Islamic Center gets approval from W. Sacramento planning commission

Guldawood Khan, left, and Mohammad Tariq stand in front of the Madinah Islamic Center in West Sacramento.
Guldawood Khan, left, and Mohammad Tariq stand in front of the Madinah Islamic Center in West Sacramento. Anita Chabria

A West Sacramento Islamic house of worship will be allowed to stay open after weathering an anonymous campaign to deny it an operating permit.

The Madinah Islamic Center on 5th Street near Raley Field was given permit approvals by the West Sacramento Planning Commission on Thursday night despite phone calls to city staff and social media posts sparked by an anonymous flyer left on car windshields and doors on Wednesday.

The flyer did not explicitly oppose the Center, but warned that giving it a permit would make it “the 3rd Islamic Center” within the area.

The Islamic Center has operated without a permit for about 16 years, said Mohammad Tariq, a member of the Center and the owner of a market across the street.

Saad Sweilem, a civil rights attorney for the Sacramento Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, testified at the meeting that while the flyer was not explicitly about religion, it concerned him.

“A lot of times Islamophobia isn’t blatant,” Sweilem said. “It’s disguised.”

Residents attending Thursday’s meeting and planning commission members said the flyer was posted on multiple West Sacramento Facebook discussion boards on Wednesday, where some comments focused on the Islamic faith. Planning Commission head Bernadette Austin described some of the social media comments as “hateful and frankly racist” during the meeting.

West Sacramento city staff were also targeted through a Craigslist posting that encouraged people to call a city employee named on the flyer.

Located inside a small red brick house with rose bushes out front, the Center has about 20 families who worship there regularly, said Tariq. Many are of Pakistani descent and live close by, he said.

The Center applied for a permit recently after a fire in a neighboring structure caused damage. When Center members applied for a building permit to fix that damage, city inspectors informed them they needed a conditional use permit to operate a house of worship in the residential structure.

City zoning allows the house to be used as a place of worship.

A dozen people, many members of the Islamic Center, turned out Thursday to support the project, which would keep the exterior of the 1,276-square-foot Center as-is but add parking in the back and include interior changes.

Three people spoke against it, citing concerns about possible noise, parking issues and outdoor lighting. None of those speaking in opposition cited religious objections.

Rosemary Robinson, an East Sacramento resident who owns property near the Islamic Center, was one of those who voiced concerns. Robinson said she felt the Center was ill kept and wanted exterior improvements as part of the permitting process.

“It’s really run down,” said Robinson. “My concern isn’t who goes there to pray or who goes there to speak.”

Steve Peterson, who lives nearby, also had concerns. Peterson said he was disappointed no conditions such as limiting hours of operation were placed on the Center.

“As a neighbor, I was looking at it strictly from a land-use standpoint, and my point was that they needed to apply some conditions to the operating of the facility to make sure it was a good neighbor,” said Peterson. “I’m very supportive of racial diversity, and I like living in Sacramento because of its diversity.”

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to grant an operating permit to the Center, praising its history as a good neighbor.

Planning Commission member Andrew Sturmfels said during the meeting that he was concerned earlier in the day that the meeting might be disruptive, but was happy with the outcome.

“I certainly felt really good about how the meeting went. I think the public process did the project justice in terms of what it should have done,” Strumfels said Friday. “It was the right decision to move (the permit) forward.”

Final approval could come in a few months.

Standing in front of the Center late Thursday night as members held prayers inside, Tariq said the community support was “amazing.”

“Thank you very much to the West Sacramento community as well as everyone else,” he said. “Everybody is so excited.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa