WATERPORT, N.Y. — The small congregation established a mosque here three decades ago in a 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards and cornfields. In the farmhouse’s simple prayer room, they prayed for many things, including peace and quiet that has never fully come.
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Anthony Ogden, who has been charged with disrupting a religious service, said he was in a car that went past the mosque, “beeping the horn, trying to get them to chase us.
The local sheriff said some in his county did not even know that the mosque was there. Nevertheless, over the years, burglars have stolen prayer rugs and religious tapestries from the small sanctuary, the only Islamic place of worship in rural Orleans County, which hugs the shore of Lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. Vandals have shattered car windows and thrown beer bottles on the lawn. One night about five years ago, the wooden fence in front of the mosque was set afire.
And then, this week, a car filled with local teenagers sideswiped the 29-year-old son of one of the mosque’s founding members, said Joseph V. Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney. One teenager was charged with firing a shotgun into the air near the mosque a few days earlier, after driving by and shouting epithets.
The details of the harassment and the arrests on Tuesday of five teenagers brought reporters and cameras; the ugliness seemed consistent with a number of other suspected anti-Muslim attacks around the country amid an emotional and often-bitter public discussion about whether an Islamic community center should be built in New York City near the site of the World Trade Center.
The events here have left the congregants of the mosque — which practices a form of Islam that emphasizes simple living, prayer and meditation — searching for answers about why the periodic harassment persists.
Muhyiddin Shakoor, 66, a psychotherapist and retired professor at the State University at Brockport, who is one of the founders of the mosque, which is known as the World Sufi Foundation, said trouble seemed to ebb and flow with the national mood but appeared to have grown more mean-spirited in recent years. “It seems whatever is happening for Muslims generally gets projected on us,” he said.
But the events in this county, population 44,000, also suggest how hard it can be to accurately trace the influence of national debates and moods on individual episodes of antagonism.