As they consider a use permit on Thursday to allow for an Islamic school and worship center in south Lodi, the San Joaquin County Planning Commissioners may become embroiled in a major power struggle among Muslims in the community.
Tensions have become so elevated that one Islamic faction in Lodi has filed suit against another over the Islamic center proposed on Lower Sacramento Road. In the lawsuit, mosque leaders question the expenditure of mosque funds toward the Islamic center project.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit have asked the Planning Commission to postpone a public hearing scheduled for Thursday night in Lodi until the lawsuit has been heard in court, said Mohammad Shoaib, president of the Lodi Muslim Mosque. In the lawsuit, mosque leaders hope the court will award money being spent on the Islamic center that they believe belongs to them.
Planners are aware enough of the tensions between two feuding Islamic factions that they waited until this week to conduct their public hearing on the Islamic center application so they could accommodate a large crowd in Lodi. Thursday's meeting will be held at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds on Lockeford Street.
County planners have instead focused more on traffic concerns on Lower Sacramento Road between Harney Lane and Armstrong Road and less on the lawsuit and the infighting within the Lodi mosque.
Mosque board member Naheem Qayyum said Monday it may be a mistake for the county Planning Commission to, in essence, bring together the feuding factions to one location. While he hopes there aren't any problems Thursday, Qayyum said he hopes Lodi police brings enough officers to make sure tensions don't flare.
Lodi Police Lt. Bill Barry said that officers will drive past the Grape Festival grounds Thursday, but no special police presence is planned.
"Whether some people disagree or not is beside the point," said former mosque President Nasim Khan, who supports the Islamic center. "In a civilized society, we need to act in a civilized manner."
An organization called Farooqia Islamic Center plans to build a worship hall and 8,000 square feet of classroom space for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. It already contains a 2,650-square-foot library on the east side of Lower Sacramento Road, south of the "S" curve between Harney Lane and Armstrong Road.
The use permit may have been approved last September had it not been for some traffic issues on Lower Sacramento Road, Deputy Community Development Director Chandler Martin said in an interview last year.
After several months of negotiations, Farooqia leaders and county planning staff agreed to prohibit southbound traffic on Lower Sacramento Road from turning left into the Islamic center. The county will also prohibit any U-turns from southbound motorists in the Harney Lane/Armstrong Road area.
Shoaib and other leaders at Lodi Muslim Mosque oppose the use permit to build the Farooqia Islamic Center because of a feud they have with Mohammad Adil Khan, who said for at least three years that he was the imam, or spiritual leader, of the Lodi mosque. However, Shoaib and Qayyum maintain that Khan was never an imam in Lodi.
Khan is listed as the president and one of five trustees of the fledgling Farooqia Islamic Center. He is also one of five defendants of a lawsuit filed in March by the Lodi Muslim Mosque. The mosque is listed as the plaintiff, but no one's name is mentioned.
The defendants are listed as Mohammad Adil Khan, former Lodi mosque Presidents Aman Khan and Nasim Khan along with Ramzan Ali and Mohammad Hussain. The three Khans say they are not related.
Mosque leaders allege in their lawsuit that Farooqia officials prepared plans without the mosque board's approval or knowledge. They also allege that there has been no accounting of money generated from donations by mosque members toward the Farooqia project and how money generated from a seven-acre site the mosque previously owned on Armstrong Road has been spent.
The mosque requests that the court award the plaintiff $187,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.
Attempts to reach Mohammad Adil Khan and secretary Mohammed Asan Khan Monday were unsuccessful.
Taj Khan, who supports the Farooqia project, said he hopes the Planning Commission approves the use permit.
"The project is very sound, well thought out," said Taj Khan, who says he isn't related to the other Khans. "County staff has found no fault with it. We feel very positive and forward looking."
He noted the support the mosque has achieved with Christians and Jews in Lodi.
But questions about money form the key to the dispute within the mosque.
According to its 2003 income tax return, Farooqia Islamic Center had income of $135,105.01, all from individual contributions. The center spent more than $57,000 in 2003, including $25,000 in fundraising expenses. The largest expense was $20,625 for travel. Total assets are listed as $446,237.93, with the Islamic center property worth $422,000, the tax form shows.
The Farooqia Islamic Center, according to its income tax form, is governed by five trustees: President Mohammad Adil Khan, who lives on the property, Secretary Mohammed Asan Khan of Daly City, Treasurer Mohammed Halcik of East Palo Alto, Mubarak Ali Khan of San Jose and Saijad Zaid Hussein of Henderson, Nev.
Thursday's county Planning Commission meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Chardonnay Hall on the Lodi Grape Festival grounds, 413 E. Lockeford St.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.