Residents Protest Against Proposed Mosque For North Western Sydney
An application for a Muslim place of worship has set off an avalanche of objections,writes Deborah Cameron.
Put yourself in this man’s shoes: he loves cricket, voted for John Howard, admires Liberal Party values, owns a computer hardware company, has a building application before a council and is a Muslim.
On six out of seven counts, he is everyman. But on the seventh point, his religion, Abbas Aly is the loneliest man in Baulkham Hills. His building application is unusual – he wants to open a Muslim place of worship – and his timing is awful. But the reaction has been “unbelievable”, he says.
There have been 4500 objections lodged with the Baulkham Hills Shire Council, a further 3000 letters and hundreds of complaint calls directly to councillors, a public meeting attended by 700 people, a poster campaign, a brick through his office window and fires in his household garbage bins.
And all because he wants to build on land he owns at Annangrove, a semi-rural settlement, with a population of 1989 and 641 households. While the president of the Annangrove Progress Association, Sharon Wells, is horrified at the brick attack and the fires, she regards the community campaign against Mr Aly’s prayer centre as right.
It has set a record at the council, with 532 households responsible for all of the 4500 objection letters, 260 of which came from the one address. The deputy mayor, Michael Blair, who last night chaired an orderly “conciliation meeting” between Mr Aly and 400 objectors, said he alone had received 1000 letters.
Ms Wells said she had planning concerns – the amount of traffic, the noise, the unsightliness of the car park tarmac and the effect on a nearby park – but the council was also being asked to stop the development because of the “social impact” of a meeting place for Muslims.
“Most of the objections relate to traffic but they also don’t see a need for it,” Mr Blair said.
“There are very few, if any, of that faith that live in that neck of the woods. What they are concerned about is that if a Muslim house of worship is built then people will come from outside the area and interfere with an existing lifestyle.”
Mr Aly said there were 25 Muslim families who wanted a local prayer hall, sparing themselves the drive to Lakemba or Rooty Hill. It was not a mosque but a more informal mehfil which, architecturally, looked like a single storey showroom or office. All services and meetings would be in English. It would be used twice a week for religious functions, which 80 people would attend. Three times a year, the number might reach 250.
Mr Aly had hoped it would promote assimilation and make it easier for other faiths to attend. Instead, his loyalty to Australia has been questioned.
“I play cricket, love my sport, I grew up in Wollongong, my only language is English. I have never been back to Tanzania and yet the mayor has made out that if you are not an Anglo-Saxon then you are not Australian,” Mr Aly said.
The Mayor, John Griffith, yesterday refused to comment, although the ALP’s Senator George Campbell had criticised him for provocative remarks made three weeks ago to an audience of 700 people.
“I am particularly concerned that Cr Griffiths, as mayor and a lay preacher, would inflame the situation by suggesting the safety of ‘girls and ladies’ is at risk if a mosque is built,” Senator Campbell said. Cr Griffith also reportedly told the meeting: “Unless you get emotional, you won’t win.”
Mr Aly said he was so shocked that he had written to his political hero, John Howard. He had sent another letter to the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, who had sent a hand-written and personal message of support to Mr Aly.