Dispute over mosque sheds light on black-Muslim split
There was a time when many black Americans and Muslims got along because of shared experiences of fighting discrimination.
They meshed in black neighborhoods when Arab businesses opened in many urban cities, extending credit and sometimes jobs to poor African-Americans.
So when black people in Pompano Beach opposed a mosque's planned move to their community and the outspoken Rev. O'Neal Dozier called Islam "a cult," many were stunned.
That unsettles people like Genard Hassell, who wonders how a black preacher can condemn another religion and lead an effort to bar other minorities from the neighborhood.
"Martin Luther King must be turning over in his grave," said Hassell, 45, a Lauderhill paralegal. "Dozier sounds like an old South Mississippi bigot of my youth. We of all people should understand that."
Such characterizations have resounded throughout the county.
"I'm surprised by all this rhetoric," said Cory Perez-Shade, chairwoman of the Broward County Diversity Advisory Board. "I considered African-Americans to be empathetic with other people."
Much of the dispute centers on the mistrust blacks in Pompano Beach have for Arab storekeepers. Some residents say the storeowners disrespect customers, overcharge for items and some sell tobacco and alcohol to minors.
That has affected how some black residents view Muslims, many of whom are immigrants and minorities. Muslims can be of any racial group.
"They don't contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community," Pompano Beach Commissioner E. Pat Larkins said of Arab-American proprietors. "Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away."
Muslim leaders say black community residents should be glad they have those businesses. "The very fact that a Muslim person is brave enough to come into a neighborhood that most other business owners will not come into is very commendable," said Altaf Ali, executive director of the Council On American-Islamic Relations.
Mike Hammad, who owns a string of convenience stores from Miami to Delray Beach, including two in Pompano Beach, said he hires area residents and contributes to their communities.
"We support schools, parks, churches and museums," Hammad said. "We get involved in neighborhood associations."
For some, that Muslims need to defend themselves is unusual. Black Americans have long embraced peers who converted to Islam. African-Americans such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who became Muslims, are icons.
"The Muslims were always well-respected because they stand for something," said Hassell, who grew up in New York and has lived in Florida for 20 years. "They're dignified."
Dozier and other ministers, however, say they fear the mosque could attract vulnerable young black men and women to its ranks and turn the neighborhood into a "breeding ground for terrorists." Dozier and the Rev. Alonzo Neal of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church repeatedly have said that all Muslims are "dangerous" because "they must declare war on other religions" to enter heaven.
But others in the black community say while they would not join the faith, they respect its members.
"The Muslims, at least in New York, make a difference," Hassell said. "I have seen them, with my own eyes, make heroin addicts men."
Still, tension between blacks and Arab-Americans is on the rise, particularly in urban areas of San Francisco and Detroit, where Middle Eastern immigrants have purchased stores in black communities.
"Black Americans are not wanting to venture out of their belief set, not professionally or socially," said Dr. E. Carol Webster, a Fort Lauderdale psychologist. "People are pulling away if they don't fit in that configuration and rejecting anything to do with another group."
Another defeat for multiculturalism.