Muslim residents in Bayonne, New Jersey, were denied a prayer center to call their own on Monday night. The Bayonne Muslims non-profit group has been trying to open this center since 2015, but after five hearings, a five-hour meeting, and plenty of input from residents, the center was unable to get the votes it needed to be approved.
Although the board voted 4-3 in favor of the center, it needed five votes to pass. The votes against the community center cited reasons like parking and traffic concerns, although the proposed center was on a dead-end street. A licensed planning professional at the meeting also said the center would not conflict with peak parking hours.
Residents in favor of the center felt the decision was based on anti-Muslim feelings. However, Mark Urban, chairman of the board, insisted this was not a religious issue.
“We’re not going there,” he told the audience. “This is a zoning issue only.”
For many residents, however, this was all about religion. Residents are given a public platform to speak at these meanings and offer their opinions. Some used their five minutes to negatively cite verses from the Quran as reasons against the center, NJ Advance Media reported.
Meanwhile, other residents passed out flyers that read, “each Muslim is attempting to follow and obey their books’ rules, which is to kill and destroy and to take over the homes of those who are not Muslim,” CBS2 reported. Clearly, for those against the center, their opposition was rooted in Islamophobia and racism.
The center was expected to include prayer rooms, a soup kitchen, and classrooms. The Muslim community in Bayonne was previously using the basement of St. Henry’s Church as a prayer space. They rented the room temporarily, waiting for their proposed center to be approved by the zoning board.
The church was vandalized in October 2016 last year, with anti-Muslim and racist graffiti. The hate incident came at a time when hate crimes were on the rise due to Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric. Now, with the denial of the Muslim community center occurring just when the second Muslim Ban was passed, residents opposing the center are still being fueled by the Trump administration’s policies and views towards Muslims.
The Bayonne Muslims group has said they are considering appealing the decision.