Goodrich mosque plan gets complicatedGOODRICH, N.D. (AP) — A couple who hopes to open a mosque in a rural Goodrich house is being told to leave before they’ve even arrived. Woody Fields and Anne Ianniciello, who call themselves Abdulhaa Muhammad and Aabidah Ann, say they’ve made a down payment on a vacant house east of town and will use a basement room as a place where area Muslims can gather for daily prayers.
By: By Lauren Donovan, The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
GOODRICH, N.D. (AP) — A couple who hopes to open a mosque in a rural Goodrich house is being told to leave before they’ve even arrived.
Woody Fields and Anne Ianniciello, who call themselves Abdulhaa Muhammad and Aabidah Ann, say they’ve made a down payment on a vacant house east of town and will use a basement room as a place where area Muslims can gather for daily prayers.
For now, the couple live in Zeeland, where their personal beliefs have been nowhere near the issue that their starving horses and cat-infested home have been, said Zeeland Fire Chief Dean Schumacher.
Fields, 71, and Ianniciello, 65, say they have only peaceful intentions for their time in Goodrich.
However, their website has a place for guestbook comments and several commentators have made it crystal clear that they aren’t welcome in “100 percent Christian” Goodrich.
The couple say that attitude toward Muslims and Islam is contrary to the long and interesting history of the religion in North Dakota. The first mosque in the United States was built west of Minot, near Ross, in the 1930s. Today, there are a reported 8,000 Muslims in the state and only one mosque, in Fargo, they say.
Fields and Ianniciello say there are about 20 Muslim families close enough to Goodrich to potentially be interested in sharing prayer in the basement, where there’s room to separate men and women in a large curtained-off prayer room and bathrooms for each gender.
If they are able to close the deal on the house, they know their welcome will be lukewarm to downright chilly.
“There have been quite a few nasty remarks,” said Fields recently, while he and his wife talked in the kitchen of the house they hope to buy.
Almost on cue, there’s a knock on the door and a Sheridan County deputy is standing outside the house.
The deputy, Dan Reich, was following up a possible trespass report, phoned in by the people who live in another house about 50 yards away in the same farmyard.
The situation is complicated because Shirley and Charles Faul have lived on the farm for 54 years and their family for two generations before that. About 15 years ago, their daughter and her husband purchased an early 20th century home, moved it from Carrington, and set it down in the Fauls’ yard.
The younger couple divorced and the son-in-law, who retained ownership, eventually lost it to foreclosure, said Shirley Faul.
The same driveway serves both residences, but Shirley Faul said it doesn’t go with the other house and Fields and Ianniciello drove past a “No Trespassing” sign to get up to the house.
She said later she isn’t a bit happy about the couple moving in — first of all because they’ve never bothered to introduce themselves or explain their plans.
It wasn’t until an anonymous phone call that she got tipped off to the website and the possibility of a mosque in her yard.
“There’s mistrust. I’m angry and upset,” she said. “I was shocked beyond belief. I don’t try to be biased. ... but I just don’t trust them.”
Fields and Ianniciello say they haven’t tried to get to know the Fauls because they have the impression, from remarks on their website that it won’t go well.
The house used to be the Coteau Lodge, a business venture of Fauls’ daughter and son-in-law. It is a structural showplace, with huge rooms, high ceilings, original woodwork and a grand staircase with an arched, 8-foot landing window of extraordinary beauty.
“It’s gorgeous,” Faul said. “It’s the two situations (the divorce, and the mosque idea) that make it so difficult.”
The deputy gathered information from the couple, trying to understand the situation.
Fields told him, “I know being we’re Muslim, people are afraid we’re going to move in three-fourths of the Mideast.”
Both Fields and Ianniciello handed him identification and Reich noted that Ianniciello is driving with an expired license.
He handed it back and said, “I’m not here to write tickets. I’m just here to figure things out.”
The deputy recommended the couple go meet the Fauls and then he walked up to Fauls’ residence to explain that the couple plan to construct a driveway from a different access point through the acreage that goes with the house.
Before he left, he informed Fields and Ianniciello that they should call 911 if they experience trouble.
“I can’t say you will be safe. There’s always a risk, just like there’s always a risk for me when I go somewhere because I’m a cop,” he told them.
The deputy’s visit clearly rattled the couple, but they said they will continue their plans and hopefully close the house deal for the remaining $86,950 and move in sometime in August.
Ianniciello said if Fauls aren’t happy with someone else living in their yard, they could have purchased the house from the bank after it went up for sale last November.
Fields and Ianniciello will have a huge job to get all the house heating and plumbing systems in good working order, in addition to reclaiming a lush yard that has become heavily overgrown in the year since it’s been vacant.
They hope to set up a public library in a building adjacent to the house for their thousands of books on a vast array of topics.
Besides their age, they’re both disabled. Fields — a genius with an IQ of 188, according to his wife said he was severely injured in a jet crash while he was a U.S. Air Force pilot. He said he was a structural engineer after leaving the Air Force and later obtained a doctorate in psychology. He said he learned how to read Arabic and the Quran while studying at a university in Morocco. Ianniciello said she suffers from agoraphobia, a form of social anxiety that makes it difficult to leave home, unless she’s accompanied by her husband.
They became acquainted by email in 2008 and within six days decided to get married by signing a “nikaah,” or wedding contract, and moved into a home in Zeeland that she’s owned since 1992.
They have had their problems in Zeeland, but not because of their religious beliefs or clothing.
Fields pleaded guilty in March to one count of Class A misdemeanor inhumane treatment of animals and received a deferred imposition of sentence. He has $1,685 of $2,250 in fines and restitution left to pay. Another identical charge was dismissed.
Ianniciello pleaded guilty in January to one count to Class B misdemeanor stock running at large prohibited. She received a deferred imposition of sentence and has paid $250 in fines. Two charges she faced of inhumane treatment of animals were dismissed in March.
McIntosh County Sheriff Laurie Spitzer said the couple had been accused of animal neglect after two horses died and froze to the ground in a small acreage where they were kept inside city limits.
In addition, she said, her department removed 20 cats out of a residence she described as “very dirty. We took as many cats as we could find.”
Schumacher said the couple’s home is right behind his business.
“The Muslim thing is not threatening. No one harassed them,” he said. “They’re harmless, not terrorists. There hasn’t been any trouble other than the extreme mess (on their property). Letting their horses starve, that’s another thing.”
Ianniciello said the horses were shot by someone, but the sheriff wouldn’t investigate. “The whole county is corrupt,” she said.
She also said her cats were in good health, as was the remaining horse taken to a boarding set up near Mandan.
She said she pleaded guilty because she couldn’t afford $2,000 in attorney fees to defend her case.
Ianniciello said the obstacles and comments on the website only make her and Fields more determined, not less, to follow through with their plans for the Goodrich house as a gathering place for Muslims like themselves.
People who believe in Islam have more trials than others, she said. “This is a trial, but it’s not the first one I’ve had,” she said.
She believes she and her husband, and the Goodrich location, are part of a larger plan.
“I think this is the right place. This is shaytan’s (Satan’s) influence trying to prevent this. It’s not going to deter us and neither is someone not liking us,” she said.