THE BARAKAH OF STANDING UP!
- Now for some GOOD NEWS out of New York City
An Inspirational Account of a Community's Struggle
To Reclaim their Masjid!
THE BARAKAH OF STANDING UP!
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation
First I received three phone calls thanking me for my support. Then one of my West African brothers sent me a copy of the appeals court decision that filled his community with almost unrestrained jubilation.
The order, dated May 5, 2009, reads as follows:
Order, Supreme Court, Bronx County (Howard R. Silver, J.) entered September 19, 2008, which denied defendant Masjid Al-Faysal's motion to vacate the default judgment of foreclosure and sale of its property and to enjoin or annul the delivery of the deed to the purchaser, unanimously reversed, on the law, with costs, the motion
granted, and the complaint dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendant dismissing the complaint.
Plaintiff failed to properly serve defendant, a corporation (see CPLR 311 [a] ; Business Corporation Law 306 [b]; Gouiran Family Trust v. Gouiran, 40 AD3d 400, 401  ["CPLR 308 (5) provides for special service upon natural persons only."
Accordingly, the judgment must be vacated and the action dismissed (CPLR 5105 [a] ; Security Pac. Natl. Trust (N.Y.) v. Chunassamy, 289 AD2d 151 ; Resolution Trust Corp. v. Beck, 243 AD2d 307 (1997).
THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.
I know, I know I had to read it twice myself, before I could comprehend the essence of what was being said. However, once you maneuver around the cumbersome legalese and wade past the requisite case law, the heart of the matter is found in the final paragraph
(before the concluding case law): "Accordingly, the judgment must be vacated and the action dismissed."
Now, let me explain to our readers what this is all about.
One day not too long ago, a perceptive member of the Futa Islamic Center, Inc. (aka, Masjid Al-Faysal) was going through a section of the local newspaper and came across a shocking line. The masjid
property of the community he belonged to was up for auction. He immediately brought this to the attention of other members of the masjid administration and the struggle for justice officially began.
After some inquiries, the brothers learned the building that this West African Muslim community had purchased in 2002, located at 3400 3rd Avenue in the Bronx - a registered 501(c) (3) tax exempt organization was scheduled to be on the auction block for back taxes! But that's not all. The city never contacted the community concerning this alleged debt!
The Futa Islamic Center is a sizeable community of humble means. Its members primarily consist of African immigrants from Guinea, Gambia, and Sierra Leone. Many are taxi drivers and peddlers who struggle to feed, clothe, educate and keep a decent roof over the head of their families. They are law abiding, and among them are many truly
The brothers and sisters, led by the masjid president, Ahmadou Diallo, immediately went into action. They contacted the requisite authorities and asked what they needed to do to save their property. New York's Department of Finance (DOF) asserted that Masjid Al-Faysal owed six years worth of property taxes to the city in the amount of
$24,804.20 and was emphatic that this debt had to be satisfied.
In an effort to prevent the matter from becoming any worse, the community immediately forked over $7,500 as a down payment to the city and signed an installment agreement which required quarterly payments of $1, 611.02 towards the tax arrears plus the current
taxes due by April 1, 2008. They were assured that as long as this agreement was upheld the property would not be sold.
To their collective horror, the community would later discover that the property was sold at public auction on April 15, 2008, to BX Third Avenue Partners, LLC, for half a million dollars. (The fair market value of the property was reportedly three million dollars.)
The community then hired an attorney and challenged the sale in court. Bronx Supreme Court Justice Howard R. Silver would later rule: "The record is devoid of any fraud, mistake, exploitative overreaching or any other factor which would justify the court's
intervention." With that decision, in the eyes of the community, Judge Silver became part of the conspiracy to "judicially steal their place of worship."
One of the community's central arguments (beyond the property's supposed tax exempt status) was that they never received the NOTICE REQUIRED BY LAW that the property was in jeopardy. Here is where it really gets stupid.
In a city with one of the largest Muslim populations in the western hemisphere, the New York Department of Finance (DOF) claimed that they didn't know that Masjid Al-Faysal was a "mosque." They thought it was an individual (or so they said), and made numerous attempts to locate "Mr. Masjid Al-Faysal"- supposedly making visits to the morgue, hospitals, etc.
(When I read this I immediately thought about the famous quote of the French philosopher, Voltaire: "Those who can make us believe absurdities can also cause us to commit atrocities." This was an absurdity of the highest order!)
DOF spokesman Owen Stone was quoted as saying, "Unfortunately, the owners never indicated that it was a mosque until several months after the property was auctioned." The problem with this defense, however, is that the 2002 contract of sale for 3400 3rd Avenue does list Masjid Al-Faysal as a mosque.
Judge Silver deepened the absurdity by determining that neither greed, nor fraud by the DOF (in possible collusion with others) had taken place, and that the DOF had indeed made a good faith effort to find "Mr. Masjid Al-Faysal."
In response, the community's attorney, William T. Martin, Esq. noted: "If the plaintiffs were credible in their efforts to obtain service they would have noticed a 24 hour restaurant adjacent to the mosque, named Jalloh Family Restaurant." And further, noted Martin, "If the plaintiffs had properly reviewed the public record they would have stumbled upon the Real Estate Transfer Tax Return and the Credit Line
Mortgage Certificate, which clearly indicate that the `Grantee' is in fact a mosque."
When I was contacted by telephone for my advice and support by two of the community's leaders, my response was that the city administration needed to be exposed and embarrassed over the issue. The community needed to mobilize a very public campaign; and mobilize they did! (In fact, the community was already in mobilization mode.)
On Wednesday, March 24, 2009, hundreds of brothers and sisters held a demonstration in front of the Bronx Supreme Court. A week later, on Wednesday, April 1, they marched on New York's City Hall. A week later, on
Wednesday, April 8, the community raised its collective voice in
front of the appellate court in downtown Manhattan.
I was unable to attend the March 24the demonstration because of a prior commitment. My intention was to attend the April 1st demonstration and press conference at New York's City Hall, but had to cancel because of sheer exhaustion. Despite lingering fatigue, I
forced myself to drive to New York for the April 8 mobilization and ended up being pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
I knew that the previous week's demo at City Hall was an overwhelming success (the numbers were huge), and I really didn't expect much when I drove to New York a week later; because when it comes confronting the system Muslims in America, generally speaking, are usually like sprinters - good only for short bursts (if they are willing to challenge at all) not like marathon runners. I expected there would be a token number of people outside the courthouse holding signs and making a little noise. How wrong I was.
As I rounded the corner I was met with at least three hundred men, women and children standing on the sidewalk making a lot of noise. The sea of predominantly dark faces caused me to forget all about how tired I was, and filled me with enormous pride! As I drove around the block looking for a parking space, I smiled and thought to myself, this is the way it's supposed to be done.
Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Tie your camel and have trust in ALLAH." This prophetic maxim emphasized doing everything in your human capacity to secure and/or defend your interests, and then leaving the rest to the divine will (qadr) of ALLAH, The Almighty. And this is precisely what the brothers and sisters of the Futa Islamic Center (aka, Masjid Al-Faysal) did. They hired an attorney, engaged in community outreach, and then took it to the streets!
The people who attempted to orchestrate this GRAND THEFT underestimated what they thought would be an easy patsy. In a post 9/11 America, where Muslims have been on the defensive all over the country, they saw an easy mark dark-skinned, immigrant, African MUSLIMS. But how wrong they were (alhamdullilah)!
On May 5, 2009, a year after this challenging saga began, a panel of appellate judges overturned Silver's appalling decision. It is my understanding that one of the judges recused himself from the case, and the remaining four voted unanimously in favor of the community and further, not only has the community regained ownership of its property, but the $5,000 per month that it was forced to pay the new
(temporary) owner, will be refunded back to the community.
This, O' Muslims, is one of the best examples of the Barakah (divine blessings) which can accrue from STANDING UP, and PUSHING BACK. May ALLAH (SWT) bless The Futa Islamic Center, and reward those persons (Muslims and non-Muslims) who stood with the community in its hour of need.
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