. The City Council did ask for mosque parking and traffic to be reviewed every five years.
Islamic Center leaders hope to have the first phase of construction under way later this year.