Ali Muzzaffarag will soon no longer have to drive all the way to and from Porterville twice a day, six days a week, for prayer meetings and religious courses, thanks to action Monday night by the Visalia Planning Commission.

Muzzaffarag is a member of an Islamic religious sect known as the AGA Khan Shiaimami Ismaili Council for the Western United States, with a congregation of about 50 members in Tulare County.

“We are peaceful,” Muzzaffarag said. “It will be wonderful to not have to drive to Porterville for every meeting.”

The AGA Khan Ismailis follow the Islamic teachings of Karim Aga Khan, who started the sect in the 1940s, according to Web sites recommended by Muzzaffarag.

“It is worldwide,” Muzzaffarag said of the Ismailis. “India, Pakistan and many other countries, including the U.S.” AGA Khani Ismailis represent only about 0.1 percent of all Muslims, online sources say.

Planning Commission members voted 4-0, with member Larry Segrue absent, to allow the AGA Khan Ismailis to convert a 1,974-square-foot portion of an existing 6,426-square-foot building into an Ismaili worship and cultural center.

The building, located on the 1500 block of Lovers Lane near Tulare Avenue, is designed for three tenants. It currently houses one primary business — Mineral King Produce. The Ismaili center will be the second tenant, city reports show.

“Were neighbors notified?” asked Planning Commissioner and chairman Vincent Salinas.

“Yes,” answered Paul Bernal, associate planner for Visalia who prepared a staff report on the Ismailis’ proposed center. “There were community meetings and “they [neighbors] attended. There were no issues or concerns.”

The proposed center would be on the same block as a proposed Social Security Administration field office, the builders of which have been forced to seek an alternate site because of strong, organized neighborhood resistance.

However, the Ismaili center is a completely different idea, embraced by neighbors in the area, unlike the stormy, two-year-old Social Security building controversy, said group leader, area resident and Tulare teacher Kimberlie Tyler.

“This is very much within the designed use of that building,” Tyler said. Further, the Ismaili center does not require the construction of an entirely new facility as did the Social Security proposal.


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