Menino's mosque

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 24, 2008

The BRA also never had asked the ISB to provide a detailed breakdown, or professional verification, of the ISB's $13 million cost estimate — which turned out to be optimistic. In May 2001, contractors' bids came in between $22 and $26 million, according to Maarij Kirmani, a local engineer who served on the ISBCC Construction Advisory Board.

The new cost estimates were "well beyond the expectations of our donors," ISB assistant director Selma Kazmi wrote in a memo that month.

The ISB began a redesign to lower the cost, with the help of John Moriarty & Associates, a Winchester-based construction-management company. "The original plan was much more than they could handle," says John Moriarty. "We came up with a minimalist scheme that would meet their main need, which was a place of assembly."

That meant splitting off nearly all the "community center" aspects of the mosque — classrooms, meeting rooms; virtually all uses aside from prayer — into "Phase II," according to Moriarty.

In fact, that appears to be a slight exaggeration. The existing layout includes a fair amount of usable function space, including meeting rooms, a lounge area, and library space. However, it is still limited compared with the original plans — and none of those areas have been finished and furnished yet. It is unclear when the money will be available and dedicated to that purpose. The priority clearly has been placed on readying the building for prayer.

The current mosque leaders have no projected start date for Phase II. "There are no active plans for it right now," says Kaleem, executive director of MAS-Boston, the group now in charge of the mosque.

The lack of funding forced mosque leadership not only to curtail the community benefits from the project, but also to scrap plans for the mitigation of community harm: namely, traffic and parking, which had been a major source of concern throughout the planning process. The plan for 167 underground parking spaces was cut to around 50 in the attempt to reduce costs.

And the financial situation only got worse after the attacks of 9/11 severely curtailed donations from the Middle East, say sources close to the fundraising effort, as potential donors feared ending up on an FBI watch list. They may have had good reason for concern: the ISB ultimately agreed to share its records with federal investigators.

The ISB began working closely with federal agents soon after 9/11, according to several sources. Documents show that the mosque officially adopted a "Know Your Donor" program in 2003, through which contact information of any donor who gave more than $5000 would be collected and turned over to authorities. "The FBI was vetting the contribution list, with the ISB's help," says one source who worked closely with the ISB. As a result, "in 2003/2004 the money dried up. . . . People in Saudi Arabia were worried about the FBI breathing down their neck."

Quincy imam Talal Eid — a well-known figure in local Muslim circles who has closely followed the mosque project from its beginnings — dismisses the notion that the funding problems stem from the controversies and lawsuits that began in 2004, with public allegations of extremist ties. Eid says that the original plan to raise money from Gulf countries ran into the post-9/11 reality. "There is no more going outside and collecting money from the Gulf," he says. "Now they have no choice but to raise money from the local area" — a much more limited source of funds.

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