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Proposed Riverhead Islamic Center expects small gatherings, ‘no political talk’

Riverhead Islamic center

The people who will attend the proposed Riverhead Islamic Center on Harrison Avenue, across from Riverhead High School, currently pray in a rented building next to the Loose Caboose on Railroad Avenue, according to Dr. Mahmood Afghani, who has worked at Peconic Bay Medical Center for about six years and is part of the group proposing the center. 

“It will be a house of worship just like a church or a synagogue, and there will be no political talk or anything like that. I go there on Fridays and pray. In and out,” Dr. Afghani said.

The daily prayers only take about 30 minutes, he said.

Dr. Afghani, along with Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, a Queens dentist, and Atif Bashir of Riverhead, who had been involved in the taxi business, discussed the project with the Riverhead Town Planning Board Thursday.

The proposed Riverhead Islamic Center is planned at a vacant house on 751 Harrison Avenue.

Dr. Afghani said the Railroad Avenue site, which they’ve used for about five years, is too small and the proposed Harrison Avenue site is “a gift” from himself, Dr. Iqbal and others.

Most of the people who attend the Railroad Avenue site are cab drivers, and many have difficulty paying the rent on the building, he said.

Islamic observance calls for daily prayers five times a day, but most of the time, there are few people in attendance, other than on Fridays at around 1 p.m., when there are 20 to 30 people, ground members said.

The specific timing of the daily prayers fluctuates depending on the sun, they said.

The site plan application seeks to convert the vacant single-family residence into a “house of worship with an upstairs dwelling unit, including a 747-square-foot building addition to the existing 1,576-square-foot house” on a 1.24 acre site.

The proposed second-floor dwelling unit will house the Imam, who is the religious leader, Mr. Bashir said. There will be no weddings or special gatherings in the building, he said.

There are only 50 Muslim households in Riverhead, he said.

Planning Board chairman Stan Carey said his biggest concern was with the buses coming out of Riverhead High School around 2:30 p.m.

Dr. Iqbal said their afternoon prayers will be over by that time.

The Planning Board had originally planned to hold a public hearing on the site plan application on July 7, but a planning staff report issued this week indicated that the application will need to obtain zoning variances before the town Zoning Board of Appeals. The board will cancel the July 7 Planning Board hearing, and instead, the application will have to go before the ZBA for a hearing on the variances at a future date.

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