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Monday, July 28, 2014
by Hannah Kalifeh
This represents a personal opinion from a member of the Muslim community. I am not writing as a representative of UWMS.
My name is Hannah Khalifeh. I am twenty-one-years-old, and a recent graduate from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (Class of 2014). After graduation, I moved back to my family’s home in Chappaqua, where we have lived since I was in second grade in 1999. This summer, I was hoping to hear good news that the proposal for a mosque submitted by Upper Westchester Muslim Society has been finally approved. Unfortunately, I was told that yet another public hearing has been planned for July 30th, an additional step in a long process that has taken eight years now.
For those reading this who do not know, the Upper Westchester Muslim Society is currently —and has been since 1997— renting a space in an industrial building in Thornwood. It is a hot, stuffy and cramped space with poor ventilation, dusty stairs and inadequate bathrooms. As the Muslim community in Westchester has grown over the years the number of people who attend congregation has grown, especially because there is no other mosque in the vicinity to serve the Muslim community. Upper Westchester Muslim Society was able to purchase a plot of land on Pinesbridge Road in 2004. In 2006, the Board then submitted to the town a proposal for our mosque.
For eight years, we have experienced numerous setbacks and disappointments. Every time we believed we were one step closer to approval, a new issue is brought up that set us one step back again. UWMS has complied with all of the SEQR regulations and has recorded and responded to hundreds of comments on the application. We have been compliant with complains about parking, building size, and proximity to neighbors. And yet, we find ourselves still in the Special Permit stage.
Enough is enough. The fact that until now the Muslim community in New Castle has been barred from having a space of our own to worship is truly a blemish on our community, which in my experiences has always been a warm, open community that did not discriminate. I am saddened that this process has taken the time that it has. To put in perspective, I am now a college graduate, and I have been waiting for my Muslim community to have a space of our own to practice our religion in peace since I was leaving Robert E. Bell Middle School to enter Horace Greeley High School. I cannot fathom why the process of moving beyond the first step has been met with such resistance from the public; or rather, I can, but I do not want to consider the possibility that this town that I call home does not welcome me.
Anyone who has participated in an event hosted by the Interfaith Council of Chappaqua can attest to the fact that Muslims living in New Castle and the surrounding area are an active part of this community. Muslims work alongside members of other faiths and are involved in all aspects of our shared community from educational programming, Thanksgiving dinners, and children and youth group activities. New Castle and our surrounding towns should be proud to be host to such a plurality of beliefs and views. We ask that we move forward with the procedure to give Muslim families in this community their right to have a place of worship, just like every other faith in this community.