INDIA ABROAD March 24, 2017 T3 NY/NJ/CT
intent of renovating it into an
Islamic center. The center would
host prayers five times a day,
religious classes for children, and
a soup kitchen open to all.
The warehouse, which had
been used by a roofing company
and a marine supply business,
seemed out of the way, tucked
into Bayonne’s quiet, residential
East End, which is isolated from
the rest of town by Route 440 on
one side and a set of train tracks
on the other.
But what seemed to Mr. Akbar
an advantage was a huge issue
for some locals.
“It’s quiet and peaceful, that’s
what we moved here for,” said
Eric Loarte, 48, who lives a few
doors down from the proposed
mosque and was primarily wor-
ried about traffic. “That’s going
to be taken away from us.”
But he also had other con-
cerns. “They are trying to take
over the block and the neighbor-
hood,” he said of the Muslim
community. And neighbors, Mr.
Loarte said, were also afraid of
what might be preached at the
mosque. He noted that Omar
Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheikh
who masterminded the 1993
World Trade Center bombing,
had preached at a mosque in
nearby Jersey City.
“You never know,” he said.
“It’s happened before.”
The anti-mosque cause was
picked up by people across town,
who formed a Facebook group
and put up signs that said things
like “Save Bayonne” and “Stop
the Mosque.” One of them was
Joseph Basile, the pastor of Grace
Bible Fellowship, a local evangel-
ical church, who said his house
was vandalized several times
after he posted the signs, includ-
ing with a brick through the win-
dow. At a preliminary zoning
hearing several months ago, he
asked if members of the mosque
“believed in Shariah law,” before
being told by the board that the
question was irrelevant.
“I thought it was very relevant, because I believe you cannot hold to Shariah law and the
U.S. Constitution at the same
time,” he said.
While he’s not sure how many
local residents agree with him, “I
don’t think a day has gone by in
the past few months if I’m outside walking on Broadway that
somebody doesn’t come up to
me and say, ‘Thank you’ and I
have no idea who they are,” he
Last October, someone spray-painted crude phrases against
Muslims and the words “Donald
Trump” outside the Muslim worship site at St. Henry’s school.
Within hours, police arrested a
20-year-old Bayonne man. Mayor
Jimmy Davis strongly condemned the hate crime.
On Monday, a group of
Muslims stood to pray at the
opening of the zoning meeting.
In response, a group of Christians
started reciting the Lord’s Prayer,
witnesses said. Later, a woman
began quoting verses from the
Quran that she said condoned
violence against non-Muslims,
video of the meeting showed.
She spoke for several minutes
before zoning board members
shut her down.
In the end, the vote was 4-3 in
favor of the variance that the
mosque needed to function in
the residential neighborhood.
But the measure needed five
votes to pass.
“I do believe there is a place
for a community center for our
Muslim friends,” said
Commissioner Louis Lombardi,
Since then, Mayor Davis has
called for civility and patience.
Bayonne Muslims is speaking
with lawyers and other congrega-
tions who have faced similar
challenges. The group lost its
lease at St. Henry’s School in
January, because with several
hundred worshipers now on
Fridays, the church said it had
outgrown the small space.
Mr. Akbar said that he believes
the bigoted voices against the
mosque represent “a very small
minority” in the city. He said
Muslims have felt welcome there
and that many other residents
had expressed strong support of
their civil rights.
“It’s going to be a really nice
place,” he said, standing outside
the empty warehouse. “We are
not giving up on it.”
— The New York Times
Worship Zoned Out
By George Joseph
t was a rare honor for a
child, but 10-year-old Arya
Babu of Solon, Ohio, was
up for it: The young pianist
returned to Carnegie Hall
on March 5 for her fourth
“It was wonderful,” said her
mother, Smitha Babu. “As
always, it was a great experience
and Arya thoroughly enjoyed it.
She wants to go to other halls
like Alberto in London and
Wiener Saal, Mozarteum some-
time if she gets a chance.”
The fourth grader has been
studying piano since she was 4
years old and has won several
competitions. In 2014, Arya won
second place at the Carmel Debut
International Piano competition
in Carmel, Indiana and at the
American Protégé competition in
New York, even with competitors
more than twice her age. That led
to her Carnegie Hall debut in
She said she loves music and
playing piano makes her happy.
She often performs at cultural
events, both in the Indian community and the community-at-large.
“I heard her recital in piano at
a function,” wrote one community leader, P.S. Nair. “The audience was spellbound at her virtuosity in performing at the piano.
She looked totally immersed in
the music and her expression
Her mother said her earliest
lessons were taken on the fami-
ly’s upright piano but Arya later
moved to a concert grand piano.
There are no musicians on either
side of the family, said Smitha
Babu, and yet Arya “is a natural
dancer, she loves to dance.” She
said her daughter is also a trained
Smitha said the prestige of
playing at Carnegie Hall is price-
less for her daughter, who also
loves chess, reading and paint-
ing. Her piano teacher, Cynthia
Crotty, said her young student
works hard and it pays off.
“There are certain things you
can't teach and that's how she
feels the music naturally,” said
“The music just lives there,
and you can feel what her heart
feels when she plays.”
Arya said that so far she has
enjoyed all the music Crotty has
chosen for her.
Her mother said Crotty is the
best thing that’s happened to
Arya, who has other ambitions
beyond becoming a concert
pianist. She has also set her
sights on being a pediatric surgeon.
Young Pianist’s Encore Performance
Arya Babu, 10, returns to Carnegie Hall for fourth concert
Continued from page T2