It was Friday afternoon, and Said Abdikarim found himself in a dilemma familiar to many Muslims trying to squeeze the midday prayer into a busy schedule: No matter how many times he drove around the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, he couldn’t find a parking space.
Every passing minute brought him closer to missing the service. At last, he double-parked on Roxbury Street.
“Friday prayer is very important to us,” Abdikarim said.
Afterward, Abdikarim wasn’t surprised to find a parking ticket on his windshield. But he and other Muslims say the city should permanently ban aggressive enforcement of parking rules near mosques during religious services on Friday afternoons and holidays. It isn’t fair to their growing religious community, they say, particularly since Christians rushing to church on Sunday mornings and holidays rarely face the same predicament. A Globe analysis of city parking data found a sharp drop in how many tickets are issued on Sundays compared to weekdays.
With neighbors pressing for stronger enforcement around their property, mosque leaders encourage people to take public transit or to carpool. But it’s not always possible for people who are elderly, infirm, or just stretched thin by the weekday demands of work or school, advocates say. And many Muslims who attend prayers at mosques in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Allston-Brighton are immigrants who can ill afford the hefty fines that Boston charges.
After Tania Fernandes Anderson, the City Council’s first Muslim member, raised concerns about the longstanding problem to city officials, and after the Globe made numerous media inquiries, the Wu administration relaxed routine parking enforcement around mosques on Muslim holidays in recent months.
While some Muslim leaders are pleased, City Hall never formally announced the changes, so community members weren’t sure whether a new policy is in place. And though they appreciate the informal accommodation, they worry a future administration could change course.
“I’d like this to be permanent,” Fernandes Anderson said.
Roxbury resident Sofia Abdi, 26, said she tries to arrive at Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center two hours early so she can drop off her dad, who has asthma, then find a parking spot. Women aren’t required to attend jumu’ah each week like men, but Abdi “wants to pray, too.”
“Friday has such a beautiful and spiritual meaning to us,” she said. “But parking can make it a reason not to go.”
Many churchgoers on Sunday mornings routinely double-park outside church front doors without fear they’ll be ticketed. There’s no special rule exempting churchgoers from parking laws, but the rhythm of the American workweek evolved around Christian worship. As a result, traffic is significantly lighter on Sunday mornings than it is on Friday afternoons — and most city parking enforcement officers don’t even work on Sundays, when fewer of the city’s parking rules apply, according to a Boston Transportation Department official.
A Globe public records review of all parking tickets issued in 2021 found that the city issued more than 192,000 citations on Fridays, compared to just under 4,300 on Sundays.
While it’s difficult to decipher which were related to houses of worship, more than 35,000 vehicles ticketed on Fridays citywide were issued between noon and 4 p.m., the usual time frame for jumu’ah prayers. The city wrote just 783 parking tickets between 8 a.m. and noon on Sundays, the most common time for Christian worship.
Some churches and synagogues have ample off-street parking for their congregants, and many city churches have comparatively small congregations. Others pay for parking; Temple Israel of Boston, the city’s largest Reform synagogue, has partnered with the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, a Longwood nonprofit, to validate parking for worshipers at a nearby garage for about 30 years.
The Islamic Society center, which has drawn about half its usual crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 prayer-goers since the start of the pandemic, has a small parking lot with about 75 spaces that fill up fast. A small underground garage is limited to tenants and employees unless it’s needed for busy days, as it requires an attendant to guide people down and stop when the lot is full.. Nearby Roxbury Community College offers some of its parking spaces for large events. But the demand for free parking far outstrips supply.
That’s especially true on religious holidays, when Muslims flock from around New England to attend prayer services at Boston’s mosques. But those holidays are often business as usual for parking enforcement.
The city, for example, issued more than 4,700 tickets on May 13, 2021, when the Islamic Society center, New England’s largest mosque, held Eid al-Fitr prayers. On July 20, 2021, the day the center held its annual Eid al-Adha prayers, and then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey spoke to the congregants, the city issued about 4,600 tickets citywide. (Janey collected and voided some of these citations after congregants flagged the issue, sources present at the mosque told the Globe.)
Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve that year, Boston ticketed 347 cars. And on Easter? Just 56.
On a busy Sunday just before Easter, parishioners of St. Brigid Parish in South Boston parked with ease. Six cars double-parked in front of the tiny brick church for its second Mass of the day; at least six vacant spaces remained in the institution’s parking lot.
Susan Richey, who has attended services there for 35 years, and Tom Kane, who was baptized at the church as an infant, said that though the congregation’s size has waned over time, people still double-park out of habit.
Fernandes Anderson, who heard complaints from Muslim voters during last year’s campaign about aggressive parking enforcement outside mosques, said she’s considering filing a resolution that would eliminate ticketing around mosques during Friday services and Muslim holidays.
“There should be a little grace extended for jumu’ah and holidays,” she said. She added, though, that she wasn’t sure her fellow councilors would support an idea that offers accommodations to one religious community.
Neighbors of the Islamic Society center, for their part, say the laws should be enforced more aggressively, not less.
“Cars of people attending the mosque are blocking my driveway on both sides,” read one mobile 311 report from Centre Street in June 2021. “This should not keep happening.”
One Friday earlier this year, as late mosque attendees hunting for parking circled the neighborhood, another homeowner described fighting to keep mosque-goers from parking on their land since the center opened in 2009.
“I own this whole [driveway], but if you can’t get in and out of it, it’s no good,” the resident said.
The resident, who was worried about being identified, has close friends who attend the Islamic Society center, but feels exasperated by mosque-goers who park in the driveway, the yard, or even right in front of the driveway, blocking it.
“They’re not being neighborly,” the resident said.
The Wu administration said in an e-mailed statement that the city stands ready to assist any institutions experiencing ticketing issues.
Brad Gerratt, the Transportation Department’s interim commissioner, advised parking enforcement officials to not ticket around ISBCC and the Boston Islamic Center during their Eid al-Fitr services this year. The department also accommodated synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, a Wu spokesperson said.
The administration said the last record that the Transportation Department has of a concern raised by the ISBCC was from 2019, and added that anyone with parking issues should reach out to the department or to Neighborhood Services, or call 311.
“The Boston Transportation Department understands that some worshipers may not be able to attend services except by car, and we work with a variety of religious institutions to make parking easier for them,” the statement said.
As a neighborhood resident who loses his parking during prayer services, Abdullah Ashur, whose family owns Ashur Restaurant, a popular Somali gathering spot behind the mosque, sympathizes with both sides of the debate and sees the need for some kind of broader solution.
Last month, Ashur said construction along Roxbury Street has kept ticketing officials at bay. But he doesn’t know if or how long this will last.
Tanvir Hussain, a member of the mosque’s board of directors, said he has not heard many complaints about tickets from the mosque community; he said mosque leaders encourage prayer-goers to park legally if they can’t use public transit or walk.
“It’s a constant battle to make sure the community members follow the parking rules,” he said. “But if issues come up, we’re happy to address them.”
Other mosques in Boston also struggle with parking enforcement on Fridays and holidays. Imam Abdulqadir Farah of Al-Rowda Mosque in Grove Hall said he has received about five tickets for parking during street cleaning hours and once had to pay $700 after his car was towed because he failed to pay a ticket on time. He said many of the mosque community’s 150 congregants drive from their ride-hailing shifts to prayer, making the area even more crowded.
“If the ticket is $50 to $100, it’s not worth going to City Hall to dispute,” Farah said. “And those tickets accumulate.”