Masjid Aqsa Mosque, with a 1,500-member congregation, has been shunned by landlords who would rather build luxury apartments.
A Harlem Imam and his 1,500-member congregation were evicted from their longtime house of worship — and so far finding a new home in one of Manhattan’s most quickly evolving neighborhoods has proven quite a challenge .
The man of Allah says he’s been shunned by Harlem landlords, who would rather develop luxury apartments. “It’s very difficult to get a place in Harlem now,” said Imam Souleimane Konate, of Masjid Aqsa Mosque, which operated on Frederick Douglass Blvd. near W. 116th St. for about 15 years. “Not only is the rent high, but it is difficult for people to accept the mosque.”
Konate says he has identified viable locations nearby, but so far their owners have declined to tender him a lease.
The saga began two weeks ago, when city marshals evicted Konate after an ongoing rent dispute with the building owner, Joseph Rabizadeh. The enterprising owner would not comment on the dispute, but told the Daily News he plans to begin construction on a residential complex at the former site of the mosque and a row of five shuttered businesses.
I’m going to to develop the property,” Rabizadeh said, adding only that “they knew for two years” that this day would come.
It’s becoming a common dynamic along Frederick Douglass Blvd., where a chain of posh residences have sprouted up in succession .
“The mosque was the umbrella, the house of the community,” said Fuad Meygag, 51. “If you were looking for a job, shelter or food . . . people new to the country and needed help integrating (came here).”
There are other mosques nearby, but Konate said his center was also the only one that provided religious services in French and Arabic, as well as English.
Konate, whose lease expired last fall, said he knew his time on Frederick Douglass Blvd. was limited. Rabizadeh charged in housing court that Konate owed him $18,423 in back rent.
Konate argued he kept up with rent payments which had jumped from $4,000 to $10,000 a month in recent years. The matter will be settled in court.
It looks like a long road for Konate and his congregants, who may find it increasingly difficult to land a new home.
Frederick Douglass Blvd. was once a seedy strip, but its revitalization has posed a threat to houses of worship
“Religious institutions that do not own their real estate are subject to the whims of change of this real estate market,” said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Development Corp., adding that ownership “ensures longevity.”
That, unfortunately, was not the reality for Konate and his congregants, who now find themselves displaced .
“Everyone is calling me and saying ‘Imam, what are you going to do? Do you have a plan for us?’ ” Konate said. “I have to get a place for them.”