It wasn’t long after the Dar al-Farooq mosque was approved to open in Bloomington five years ago that a steady stream of complaints came pouring in.
Neighbors' beefs were across the board, ranging from petty children's conflicts at nearby Smith Park to serious allegations that the mosque was intentionally violating the terms of its permit.
At the July 25 Bloomington city council meeting, a few of these neighbors assembled behind lawyer Larry Frost to present a petition calling for the city to start reeling in activities there.
The petition alleges that Dar al-Farooq attracts too much traffic during the month of Ramadan, leaving worshippers to clog the streets and double-park in city lots.
According to the terms of its agreement with the city, Dar al-Farooq is only supposed to host a maximum of 500 people at any time. Frost estimates that 2,000 members regularly crowd the gym for prayers. It’s up to the city, he says, to respond to complaints of overcrowding, go to the mosque and count people, and order them out.
He also accuses mosque members of being bad drivers who zip dangerously fast through the neighborhood.
“I don’t know if this is true of Somalis. I’m familiar with Arabs, but in Egypt the drivers ignore the traffic law all the time,” says Frost, who once served in Egypt as an army recruit. “Kind of a cultural thing. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing in Somalia, but the neighbors are saying they’re driving through there a lot faster than 25 miles per hour.”
The Lutheran Church that used to operate where Dar al-Farooq now stands never had any problems, Frost claims. “The neighbors thought they were good neighbors. It wasn’t an issue. Dar al Farooq is not a good neighbor.”
Finally, Frost accuses Dar al-Farooq of deliberately deceiving Bloomington by submitting a false application about its operations. The mosque’s permit doesn’t allow for a university on site, nor a full-use restaurant, but Dar al-Farooq “went ahead and did it anyway,” Frost says. “I think the city should tell Dar al-Farooq that if they don’t start complying, they can use that as a basis for suspending or revoking their conditional use permit.”
The mayor and the city manager of Bloomington both said they were aware of the numerous complaints, and that they tend to come from just a few neighbors. According to city records, those neighbors are two women: Sally Ness and Violet Rozek, both named in Frost’s petition.
Mayor Gene Winstead was uncomfortable with commenting at all Monday. He said he wasn’t even sure what Larry Frost was presenting to the city — a petition or a summons of some kind. There were no signatures attached to it, so it certainly wasn’t a traditional petition, he said.
“I think that Mr. Frost may be misunderstanding the use of the property,” says city manager Jamie Verbrugge. “When they have the most attendants is usually on Friday at Friday prayers. I have not seen a number of vehicles over that that suggest there are 2,000 people over there.
Still, Verbrugge says the city always responds to Ness and Rozek's complaints.
“We’ve been dealing with it consistently since I’ve been here,” he says. “To my knowledge all the issues raised in [the petition] have been responded to by the city, and the issue I think is that it hasn’t been responded to to their satisfaction."
Verbrugge also clarifies that Dar al-Farooq does not have a university in the sense that it’s running a traditional institution of higher learning, such as Normandale College. Instead, it hosts classes that are more like seminars. He hasn’t heard of the mosque advertising any sort of restaurant on site either. However, the mosque does have a canteen.