After a lengthy and divisive public hearing, the City Council passed an ordinance allowing the broadcast of the adhan or the Islamic call to prayer.
Council members voted 5-4 to adopt the ordinance following a more than two-hour long public hearing.
Nearly 30 people spoke at the public hearing both in favor and against the measure. Before the public hearing, councilman Shahin Khalique, who sponsored the ordinance, sent out text messages and robocalls to encourage supporters of the measure to attend the meeting.
“The Christians use the bell to call people to worship. The Jews use the shofar to call people to worship. And the Muslims use the adhan to call people to worship,” said imam A. Quddoos Farra’d of Masjid Salahuddin on Broadway.
Masjid Salahuddin has been broadcasting the call to prayer for the past half-decade without complaints from neighbors, said Farra’d, who served in the Vietnam War. “I fought for the freedom of religion.”
Farra’d said the U.S. Constitution protects his right to practice his religion.
Farra’d was among a dozen people who spoke in favor of the measure. Others, more than a dozen people, spoke out against the measure.
“I pray to God you vote against this ordinance,” said resident Stephen Bauer. He has sent emails to council members to oppose the measure.
Bauer said the ordinance is an “imposition” on the non-Muslim residents of Paterson. He faced interruptions from council president Maritza Davila and law director Farrah Irving after he attempted to tie Islam to terrorism.
Some local church leaders also spoke out against the ordinance. Last week, some pastors held a meeting to discuss the ordinance at a church. Five council members attended the meeting potentially violating the New Jersey Sunshine Law.
Council members were just as divided as the speakers during the public hearing.
“What you saw today is fear mongering. Islamophobia is alive and well. I’m sad to say it’s in the city of Paterson,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz.
“This is about being fair to everyone,” said Khalique. “If churches could ring the bells, why can’t we call the adhan?”
Council members Ruby Cotton and William McKoy pointed out some mosques have been calling the adhan without facing problems.
“We’re attempting to solve a problem that does not exist,” said McKoy, longest serving member of the City Council.
Both Cotton and McKoy said there should be more discussions before the measure is adopted. Khalique pointed out there were four public meetings to discuss the measure.
“We cannot do a law that favors any religion,” added councilman Luis Velez. He cited the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
“It is a tough decision we’re making today. As you can see there is already division,” said Davila.
Davila voted in favor of the measure. She was joined by Abdelaziz, Flavio Rivera, Michael Jackson, and Khalique.
Cotton, McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, and Velez voted against.
Cheers erupted after the council granted final approval to the measure.
Many speakers said the measure is dividing a city that’s home to more than 50 ethnic groups.
“This is not to divide the community. I’m trying to be fair and equal. This not about my re-election,” said Khalique.
Khalique is running for re-election in two months. His critics say the measure is a ploy to burnish his image ahead of the election. Khalique suffered a blow last month when it was revealed he had been arrested for intoxicated driving by New Jersey State Police in 2010.
Several speakers suggested the council place the ordinance on the ballot for a referendum.
“This is a melting pot. I want everyone to feel at home in the city,” said Rivera. “If it’s not working, we can revisit it.”
Paterson is home to approximately 30,000 Muslims.