Georgia town vows to work with Muslim leaders after lifting mosque ban

Commissioners in Newton say they will vote on 13 September to reverse their decision which had been declared 'unconstitutional' and 'Islamophobic'

Rachael Revesz
New York
Wednesday 31 August 2016 20:26
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CAIR executive director said if people had proposed to build a Protestant church, the moratorium would have never happened
CAIR executive director said if people had proposed to build a Protestant church, the moratorium would have never happened

Despite strong opposition from locals, a town in Georgia has decided to reverse its ban on the Muslim community building a new mosque and cemetery.

The plans were halted for five weeks as residents voiced their concerns about the so-called links between Muslims and terrorism.

The turnaround, to be voted officially on 13 September, is a rare victory for an increasingly embattled Muslim community in the US, where Republican nominee Donald Trump and his allies have peddled an anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“Newton County is rich in diversity and hospitality, and we are happy to see residents of all faiths and backgrounds live and worship together in our community," said Newton commissioner Nancy Schulz in a statement.

The Georgia chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thanked Newton County for lifting the ban.

CAIR executive director in Georgia, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, said the Muslims in Newton will spend time “building bridges” with their neighbours before they proceed with their plan to build a mosque and cemetery on the 135 acres of land they purchased. The cemetery and small mosque would only take up around 16 acres of space.

Opposition in the town had mounted against the buildings amid an atmosphere of heightened racial tensions in the US and widespread confusion about Shariah law.

Two public meetings in Newton hosted around 600 residents, some of whom were angry and fearful that the new mosque would encourage the government to resettle refugees from the Middle East in the town, one commissioner told The Rockdale Citizen Newspaper.

“We have already seen bombings and beheadings,” said one resident in the town hall meeting. “Eight years ago the US got a Muslim president who has put Muslims in power.”

“There’s 50 acres of the 135 acres not accounted for - how do we know it’s not an Isis training camp?” asked another.

Mr Mitchell said the residents had displayed “anti-Muslim hysteria” and said if the "unconstitutional" moratorium was not dismissed, he would call on the courts to adjudicate.

"I am very optimistic [we can build bridges]," Mr Mitchell told The Independent.

"The people of Newton are warm and welcoming. Some of them just got bad information."

He is planning to host an educational seminar about Islam and Shariah law in the town over the coming weeks, allowing residents to ask questions.

Mohammed Islam, a religious leader at the Doraville mosque which proposed the project, said he will visit local Sunday church services to talk to the congregants and is also inviting people to visit him at his current mosque.

“We believe that building bridges with our neighbours is far more important than immediately building a new house of worship and cemetery,” Mr Islam said.

The Muslim community may have a long bridge to build before all residents are convinced.

Barry Cowan, whose parents live next door to the proposed site, told WSBTV news that he had never been in the presence of “many people of the Muslim faith” but that “people are scared of Muslims” because of “the things they do”.

At a press conference on 23 Auugst, Mr Mitchell responded: "If a Protestant chuch had received an approval letter to build a house of worship, we would not have been in this situation."

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