A peace march to support for a controversial proposal for a mosque in Sheepshead Bay turned ugly on Thursday after residents jeered marchers, most of whom were from outside the area.
“This is a Jewish neighborhood — build a mosque in your own neighborhood,” yelled Stan Yunatanov, who lives across the street from the proposed house of worship and cultural center planned for Voorhies Avenue between East 28th and East 29th streets.
Another woman, who refused to give her name, yelled, “[Muslims] don’t love America. They hate America.”
There were no arrests, but tension — which were already high ever since the Muslim American Society purchased the property earlier this year — was definitely of Biblical proportions during the “Children of Abraham Interfaith Peace Walk,” the seventh annual march for the Park Slope-based group.
The peace group originally planned to have its march in Coney Island, but decided to have it in Sheepshead Bay to support the embattled mosque project.
“It’s a show of support for the right of all faiths to worship,” said Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, one of the event organizers and the head of Kolot Chayeinu, a Jewish congregation that holds its services in a Park Slope church.
The show of support had a distinct “outsider” feel, however. Organizers said that they tried to get locals involved, but failed.
“We tried to recruit local clergy, but nobody wanted to join the walk,” said Rev. Tom Martinez, another Park Slope-based cleric.
And the original starting place for the parade — St. Mark’s Catholic Church on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Avenue Z — was changed after the church pulled out, citing local complaints, organizers said.
As a result, the march started on Voorhies and Ocean avenues. In all, about 200 children and adults — many waving American flags — walked peacefully down Emmons Avenue and up Bedford Avenue before turning down Voorhies, where they were greeted with the catcalls. Some opponents held photos of Muslims burning an American flag and denounced the mosque’s affiliation with the Muslim American Society, which has been tied to Hamas and Hezbollah.
That’s balderdash, said Ahmed Allowey, a longtime neighborhood resident who is working with the Muslim group to create the mosque because the “organization has programs for young people [to] maintain their Islamic identity as well as their American identity so they can grow up to be proud Muslims and proud Americans.”
Despite the ugly catcalls, the majority of anti-mosque residents said that their opposition was not about religion at all, but about traffic. The mosque would be on a very narrow street with little parking.
“I would say the same thing if it were a Catholic church because this isn’t a good spot for a house of worship,” said Amelia McMahon, who lives a block from the site. “This is a residential neighborhood. There’s nowhere to park, and I don’t want all the noise and traffic around here.”
That said, there is a growing Muslim population in the neighborhood, and many said they will walk to the mosque. As it is now, followers of Islam have no local place to worship and teach the religion to their children, supporters said.
“We are more than 100 families in this neighborhood,” said Salle Colagi, who lives with his wife and three children near the site. “This is a good spot for the mosque because usually when we go to worship, or to teach our kids, we have to travel all the way to Bay Ridge or Canarsie. Once this is built, we can walk here.”