Mosque eyes Sutphin Blvd. for annual unity street fair

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A South Jamaica mosque is hoping to move its annual Unity in the Community festival from a side street to Sutphin Boulevard this summer, but a combination of religious and political conflicts may have stalled the necessary permits, mosque leaders said.

The Masjid Al-Hamdu-Lillah, at 121-03 Sutphin Blvd., has been holding its street fair along 120th Avenue since it first began in 1996, but this year, the mosque hoped to expand to three blocks along the larger thoroughfare, disrupting service along the No. 6 Green Bus line, said Aziz Uddin Bilal, the mosque's imam.

The proposal asks to allow the fair on Sutphin Boulevard from 119th Road to 123rd Avenue on July 12, Bilal said. The festival, which has grown to include about 2,000 patrons, features rides, games, music, dance, vendors and other attractions, he said.

"Everyone in the area looks forward to the street fair," Bilal said. "We felt we should do it in front of the mosque."

Community Board 12 initially denied the application for a street fair permit, which would have to be approved by a variety of city agencies including the Police, Fire, Sanitation, Consumer Affairs, Transportation and other departments. Chairman James Davis agreed to take another look at the proposal at the board's May meeting.

Davis was unavailable to comment on the status of the application.

Mosque leaders believe their religion, as well as Bilal's political aspirations - he ran for the city council seat now held by Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) in 2001 - held up the permit.

"I'm positive the fact that we are Muslims played a part in the denial," said Willie Cain, head of public relations for the mosque. "It's not the sole reason, but it's a part."

The common misperception of the religion's followers as zealots is one of the reasons the mosque hosts the fair, Bilal said.

"We believe that we have to come forward and correct some miscommunications," he said. "This lets us get out there, in people's eye and lets them see what we are about. African-American Muslims want what everyone else wants: a decent job, a future for our children and safe place to live."

In the political arena, Bilal said his previous candidacy could be seen as a threat to Yvonne Reddick, Board 12's district manager and the Queens County Democratic Party's choice to replace Jennings.

Reddick denied the claim, saying that a street fair on Sutphin Boulevard would cause a detour in the bus route, sending it through a residential community.

Bilal does not intend to run for City Council this year, he said.

The fair started about seven years ago as a way to bring the community together, Bilal said. The mosque had a large role in ridding the neighborhood of the drug dealers and crime that ran rampant in the early 1990s, he said.

"It was a mecca for undesirables," Bilal said. "The community was imprisoned in their homes. People were afraid to come out of their homes."

The festival was part celebration of the residents reclaiming their community and part proof that South Jamaica was indeed safer, he said.

Aside from the street fair, the mosque also started an after-school youth program, Keep Elevated Youth Services, to offer martial arts and computer and job training, Bilal said. Like the street festival and the mosque's prayer services, the youth program is open to the community, he said.

"We are not people who do things just for the mosque," Bilal said. "The concept is only being inclusive. People come together and work together."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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