Fight For Ownership In ‘Little Pakistan’ Continues — This Time Over A Beloved Mosque

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Makki Masjid. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)

MIDWOOD – An ivory colored structure stands sandwiched between two typical brick-colored three-story buildings between Avenue H and Glenwood Road on Coney Island Avenue. Though the stores next to it have closed and new ones have opened, Makki Masjid has stayed in that very spot since 1982.

The Mosque, whose official name is the Muslim Community Center of Brooklyn, has served as a place of refuge for Pakistani immigrants for decades. At every Jummah prayer, there are at least 3,000 congregants; there are even more during Eid and Taraweeh prayers. Makki Masjid is a place where many neighbors have grieved the death of their loved ones. It’s a place for activism. After 9/11, it stood as a reminder of hope. If the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of America, Makki Masjid holds the torch for Little Pakistan.

In 2016, neighbors gathered outside Makki Masjid in solidarity for two Muslims killed in Ozone Park, Queens. (Photo: Bklyner)

But now, everything is changing. People are fighting — literally. For what? A big ego? Money? A clash between nationalities? Transfer of power?

How about, all of the above?

Last Friday, Nov. 2, 66-year-old Akram Amin Khan, the president of the Mosque, was arrested outside the building. The NYPD tells Bklyner he was charged with assault after a victim claimed Amin Khan grabbed him by the shirt and punched him on the face numerous times, causing pain and swelling. Cops say the victim refused medical attention at the scene.

Every Friday, money is collected from the congregants for donation. Phrases like “But you aren’t doing anything for the masjid,” and “This is a masjid, why are you fighting?” can be heard in the video of a fight that happened one week before the arrest. “Why don’t you hold an election?” someone shouts. The argument gets physical.

“He shouldn’t have called the police,” Shahid Khan, founder of the non-profit, National Youth Organization of Pakistan said.

Shahid Khan is a community organizer and a very passionate one at that. He spoke over the phone; his tongue slipping from English to Urdu. He must have realized many jokes weren’t as funny in English, so he stuck with his native language.

“Zainab! Bring your mom’s big chappal and come down to Coney Island Avenue,” he laughed, referring to shoes that brown moms use to scold their children. “That is the only solution!”

“Where do I begin?” he sighed. There are a lot of factors contributing to fights at the Mosque. According to Shahid Khan, there’s a gap between the newcomers and ones who’ve been here a long time. “The old ones, they have a big ego, are conservative, and have complicated thoughts,” he said. “Many of the new ones are educated, were born here, can compromise, but they don’t have anything.”

Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner

It turns out the “newcomers” have had enough. They argue that the Mosque isn’t being run the right away. Where is the money going, they say?

Shahid Khan estimates that in one Jummah, people donate a total of $3,000 – $4,000. The money is supposed to be used on the Mosque; at least, that is why people donate. But that is not what it is being entirely used for.

It seems like the Mosque has always been under construction. Living in the neighborhood since one was born, it could be seen that scaffolding was routinely put up and donations boxes were always placed inside stores asking for money to “fix and build the Mosque.” But somehow after tremendous amounts of money, there is still scaffolding outside the Mosque (this time to build a pillar). And in a structure with over 3,000 congregants praying during the hot nights of Ramadan, there are still no air conditioners. So where does the money go?

“This is a big mafia,” Shahid Khan claimed. “Their intention isn’t good. Think about it, if the masjid is entirely built, who will give donations? Where will these people get the money to do their businesses? How will they get the money to use on the multiple gas stations that they own?”

Another contributor to the downfall of the Mosque is family. The old ones and the newcomers are all, one way or another, related to one another. “This masjid is a family enterprise,” Shahid Khan said.

Muslims praying. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)

The majority of the families are from Azad Kashmir. They are referred to as Mirpuri (which comes from the word Mirpur, which is the largest city in Azad Kashmir). According to the Makki Masjid constitution, all members of the Mosque must be Mirpuri (because it was indeed Mirpuri who founded the Mosque in the first place). In a neighborhood where many are Punjabi (people from Lahore, Pakistan) and Sindhi (people from Karachi, Pakistan), conflict is sure to erupt.

The Mosque’s constitution can be viewed here. 

“There’s a big fight between the Kashmiri and the Punjabi,” Shahid Khan said. “The Punjabi say ‘we’re donating the most money to the masjid, so why don’t we get a say?'”

It makes sense that members of the Mosque want to obey the constitution’s policy requiring only those from Azad Kashmir to be members, but many argue that other parts of the constitution should also be obeyed.

Article II states, “The purpose and objectives of the center shall be: – to strengthen fraternal bonds and brotherly relations among Muslims.”

What about #4.: “The purpose and objectives of the center shall be: – to work for universal brotherhood, social justice, and peace in accordance with the teachings of Islam?”

Or #6: “The purpose and objectives of the center shall be: – to develop closer cooperation and understanding among people of different faiths in general and Muslims in particular?”

The recent fights over ownership at the Mosque prove otherwise. It’s counteractive to say only Mirpuri have the biggest say in the Mosque, and then also use words like “brotherhood,” “fraternal bonds,” “understanding,” “cooperation,” and “peace.” According to Shahid Khan, many people are arguing simply for a say and they are not getting it because the constitution is quoted back at them. But what about Article II?

The cancelation of the Independence Day mela also played a big role in this mosque situation. The mela had occurred at the same time and place for 17 years until disputes among community members got it canceled. Similarly to the Makki Masjid situation, the dispute began with a “Why should the other group continue to be the organizers?”

“The community was already frustrated and depressed after the cancelation of the mela,” Shahid Khan said. “Many of the people involved in the mela situation are a part of Makki Masjid.”

According to Shahid Khan, if anybody has a problem with how something is being run, they should list all the points and bring it up legally. You can’t just go to someone and tell them to give you the mosque, no matter how good your argument might be, he said.

“If I go home and my wife tells me to leave and says I can’t stay there anymore, how does that make sense?” he asked. “At least tell me what I did and allow me to say something.”

“There needs to be a procedure, which this community does not seem to have.”

Shahid Khan believes the community is all alone. He says the council member doesn’t do anything, nor does anyone else in power. “So, I tell people to vote in the elections if they want to see things fixed. But nobody votes!”

“We call it Little Pakistan and we act like we’re the biggest and baddest and we can do anything, but we don’t vote. Who’s going to listen to us if we don’t vote?”

Shahid Khan is afraid the Mosque might shut down. And if it does, it won’t be the first time a Mosque would have locked its doors in Brooklyn. In August, an imam at a mosque in Kensington resigned and locked all of the doors after claims of embezzlement.

Masjid Nur Al Islam in Kensington. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)

But until anything happens, the ivory-colored structure will remain standing, squished in between two typical brick-colored buildings. And despite what goes down, both groups of people genuinely love Makki Masjid and want what they think  is best for it.

“These fights have ruined our community,” Shahid Khan said. “Things have gotten so bad, I don’t see them getting better any time soon.”

We reached out to the owner of the mosque, Ali Mushtaq, but he did not get back to for comment.  Balal Khan and Amin Khan were unavailable for comment. 

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Shahid Kahn doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He has no idea what’s happening in Masjid and he is just a normal person not a community representative or anything like that.

  2. This is Azeem Sikandar. I would like to add some color to this story now that things are out in the open and their is dialogue going on.

    The founder of our community, our godfather, and the Christopher Columbus of our family was G.D. Khan my father in law (May Allah grant him jannat al firdos). He set foot in NYC in the 1950’s and started bringing much of the family to the United States throughout the decades including my parents in 1960’s. I arrived the Summer of 1979 at an age of 9.

    The elders never had intentions of settling in America. There intentions were always to make some money over some years and eventually move back to Azad Kashmir. As the families started growing, it was quickly realized that we needed an infrastructure to provide proper religious education for the youngsters. The closest masjid to the area was Masjid Al Farooq on Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. This was not very convenient.

    Children would gather in someone’s home to receive lessons on prayers and recitation of the Quran. People like Qari Maqbool and brother Khokar would volunteer their time. At one time children would gather in the basement of a building on Elm Avenue. My brother in law was the superintendent of the building. The number of students grew. The kids would dress in their shalwar and kameez wearing kufis on top of that. One day, a tenant called the police stating that a terrorist madrasa had been opened up in the basement of the building. That is when the elders realized that many would not be able to go back and that there was a real need to provide resources for the youth to get a proper Islamic education.

    Amongst the elders were my father in law, GD Khan and his brothers, my father, Sultan Sikandar, and all of my brother in laws that were here. They quickly organized and pooled their money to purchase the current Makki Masjid building. This area was lifeless at the time. There were antique store fronts and offices. As kids we would not venture to this area because it was dark and desolate. Ironically, some of these current position holders did not participate and donate to the purchase of the building.

    Yes the masjid was started by our families for our families and the generations to come. It is true many of the members belong to the same brothery and tribe. Consequently, many are related through marriages.

    I was asked on number of occasions to take a lead position in the masjid and I refused. I urged the elders to place family members who were professional and educated in key positions but to no avail. We have many illiterate and uneducated people hold key positions over the years. Consequently, they resort to thuggery, verbal abuse, and violent action. This is not new.

    In the 1980’s my brother in law, Saleem Dutt, was the treasurer for the masjid. He is a professional in the banking industry and a professor of economics (retired from Habib Bank). My father in law had moved back to Azad Kashmir but was here visiting us. I was alerted that Akram Amin Khan (goes by Amin) and others were going to agitate trouble in the masjid after Isha. This is back in the 1980s mind you. A few of us decided to show up.

    A discussion started about the affairs of the masjid. It quickly turned into an argument. Malik Khan got very vocal and started shouting at Saleem Dutt who remained calm and quiet. At one point Malik Khan got up and lunged towards Saleem Dutt. I got in between the two.

    At that point, Muhammad Azam (wrestler from Khannabad) hurled an expletive towards me which my brother, Tahir Naim Sikandar, heard. An altercation took place between the two. GD Khan got the situation under control and made many leave. The situation spilled over to the outside of the masjid. Akram Amin Khan lunged towards my brother and grabbed him by the collar and was about to hit him. People stepped in and broke it up.

    At that point GD Khan got involved. He asked Amin what the problem was and why he was about to hit Tahir. Amin claimed that Tahir cursed at his nephew, Azam. Tahir replied by stating he only cursed as a response to Azam cursing me. At that point, GD Khan asked everyone to step aside. He directed Tahir to stand in front of Amin. He then dared Amin to strike Tahir if he was brave enough. Amin backed off.

    This occurred over thirty years. I left Brooklyn over 25 years ago.

    Consequently, this is not a new problem. The old regime needs to go and new younger educated members from the Azad Kashmir community need to take over the masjid. No interlopers.

    Amin has the propensity to lose his cool and get violent. This is not a surprise. He is 66 and not 36 anymore. Obviously, his nature has not changed over the years.

  3. The people running this mosque do not care about the community. They are siphoning everything and not caring the project gets done. This started in 2006 and now it’s 2018. They are unreasonable and should be investigated for fraud.

  4. Thank you, Azeem Sikandar, for contributing your perspective on this situation. Whatever the original intentions of immigrants from your background, a significant community formed here in Brooklyn–a community that the mainstream consistently overlooks. We don’t hear nearly enough stories like this one on Bklyner.com and your thoughtful and informative response.

  5. Makki masjid has been a staple for the Pakistani community for decades but unfortunately, the old/conservative ways of doing things have been doing our community, ESPECIALLY our children a disservice.
    It’s not just supposed to be a place of worship but a community center where we can keep everyone engaged especially the younger generations.
    Currently, like an earlier comment suggested, it’s being ran ‘mafia’ style.
    We need young, creative and passionate individuals running this community center. It’s time for new blood to help do this and the consensus is that the old management needs to go.
    Let’s learn from our brothers and sisters that run successful, engaging community centers. Whether or not the new management are devout muslims, it sounds like they are a step in the right direction.

    Let’s put aside egos, step back for a moment and do best for our children’s future. Let’s stop the fighting and bickering – let’s put ourselves at peace and forgive any possible wrongdoing. Find it in your heart.

    Thank you

  6. Life-long resident of the area and attendee of Makki Masjid. It pains me to say that Makki Masjid seems to be one of the most severely mismanaged places of worship I’ve come across. There is a dire lack of organization and structure.
    At this point, I would support any and every campaign to put in better leadership; and so would the larger community. This is long overdue.

  7. The issue is not about the Masjid but about ego’s. People are ready and willing to make this about “an us against them” attitude. Families are involved and this is now personal.
    If anyone really cared they would sit down and talk to each other rather than putting up veiled threats on social media.
    A written proposal should have been presented and both sides should have sat down to discuss this like human beings. As for Mr. Sikander, I agree with most of what he says. But I will say, bringing up an argument that happened 30 years ago is not helping the matter. People change, their tempers wind down and they see things differently as they get older. Bringing up the past only hurts this issue, not help it.
    The parties of this argument really need to look at what is driving this argument. are the people that are backing these people really doing it for the good of the Masjid or are they just trying to get the argument so heated that they fight with family members and sit and watch how far it goes?
    My wish is for this to end in a compromise. But unfortunately we all know that it’s not going to happen. These people have to be right-and I am speaking about both sides.
    What is needed is a 3rd party to sit both sides down and end this stupidity.
    Again, I will say both sides are wrong and compromise is not a bad thing.
    May Allah grant us Sabr in this matter and protect all from harm.

  8. As a well wisher and neutrally
    imbibed with love for house of Allah
    Almighty I propose immediate
    convening of Election for Members
    of Managing Council to operate
    Makki Masjid from all groups of community 7 or 9 Members will
    Elect Chairman belonging to G.D
    Khan relatives entitled beingfounder

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