West Africans win their mosque back

Members of a Third Avenue mosque protested in March and April against the sale of their building. On May 5, congregation Masjid Al-Faysal won the building back, in court. Photo by Victor Chu

On Third Avenue, West African Muslims are jumping for joy. The desperate Masjid Al-Faysal congregation scored an enormous court victory on May 5. A State Supreme Court judge sided with Masjid Al-Faysal against the city’s Department of Finance.

A year after losing 3400 Third Avenue to a tax lien auction, the members of Al-Faysal have their mosque back.

“Everyone is excited,” said Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, a Muslim leader in the Bronx. “Everyone is happy.”

The building was foreclosed and auctioned off to a developer for $500,000 last April. Masjid Al-Faysal (Masjid means mosque) owed six years of property taxes.

According to president Ahmadou Diallo, the mosque never paid property taxes because the city never advised the mosque of its debt. The DOF had an incorrect mailing address for Masjid Al-Faysal. Efforts to alert the mosque failed because DOF reps were asked to hunt down a Mr. Masjid Al-Faysal instead.

Diallo and other Bronxites originally from Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone bought 3400 Third Avenue cash in 2002. Taxi drivers and peddlers, they scrimped and saved to secure the property. DOF transfer papers list Masjid Al-Faysal as a house of worship, Drammeh said.

DOF reps visited 3400 Third Avenue prior to the auction and found no Mr. Masjid Al-Faysal. According to Diallo, they could have asked at a West African restaurant on the same block; the restaurant’s owner is a Masjid Al-Faysal member.

When a member found 3400 Third Avenue listed for sale in a newspaper, Diallo visited the DOF and set up a payment plan. The building was sold anyway.

Last fall, Masjid Al-Faysal filed suit and a Bronx judge ruled against the mosque. Masjid Al-Faysal appealed.

Drammeh doesn’t know how the DOF will resolve the ownership of 3400 Third Avenue. Masjid Al-Faysal has been renting the building month to month.

Drammeh helped to stage protests in front of the DOF on Third Avenue, the Bronx Supreme Court and in Manhattan in March and April.

“Without the protests, people would not have known about the injustice,” he said. “Now the city has to deal with its incompetent finance department.”

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