A loosely organized protest planned this week over a proposed new mosque in Temecula whose organizers urged demonstrators to bring their dogs was sharply denounced by a Southern California Islamic organization Tuesday.
Organizers of the rally, to be held outside the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley during prayers Friday, appear to be associated with a southwest Riverside County political group affiliated with the "tea party" movement. In anonymous e-mails and website postings, organizers encouraged protesters to bring their dogs — considered an insult to Muslims.
"Opposing the rights of certain Americans to freely practice religion is not only shameful and immoral, but unconstitutional," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "I am confident that our fellow Americans from all faith backgrounds will join us in rejecting such KKK tactics of intolerance, bigotry and intimidation.''
The call for demonstrators to bring dogs was a purposeful effort to "cause offense," Ayloush said, because many Muslims believe that the saliva of dogs is impure and invalidates Islamic rituals performed before prayer.
The protest comes as the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley moves ahead with plans to build a 24,943-square-foot mosque on a vacant, four-acre plot in the southeast portion of Temecula. The proposal has stirred some hostility in the mostly conservative community in Riverside County, with opponents saying they fear the mosque will bring unwanted traffic and noise, as well as attract Islamic extremists.
Just who is behind the protest remains a mystery. Anonymous e-mails announcing the protest were sent to local news organizations, and on July 15 an unsigned bulletin about the event was posted on the website of the southwest Riverside County chapter of "We the People — Citizens in Action."
The announcement on the website, which has since disappeared, stated that Islam is a "worldwide political movement meant" to dominate the world. It called on protesters to "bring your Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voice on Friday."
Although the group states that one of its core missions is to "return the local Tea Party Movement to the people," leaders of tea party chapters in Temecula and Murrieta said their organizations are not organizing the mosque protest.
"As far as who is behind this, I don't know," said Bridget Blanton, founder of the Temecula Valley Tea Party Patriots. Blanton added that she was told the rally had been canceled, but did not say how she knew that.
Blanton said it's possible that the organizers could be local tea party members holding the rally on their own. She said the grassroots political movement by design lacks the formality and bureaucracy of a political party: "We're not even an organization. We're loose. It's the coming together of Americans," she said.
Diana Serafin, 59, an organizer for a tea party chapter in the neighboring city of Murrieta, also said her organization was not connected to the rally — but said she plans to attend.
"I've gotten e-mail saying it's on, then e-mails saying it's off, then e-mails saying it's on again," Serafin said. "I'm guessing that people are just going down there. I'm going to go down there to see what's going on."
Serafin said she has no problems with people of other races, religions or creeds, but feels that Muslims are amassing a "political movement" that would destroy the fabric of American ideals and values.
Leaders of the Temecula Islamic Center said they have been dismayed by the reaction because the organization has been in the city for more than a decade.
"It's their right to protest and we have the right to exercise freedom of religion too. It's surprising to see something like this happen in 2010," said Hadi Nael, chairman of the Temecula Islamic center. "We're getting a lot of support from Jews and Christians and many others … Unfortunately, there are always a few people in society who are opposed to everything."
Nael said the Islamic center is discouraging any counterprotest, saying leaders don't want to escalate matters. Police said officers will be on hand for the demonstration, but that they do not expect any problems.
The city Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to consider the proposed mosque Aug. 18.