Legal Battle for Sold Mosque in Downtown Newark Decided in Favor of Board of Trustees

Branford Masjid Mosque Newark Protest
Left: Saad Admani, a Rutgers Law School Student and former President of the Muslim Student Association, believed the pandemic was used as a pretext to sell the mosque in a backroom deal. Right: A protest sign is taped to the the front door of the Branford Masjid, which some members allege was kept locked in order to prepare the building for sale. Photo by Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

The two-year-long saga involving a storied Newark Muslim congregation and their fight against the sale of their mosque may have come to an unfavorable end for the protesters. A Superior Court judge dismissed the case, claiming that Khalilah Shabazz, the so-called Mother of the Mosque, lacked legal standing to sue the mosque’s board of trustees for damages, despite her praying there for forty years.

The Branford Mosque, founded in the 1980s, was located on the second and third floors of the city’s former Chamber of Commerce building at 20 Branford Place, Newark. In 1982, a Saudi philanthropist gifted the building to the congregation, placing it in an irrevocable trust that was enshrined in bylaws drafted in 2005, Shabazz argued. In 2020, the building was sold to Paramount Assets by the Islamic Society of Essex County, the mosque’s parent organization, a decision made by the board of trustees without notifying the members.

However, the court raised doubts about the validity of that 2005 document. Judge Thomas Callahan argued that, because ISEC did not take ownership of the building until 2006, “the 2005 Constitution could not have created the trust since ISEC did not own the subject property at the time.”

Branford Masjid 24 Branford Place Newark
Khalilah Shabazz, the so-called mother of the mosque, holds up a protest sign during a recent demonstration outside the Branford Masjid. Photo by Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

Meanwhile, as the court battle was unfolding, ISEC bought a nearby building at 9-13 Hill Street and opened a new mosque there, arguing that the organization’s money would be better spent on services than repairs for the older building.

“This was a newly renovated building that allowed them to increase the services they were providing to the community,” Deanna Koestal, attorney for ISEC, told the court. “It also allowed them to use the money that they were bringing into the organization, to use it for the benefit of the community instead of to repair the building.”

In the eyes of many Newarkers, this battle was really one of gentrification — which is perhaps why the “cloak and dagger sale” drew the ire of non-muslims as well. Composed of non-native Newarkers, the was board was characterized as outsiders who had teamed up with a wealthy developer to prey on a Black congregation. Their protest is ongoing. Even through the cold, winter months, congregants pray on sidewalks along Branford Street, rather than go to the Hill Street mosque and admit defeat.

“We are still praying outside in front of the masjid,” Shabazz told Jersey Digs. “Like we said, it will always be known as our masjid.”

Last year, Deputy Mayor Allison Ladd invited the congregation to meet with the building’s new owner Paramount Assets, headquartered downtown, but the meetings never resulted in a resolution.

Shabazz told Jersey Digs that she plans to appeal the decision. “I will not stop until the robbers confess to the truth of the sale of the building and set the record straight that there was and always has been members,” she said.


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