California Mosque Members Told They Can't Have Prayer Sessions Without City Permit

A city in California has told members of a local mosque they must have a permit to continue prayer sessions during Ramadan, their holiest month of the year.

City leaders in Vacaville, about 35 minutes west of state capital Sacramento, told members that the home in which they have been worshipping is zoned for residential purposes, and they don't have the correct permit, according to CBS13 in Sacramento. Though they have applied for a permit in the past, the city denied it because the home does not have designated parking for a place of worship.

Officials received a complaint from a city resident, which prompted an investigation into the issue. This probe caught members of the mosque off guard.

Sima Karimi, one of the mosque members, said they have worshipped in the home for almost two decades, and this was the first time they had heard of any complaints.

"It was shocking because I don't know, why? What is the problem? We've been in this community for a long time," Karimi said.

The temporary closure during Ramadan left members wondering where they would gather and pray together.

"Our mosque is closed. We are so upset. We don't know what we should do. It almost made me cry," mosque member Zarlasht Ansary said.

Vacaville Fire Chief Kris Concepcion said the city's code enforcement was merely responding to a complaint about the home on Bush Street, and that they were willing to help the mosque get a permit and figure out the parking dilemma.

Concepcion said the city isn't banning people from having prayer sessions in a home, but that someone must live in that home if they're going to use it for such prayer gatherings.

"Our code enforcement in the city is complaint-based, so we're not out looking for different things, we're not out patrolling," Concepcion said. "We're not discouraging anything, we're not stopping anything from happening,"

Samim Ansary, the mosque president, wants a permit because he said the mosque is a non-profit.

"We are a small community but peaceful and we just want to have a place of worship like everybody else," Ansary said.

Ansary said he feels targeted by the complaint and pressured to find somewhere else to pray. He added that his mosque has no other houses around him.

"We don't have a neighbor here. All of the houses around us there's no houses," he said. "So I don't know who complained at this sensitive time."

CAIR, a Muslim advocacy organization, is looking into the issue and giving legal advice to members of the mosque, CBS13 reported.