Syracuse NY Embraces its New Mosque; Wants More Refugees

Since my original article discussing how an abandoned Catholic church was being converted to a mosque in Syracuse, NY, that city has embraced the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary with open arms.  In April, a local publication, the Syracuse New Times, published an interview with Dr. Yusuf Soule, the executive director of the Northside Learning Center, who bought the church and rented it to a still unidentified group of Muslims.  In no news report has the group who transformed the church into a mosque been identified as anything other than a “new Islamic society.”  When asked how the plan to buy the property came about, Soule answered:

More than 150 people contributed to finance this. A lot of business owners, refugees and business people, people from Utica (NY) helped.  Some people literally gave us a dollar. Some people gave us $15,000.  Some people gave us interest-free loans.

Asked why that particular location was picked, Soule said:

Location, location, location.  The North Side is the magnet for refugees.  The two agencies that work with refugees (InterFaith Works and Catholic Charities) are here.  I wish people could see beyond CNN and see Muslims as individual people.

When questioned about who may be behind opposition to the mosque, Soule evaded the answer, but made it clear who was welcome to attend:

How many people are really upset about it and how many will be served?  Anyone who says la illaha il Allah muhammadir rasul Allah (no God except God, Muhammad is his messenger) is welcome.

By May, the mosque, now known as Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam, had launched a full-fledged PR campaign, complete with a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.  By June they hosted a “neighborhood cookout” complete with a professionally produced YouTube video of the event.  With the Northside well-known for its poverty, it’s a sure bet that many of the 500 people that attended were there for the free halal food while being simultaneously introduced to Muhammad the messenger.

The Syracuse New Times article featured a strangely oversized headshot of Yousef with the byline “We are Muslim.  We don’t use crosses.  We are going to paint inside the church because we don’t honor icons.”

The author of the piece, Renee K. Gadoua, is listed as a “freelance writer” with no apparent hidden agenda.  A quick search reveals Gadoua blogs for Sojourners magazine, a “Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice” and declares its mission is to put “faith into action in the passionate pursuit of social justice, peace, and environmental stewardship.”  One of her recent Tweets stated “#ISIS is pretty bad, but don't believe everything you hear about this #jihadist group.”  In it she shares a link to a foreignpolicy.com article that parses the horrors inflicted by ISIS and insinuates it’s being slandered -- it’s not as bad as people make it out to be.

Gadoua is an enabler – one of those Christians (in this case a Jesuit Catholic) who retweets Obama, listens to NPR, is an avowed feminist, and holds the Dali Lama and Maya Angelou as heroes.  She is a Progressive in its sincerest sense.  She is an enabler because it is her brand of United Nations Utopian ideals that repeatedly asks “Why can’t we all just get along?” while our enemies exploit us.

Gadoua continued to promote the Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam in an article titled, “Second Chance for Sacred Spaces” that appeared in “The Good Life, Central New York” magazine.  In it she tells how an “environmental interior design class” at Syracuse University spent part of their spring semester creating proposals to transform the church into a mosque.  She boasted how they considered “gauzy curtains with Arabic lettering to close out the stained glass windows;” and how the students suggested a “curtain or screen to separate men and women during worship;” also that they participated in a “crucial part of the redesign” in “creating the mihrab niche, a semicircle that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca…”

Ultimately it’s a feel-good article discussing how Syracuse is planning to begin a “survey of…approximately 200 religious properties to see which are vacant” so they can be “repurposed” and possibly transformed to commercial use so they can be used for tax credits.

So…everything’s okay in Syracuse.  Sure they recently had an anti-Israel protest.  Sure the local liberal paper continues to spew anti-Semitism from the likes of the Syracuse Peace Council and others: “Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.”

Luckily everyone has forgotten the 2000 arson attack at Syracuse’s Temple Beth El in which two men of Palestinian descent were later arrested.  (Oddly, only one reference to it exists on Syracuse.com today, buried in an article that mentions it only as the first hate-crime indictment in the county.)  At the time, approximately 150 agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and state and local police were involved in the investigation.  I worked in Syracuse at the time and it was disturbing to see a police presence constantly protecting the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Home (for the elderly), and other Jewish establishments in the area.  I was even afraid to grab my lunch at the Jewish deli not far from the synagogue.

First Lady Hillary Clinton was near Syracuse for an event at the time of the attack and told the press:

I would just urge that everyone be very careful about how we treat one another, how we speak with one another, be vigilant against any who might want to cause any damage to any church or synagogue or mosque or any other holy site…We do not need that in New York.  We do not need that in America.

Less than a year later, the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded.

Fourteen years after the attack on the synagogue, Temple Beth El is closed, the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary has replaced Holy Trinity Church on the city’s North side, and everyone is stumped why there is an alarming increase in violence on Syracuse’s Northside; an area overloaded with Dr. Yusuf Soule’s “refugees.”

In fact, the city is in such good shape that Syracuse’s mayor, Stephanie Miner, is telling President Obama to send illegal immigrants from the border up to her city. “The entire Syracuse community wants to help,” she wrote him.  Indeed, they probably couldn’t find a more appropriate environment to relocate to.

Jenna Bowen is a pseudonym.

Since my original article discussing how an abandoned Catholic church was being converted to a mosque in Syracuse, NY, that city has embraced the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary with open arms.  In April, a local publication, the Syracuse New Times, published an interview with Dr. Yusuf Soule, the executive director of the Northside Learning Center, who bought the church and rented it to a still unidentified group of Muslims.  In no news report has the group who transformed the church into a mosque been identified as anything other than a “new Islamic society.”  When asked how the plan to buy the property came about, Soule answered:

More than 150 people contributed to finance this. A lot of business owners, refugees and business people, people from Utica (NY) helped.  Some people literally gave us a dollar. Some people gave us $15,000.  Some people gave us interest-free loans.

Asked why that particular location was picked, Soule said:

Location, location, location.  The North Side is the magnet for refugees.  The two agencies that work with refugees (InterFaith Works and Catholic Charities) are here.  I wish people could see beyond CNN and see Muslims as individual people.

When questioned about who may be behind opposition to the mosque, Soule evaded the answer, but made it clear who was welcome to attend:

How many people are really upset about it and how many will be served?  Anyone who says la illaha il Allah muhammadir rasul Allah (no God except God, Muhammad is his messenger) is welcome.

By May, the mosque, now known as Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam, had launched a full-fledged PR campaign, complete with a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.  By June they hosted a “neighborhood cookout” complete with a professionally produced YouTube video of the event.  With the Northside well-known for its poverty, it’s a sure bet that many of the 500 people that attended were there for the free halal food while being simultaneously introduced to Muhammad the messenger.

The Syracuse New Times article featured a strangely oversized headshot of Yousef with the byline “We are Muslim.  We don’t use crosses.  We are going to paint inside the church because we don’t honor icons.”

The author of the piece, Renee K. Gadoua, is listed as a “freelance writer” with no apparent hidden agenda.  A quick search reveals Gadoua blogs for Sojourners magazine, a “Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice” and declares its mission is to put “faith into action in the passionate pursuit of social justice, peace, and environmental stewardship.”  One of her recent Tweets stated “#ISIS is pretty bad, but don't believe everything you hear about this #jihadist group.”  In it she shares a link to a foreignpolicy.com article that parses the horrors inflicted by ISIS and insinuates it’s being slandered -- it’s not as bad as people make it out to be.

Gadoua is an enabler – one of those Christians (in this case a Jesuit Catholic) who retweets Obama, listens to NPR, is an avowed feminist, and holds the Dali Lama and Maya Angelou as heroes.  She is a Progressive in its sincerest sense.  She is an enabler because it is her brand of United Nations Utopian ideals that repeatedly asks “Why can’t we all just get along?” while our enemies exploit us.

Gadoua continued to promote the Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam in an article titled, “Second Chance for Sacred Spaces” that appeared in “The Good Life, Central New York” magazine.  In it she tells how an “environmental interior design class” at Syracuse University spent part of their spring semester creating proposals to transform the church into a mosque.  She boasted how they considered “gauzy curtains with Arabic lettering to close out the stained glass windows;” and how the students suggested a “curtain or screen to separate men and women during worship;” also that they participated in a “crucial part of the redesign” in “creating the mihrab niche, a semicircle that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca…”

Ultimately it’s a feel-good article discussing how Syracuse is planning to begin a “survey of…approximately 200 religious properties to see which are vacant” so they can be “repurposed” and possibly transformed to commercial use so they can be used for tax credits.

So…everything’s okay in Syracuse.  Sure they recently had an anti-Israel protest.  Sure the local liberal paper continues to spew anti-Semitism from the likes of the Syracuse Peace Council and others: “Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.”

Luckily everyone has forgotten the 2000 arson attack at Syracuse’s Temple Beth El in which two men of Palestinian descent were later arrested.  (Oddly, only one reference to it exists on Syracuse.com today, buried in an article that mentions it only as the first hate-crime indictment in the county.)  At the time, approximately 150 agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and state and local police were involved in the investigation.  I worked in Syracuse at the time and it was disturbing to see a police presence constantly protecting the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Home (for the elderly), and other Jewish establishments in the area.  I was even afraid to grab my lunch at the Jewish deli not far from the synagogue.

First Lady Hillary Clinton was near Syracuse for an event at the time of the attack and told the press:

I would just urge that everyone be very careful about how we treat one another, how we speak with one another, be vigilant against any who might want to cause any damage to any church or synagogue or mosque or any other holy site…We do not need that in New York.  We do not need that in America.

Less than a year later, the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded.

Fourteen years after the attack on the synagogue, Temple Beth El is closed, the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary has replaced Holy Trinity Church on the city’s North side, and everyone is stumped why there is an alarming increase in violence on Syracuse’s Northside; an area overloaded with Dr. Yusuf Soule’s “refugees.”

In fact, the city is in such good shape that Syracuse’s mayor, Stephanie Miner, is telling President Obama to send illegal immigrants from the border up to her city. “The entire Syracuse community wants to help,” she wrote him.  Indeed, they probably couldn’t find a more appropriate environment to relocate to.

Jenna Bowen is a pseudonym.

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