Temecula’s Mayor Ron Roberts vowed to help a local Muslim community build a new mosque.
Plans for the religious center – which will sit on Nicolas Road – were approved in January, and the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley is raising funds to build it.
Roberts spoke at the Islamic Center on Rio Nedo during their monthly pot luck Saturday to give them an update on some local projects and to say the city will help them in any way possible.
“I’m here to help, I have a staff that’s here to help,” he said about the mosque plans. “It’s going to happen. We’ve worked too hard for it not to happen.”
Sometimes bureaucracy can hamper a project, Roberts said. He works part time for County Supervisor Jeff Stone, and the biggest complaint he gets from people is about red tape, he told the congregation. “I can guarantee, Temecula’s not like that.”
The City Council approved the project after a meeting that lasted more than seven hours, which holds the record as the city’s longest meeting.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve spent time together. Last time we spent more time than we probably wanted to spend together,” he said to the congregation. “It was the longest council meeting ever, but it was worth every minute of it to accomplish what we had to accomplish.”
He and the other council members wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to talk before voting at the January meeting, he said.
“At the end of the meeting, no matter who wins or loses, everybody feels like they said what they wanted to say,” Roberts said.
In the end, they made the right decision on the mosque, he said. “We have upheld the constitution,” Roberts said. “As long as I’m on the City Council, we will continue to do so.”
Opposition fades away
All the opposition to the mosque – which was vocal and impassioned before the plan was approved – seems to be gone, he told the crowd.
“After about two weeks, most of the emails were from people who don’t live here,” he said.
Leading up to the vote, mosque opponents held protests outside the Islamic Center, handed out anti-Islamic fliers outside schools, held meetings at church aiming to ignite opposition and spoke against it to city officials for hours during public meetings.
That opposition was matched by support from community – mostly non-Muslims – who defended the right to practice religion freely.
The opposition never had a legitimate complaint, said Mahmoud Harmoush, the imam of the Islamic Center.
“All the other claims withered away now. They never had a foundation,” he said.
Smoothing over a bumpy road
Religious institutions are always hard to build, Roberts said. He recalled working with several Mormon congregations on difficult church projects and saw them to completion, despite the problems.
“It’s not easy to build a church,” Roberts said. “They always want to put the steeple higher than everybody else. People in the community feel threatened by that.”
He told the congregation about a plan to extend Butterfield Stage Road from Rancho California to Murrieta Hot Springs roads. “It’ll take a lot of traffic off Nicolas Road, which I’m sure makes you happy,” he said.
To read about that plan,.
He also announced plans to repave and restripe Nicolas Road, including a segment in front of the new mosque’s site.
During a question and answer period, Farouk Abdullah, a Murrieta resident and member of the congregation, asked, “What can we as a Muslim community do?”
“That’s the first time anybody asked me that. I’m almost speechless,” he said. “Just be good neighbors, as you are.”
Many in the crowd were happy to have the mayor as a guest. “It’s an honor to have somebody from the council, especially the mayor,” said congregation member Rawane Diop. “He’s very concerned about all our communities.”
To have special attention from the mayor for such a small crowd – fewer than 200 attended – was an honor, said congregation member Mike Johnson. “It’s kind of mind blowing,” he said. “We’re not a community that expects any special attention.”
At the end of the talk, Harmoush and board member Hadi Nael presented Roberts with a Quran.
Despite the recent controversy over the mosque, the Temecula community works together, Roberts said. “This is one community. We work together. That’s why I love Temecula,” he said.