Bad Religion?

By Nate Jackson

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Posted July 29, 2010 in News

Who would have thought that Americans would protest, oppose and even publicly denounce a holy place of worship, a place protected by the United States Constitution under the First Amendment?

Welcome to Temecula. Such a scenario is rearing its ugly head, this time over a mosque (or masjid), a place of worship for Muslims, that’s proposed for a site down the road from Christian Calvary Baptist Church.

Imam Mahmoud Harmoush, a Temecula resident, and member of the Interfaith Council and Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, tells the Weekly, that he is simply astonished at the opposition and fears that some residents, mostly Christians, have expressed over the mosque planned for Nicolas Road, off of Highway 79.

Harmoush says he awaits the opportunity to meet face to face with protesters. “We have not had a chance to talk much, but we would like to meet in an open forum and see what’s the problem,” he says.

Though a bit hesitant, Harmoush suspects that ignorance and even anti-Islam bigotry lie at the root of those seeking to halt the project, which still needs to acquire all the needed permits from the city. “We are part of this community as well,” Harmoush says.

“We truly want to know why all these people oppose us. Is it because of our religion?” he asks. “If that is so, that is unfortunate and ignorant. There are mosques all over the country; people should not be afraid of their neighbors. What do they have to fear? They are ignorant, and do not know us like members of the Interfaith Council, which is  why they support us.”

But Christian Calvary Baptist Church pastor Bill Wrench sees things from a different perspective; one that he earnestly denies is based on religious intolerance or anti-Muslim sentiment. “We aren’t against these particular people, but 85 percent of our community has voiced concerns over this proposed mosque,” Wrench says. “We are not bigots. Anyone who claims we are [is] just misinformed on where we’re coming from.”

Wrench says that due to the current political climate and the ongoing “War on Terror,” it would be inappropriate to build a mosque so close to a Christian church. “Right now, there is a lot of concern internationally over Islam,” Wrench says, mentioning extremists and terrorists as the major issue. “We don’t see moderates in countries where Islam is dominant.”

Aside from this, Wrench also says the location proposed for the mosque is problematic. “It’s going to be practically right next to [the church],” Wrench says of the proposed 24,943-square-foot mosque. “It’s a 1,048[-foot] property line we are joined by; it will be within a few feet from us.”

But Harmoush insists the mosque adheres to city guidelines.

“We believe we have met all the requirements,” he says. “It is our understanding that this is why the city has set a meeting with the planning commission for this project on Aug. 18. As far as the protesters, we think for the most part [that] the problem is political ignorance.”

But Wrench denies this. “Our position is straightforward; we feel this is an inadequate location and [it’s] inappropriate to build this mosque near our Christian church.”

But Larry Slusser, secretary of the Interfaith Council disagrees and insists that residents have nothing to be concerned over. “We all know the people involved, they are our neighbors and we embrace this project,” Slusser says. “We have been to their services and they are involved in interfaith. I think one reason that there is hesitation is the fear of the unknown. And I’m here to tell everyone if they knew these people, they would not oppose the project.”

Harmoush says that the next step is waiting to see if the city will grant the mosque the last necessary permit. After all, tolerance is a virtue that America espouses.

“We hope that our communities of Temecula and Murrieta will not represent bigotry or discrimination against us, because nowadays especially we need more love and tolerance, no matter what religion you are. The bottom line is that we are all neighbors and we are all Americans.”


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