Evicted mosque’s Iman is having a hard time finding new home in evolving Harlem neighborhood

Masjid Aqsa Mosque, with a 1,500-member congregation, has been shunned by  landlords who would rather build luxury apartments.

Imam Souleimane Konate and congregants of the Masjid Aqsa Mosque in Harlem are now without a place of worship after they were evicted more than a week ago. The owner wants to build apartments.

Imam Souleimane Konate and congregants of the Masjid Aqsa Mosque in Harlem are now without a place of worship after they were evicted more than a week ago. The owner wants to build 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.

Condominiums are sprouting up along Frederick Douglass Blvd. The posh Limore Condominiums are across the street from the shuttered mosque.

Condominiums are sprouting up along Frederick Douglass Blvd. The posh Limore Condominiums are across the street from the shuttered mosque.

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 roughly 15-year-old mosque has been the heart of Harlem’s Little Africa  and served as a local community hub, providing educational, employment and other  services to African immigrants.

“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.”

jransom@nydailynews.com

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/evicted-mosque-find-new-home-harlem-article-1.1511483#ixzz2kGbn8zbJ

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