Failed Commitments

Concerns about whether mosque leaders have lived up to their commitments to Greater Roxbury
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 19, 2008

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Although the mosque's leaders promise to provide benefits to the Greater Roxbury community, skeptics remain — in large part because of the failure to follow through on other commitments.

Few, if any, jobs on the mosque project have gone to Roxbury companies or black-owned businesses — despite assurances that they would. And despite agreements to use union labor, it has not been used on the interior build-out of the mosque, according to several sources, including one sub-contractor and one individual who worked for hire on the mosque.

Many Roxbury Muslims say that during the decade since the Islamic Society of Boston got approval to build the mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) has also failed to follow through on contributing to the needs of the local community. Even some of its members and supporters concede that the mosque has focused its charitable energies and resources on broader, international Muslim- and Arab-related concerns.

Imam Taleeb Mahdee of Masjid al-Quran, a mosque on Intervale Street, says that efforts have improved recently: the mosque contributes monthly to the Masjid Al-Hamdulillah's food pantry, for instance.

"It's true that the ISB initially did not do the community outreach, but we made them understand that they needed to do it," says Wassim Abouyasin, who was part of the original project's board of directors when it formed in 1988. Now, he says, "nobody's being excluded."

And now that the mosque is partially opened, it has begun hosting some events, including a recent career fair.

But the most glaring failure has been the failure to maintain and clean the two nearby parks, which the mosque has been under contract to do since 2003.

A contract signed by mosque director Yousef Abou-Allaban and Antonia Pollack, then-commissioner of Boston's Parks & Recreation Department, outlines the ISB's responsibilities in Jeep Jones Park. They include "providing labor and equipment, as needed, to clean the Park"; "seasonal plantings and maintenance"; "inspecting and monitoring the trash collection and clean-up"; and "providing monthly progress reports to the Parks Department."

For the first five years of the 10-year agreement, none of this has been done. Mosque executive director Bilal Kaleem does not dispute that this obligation has been neglected.

A woman living close by on Roxbury Street tells the Phoenix that she takes her granddaughter to play in better-kept parks much further away, in South Bay or by Green Street. "The few times we were there [at Jeep Jones Park], there was glass and garbage in the play area," she says.

"It's awful," says a Timilty Middle School teacher. The last time anybody recalls the park being cleaned was early this year, when City Year came. "Now no one cleans it any more," says Mark, a 14-year-old who was shooting hoops alone on a Saturday afternoon. He thinks the park's condition is awful, but shrugs: "It's an old park." It isn't: it opened in 1997.

The White Play Space, which the mosque is also under contract to maintain, has been routinely overrun with waist-high weeds; a nearby homeowner calls the mosque group whenever the weeds surpass the height of the surrounding fences. During July 4 weekend, a gray bucket seat was dumped over the gate; it was still there three weeks later, with a shattered whiskey bottle beside it.

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