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Temple Terrace resolution supporting Muslims no longer mentions them

TEMPLE TERRACE — A city resolution introduced to signal solidarity with the sizable population of Muslims in Temple Terrace has been changed to embrace all religions without mentioning any of them.

The measure, scheduled for a City Council vote today, has raised questions among those familiar with the original wording — including proponent Amina Spahic, Tampa Bay area regional director for the Muslim political engagement group Emerge USA.

Muslims "represent an integral part of both the United States and the local community in the City of Temple Terrace," reads a draft of the resolution Spahic presented the city.

In its place, a passage written by city officials now reads, "Temple Terrace takes great pride in supporting individual religious freedoms and is strengthened by the many varied cultural traditions of its diverse population."

The resolution was drafted in response to an anonymous letter mailed to some Temple Terrace homes opposing the candidacy of Wael Odeh in the Nov. 8 City Council election because he is Muslim.

The measure comes on the heels of a resolution approved Oct. 13 by the city of Miami showing support for the estimated 4,300 followers of Islam there. Temple Terrace, with just 25,000 people, has a Muslim population of about the same size.

One provision of the Miami resolution reads, "Muslim communities and their leaders are using the language and teachings of Islam to promote peace."

City Council member Grant Rimbey is questioning why "Muslim" was dropped in Temple Terrace.

"What is the point of it now?" Rimbey said. "This was supposed to be a specific statement in response to a specific letter about a specific religion. It has become this generic thing."

Asked for an explanation, Temple Terrace City Manager Charles Stephenson, who wrote the new resolution, said only that the answer will be provided today at the City Council meeting.

Council member Cheri Donohue favors the new, more general wording.

"While the cause of this resolution was aimed at a specific religion, I agree that the city should reiterate loud and clear that we support all citizens of Temple Terrace, with no one group having more rights than another," Donohue said.

Rimbey has other theories about the change.

Perhaps, he said, the city is embarrassed to admit in writing that there is anti-Muslim sentiment in Temple Terrace.

"My goal has always been to drag Temple Terrace into the 21st century even if it is kicking and screaming," Rimbey said. "It is definitely kicking and screaming a lot."

Or maybe a resolution supporting the Muslim community may seem like an endorsement of Odeh's candidacy, Rimbey said.

If that is the case, Temple Terrace should be ashamed, said Duane Zolnoski who, like Odeh, is one of six candidates seeking two open seats on the five-member Temple Terrace City Council.

"Of course they should specifically back the Muslim community," Zolnoski said. "It shouldn't matter that he is a candidate for City Council. This is a hate crime."

Neither federal postal inspectors nor local law enforcement are investigating the letter as a hate crime. The letter contains no threats but questions whether Odeh can be trusted and accuses him of ties to terrorism because he's a Muslim, born in Palestinian territory.

Muslim leaders, including Odeh, asked the City Council to address anti-Muslim sentiment through a resolution.

"I want my city to shine and to look good," said Odeh, 56, who has lived in Temple Terrace for more than 30 years. "I wanted them to make the right statement."

Regardless of how the final resolution reads, Spahic, who suggested the original version, welcomes the way people in Temple Terrace have rallied around the Muslim community since the anonymous letter became public.

"Our government is meant to represent us, but the residents took control of that through an outpouring of support to the Muslim community," Spahic said. "Nothing can compare to that."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Temple Terrace resolution supporting Muslims no longer mentions them 10/31/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 7:50am]
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