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Nathan Mayberg | Democrat

MOSQUE MEMBERS STAND in front of the new Islamic Cultural Center of Monticello while a worker puts finishing touches on the dome. From left to right: Mirsad Huskic, Redza Zekic, President Smajlje Srdanovic, Sadro Mackic and Ago Kolenovic.

A Mosque Rises In Monticello

By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO — December 8, 2006 — In what is believed to be Monticello’s first ever mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center of Monticello is nearing completion of its impressive structure on 33 Cottage Street.
With its signature bronze dome, the mosque is taking the place of a brick home dating back more than a half of a century when it was built by the family of Murray, Selma, Ira and Teddy Rosenheck.
Once one of the nicest neighborhoods in the village, the street and its section of town has become known for its drug infestation and criminal activity. But the congregation building the mosque hope it will help improve the community.
The congregation will be made up largely of Balkan natives who live in New York City, but have summer and weekend homes in the county. The growing population of seasonal residents from Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania here has motivated worshippers to build their own mosque, which will welcome all nationalities of the Muslim faith.
The structure is believed to be the first major mosque in Sullivan County. There was a space in a building in Liberty formerly being used as a house of worship for Muslims, but that closed last year — and it was not a mosque. The work being done at 33 Cottage Street has already begun to reshape the look of the neighborhood.
Inside, the walls and floors have all been completely renovated. Beautiful rugs are placed in the prayer rooms. There is a conference room and a playroom. There are special rooms for men and women to wash their hands before prayer. In the basement, there is a kitchen and a dining room. There are also plans for a garden and flowers. And the work continues.
For nine months, the congregation which calls itself the Islamic Unity and Cultural Center back in Manhattan, have been hard at work. Luckily for them, some of their members own construction companies, which have contributed to the project. What could have easily been a million dollar project has essentially been a donation of time by its members. They purchased the building and land across the street two years ago.
The congregation’s President, Smajlje Srdanovic, boasts of having recruited six locals to convert.
Every Saturday, they open up their doors for a lunch to welcome the public. And, of course, they pray five times a day. One must take off one’s shoes before entering. There are separate praying rooms for men and women.
Currently, they have a temporary Imam. They expect to hire a permanent religious leader in the next two months. Although the construction work is ongoing, prayers are still held everyday.
Across the street, another former drug hangout, the group plans to construct a parking lot as well as a basketball court, and possibly a tennis court. Behind their mosque, they will build a playground. Needless to say, their work should completely transform their street. And the police have been among the first to thank them. As a security precaution, the congregation has installed 24 hour surveillance around the building.
The founders include Srdanovic, Ago Kolenovic (who owns a construction company in New York City) and Ibro Makovic, the owner of Makovic Homes on Route 17B in the Town of Thompson.
They expect to have a congregation of nearly 1,000 members. Most of the families will be seasonal residents but they will include yea-round residents who hail from the western part of Sullivan County all the way to Middletown.
Redza Zekic, a member, expects the mosque to be a gathering spot for the community. He has visions of barbecues and other events.
Srdanovic plans to begin communicating with local religious leaders in the near future. He hopes to have multi-faith dinners with them. He also intends to meet with neighbors and invite them to the mosque. He wants to explain to them that they are a “very peaceful people” and assauge any fears there might be in the community about their religion.
“The best thing we can do to help get to know each other, is to have meetings and dialogue… We believe in one God. We believe in humanity. We want to make (the community) better for everybody.”
Many of the Bosnians in the congregation are refugees from one of the darkest periods in their history - the genocide by the Serbians against the Muslim population in the region. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 muslims were slaughtered by the Serbs in a period of about three and a half years in the early 1990s. The leaders of the mosque believe that the prosecution of a number of the Serbians responsible for war crimes, will deter such aggression from recurring in the near future. In addition, the United States went to war with the Serbs after they invaded Kosovo. The actions by the U.S. put an end to the genocide.
That is one of the reasons they have a great love for this country. Mirsad Huskic had to flee Bosnia with the Red Cross when the Serbs invaded. It was not until 42 days later, that he could be reunited with his family. During that time period, he had know idea where they were.
They went from Bosnia to Serbia to Bulgaria and Germany. “This is the best country for all religions,” he said. “In Germany, you are all foreigners. When you land at JFK Airport, you are an American – no problem.”
Now he owns a restaurant in New York City and is the cook for the mosque.
Fellow congregation leaders agreed. They said Americans are more accepting and tolerant of other religions than Europeans. They described the country as a “melting pot.” They credit that tolerance, in large part to the Constitution, which protects their freedom of religion.
Prayers are held daily at 6:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The main prayer of the week is on Fridays at 1 p.m. when there is a sermon given. Those interested in finding out more about the Islamic Cultural Center can call President Srdanovic at 917-335-2580.

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