Mosque misgivings: Kennesaw residents voice concern over prayer center
November 25, 2014 04:00 AM
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KENNESAW — About 40 residents filled City Hall to voice their concerns about what a proposed Islamic worship center could bring to Kennesaw.
From right, Ann Gaswint, Jessica Gaswint and Samirra Madhlom react to comments made at the Kennesaw City Hall Council Chambers on Monday regarding a proposal to house a mosque in a strip mall. / Staff-C.B. Schmelter
Eileen Alberstadt, Kennesaw resident
Amjad Taufique, Islamic center representative
‘We have heard so many bad things about the Islamic religion, about Shariah law and you see it on TV, and we’re scared of you. I’ll tell you I’m scared to death of you.’ — Ann Pratt, Kennesaw resident
The City Council is set to vote Dec. 1 on whether to allow the center to use one 2,200-square-foot suite in a shopping center off Jiles Road as a prayer hall for Muslims.
The shopping center, called Kennesaw Commons, is at 2750 Jiles Road behind a Publix grocery store off Cobb Parkway.
Amjad Taufique spoke as a representative of the Islamic center, saying if the center is approved by the council, he will lead some Friday prayer services there.
Taufique said he leads prayer services at other mosques in Cobb, including one on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta.
He is originally from Pakistan and a 35-year citizen of the United States. He works as a chaplain at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.
“It’s not something where we are just now coming into the community all of the sudden,” Taufique said. “We just want a place where we can call it a worship center, a place where we can gather.”
Taufique said he’s raised his children in Cobb, and it’s his home. He told members of the crowd who opposed the prayer center that his family is just like theirs.
“My kids and your kids probably grew up together, played together, went to school together,” Taufique said. “Please do understand that law-abiding is a concern for me just as it is to you.”
Kennesaw resident Eileen Alberstadt said she wasn’t concerned about the religion, but she was concerned about the traffic the center would create.
“I sit in that traffic on Jiles Road every day. I live over there. Traffic is a mess,” Alberstadt said.
Alberstadt said she went to the mosque on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta to look at how many people it attracted.
“I did my own traffic study. I went to these mosques on a Friday afternoon, and I stopped counting at 257 cars,” Alberstadt said.
Taufique, who has led Friday prayers at the Marietta mosque, said the center hires a police officer to control the traffic.
Doug Dillard, the attorney representing the applicant, a company called Suffa Dawat Center at Kennesaw, said the Marietta mosque is older and bigger than the Kennesaw prayer center will be. He also said a retail shop using the same suite would create more traffic.
“You could have all kinds of uses (of the center) that would create a lot more traffic than this will,” Dillard said.
The application submitted by Suffa Dawat Center at Kennesaw states the facility will be used for five daily prayers lasting 10 to 15 minutes, which happen before sunrise, at 2 p.m., a couple hours before sunset, right after sunset and a couple hours after sunset.
The daily prayers last about 15 to 20 minutes, and Taufique said a maximum of 15 people will attend each prayer time.
Another 40 to 45 minute weekly prayer service will happen at 2 p.m. on Fridays, according to the application.
Taufique said he expects a maximum of 60 to 80 people to attend the most popular service on Friday afternoons.
Dillard said if the center grows, it will find a new place after the permit it’s applying for expires in 24 months.
“Having represented a lot of religious organizations, both Christian and otherwise, I know that everyone wants to grow. This situation is a two-year limit. If they outgrow this then they’ll be looking to go somewhere else,” Dillard said.
The center will also offer hour-long education programs a few evenings a week, when followers of Islam will gather to study religious texts.
No Shariah law
The center will not teach Shariah law, Taufique said.
“Absolutely not,” Taufique said in response to the question of whether the center will include Islamic law in its teachings.
One Kennesaw resident, Daryl Kidd, asked if the center would perform acts of violence he had seen in videos online.
“There’s something I’ve seen in a video where they don’t have shirts on and they cut themselves and blood comes out,” Kidd said.
Taufique said the Islamic center would never participate in violent rituals.
“We don’t do that. We don’t believe in it,” Taufique said. “No, it’s not going to happen.”
Nayyer Islam, who spoke as a representative of the Islamic center, affirmed Taufique’s statement. He said he hoped residents weren’t hostile toward Muslims because of what they saw in the media.
“Everything you see on TV, they call it ‘in the name of Islam,’ but we do not endorse it,” Islam said.
Christopher Eells, a Kennesaw resident, said he works across the street from the mosque on Sandy Plains Road.
“I look at (the Marietta mosque) every day, and they have never done anything like that,” Eells said in response to Kidd’s question about violent acts.
Ann Pratt, a 31-year resident of Kennesaw, said she felt “outnumbered” by people representing the Islamic center at the meeting.
“We have heard so many bad things about the Islamic religion, about Shariah law and you see it on TV, and we’re scared of you. I’ll tell you I’m scared to death of you,” Pratt said.
Taufique said the center will be a place for Muslims to gather, not a place to teach violence.
“We live in a society where we have a process in this country of how laws are made. As a law-abiding citizen, I’m not going to go out and break any laws or encourage anyone to break the law,” Taufique said.
Jessica Gaswint, who said she was not Muslim, asked Pratt to trust the Muslims in the room, not be scared of them.
“I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the religion and the people, and I don’t want to see them discriminated against,” Gaswint said.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and the City Council were not present for the meeting.
Mathews said the council has never approved a permit for any type of religious facility in a retail environment that he can remember.
Earlier in the day, Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said she hoped the meeting would resolve issues residents voiced at the Nov. 17 meeting, where the council voted to table the issue for two weeks after residents turned out to denounce the proposal.
“I think it’s a first step,” Eaton-Welsh said.
Whatever the result, Eaton-Welsh said the council will vote Dec. 1.
“We need to give an answer one way or the other,” she said.
My 'comment' for the article is:
This rump meeting was purposely called on minimal notice, late Friday afternoon, for a Monday meeting. Proponents of the Mosque predominated with much lesser representation by area residents.
The intention of the Mosque lawyers Dillard and Duarte was clear. They had to hold a meeting as they had promised the City they would, but by giving minimal notice and only 1 sign at the shopping center they made sure that only a handful of local residents would be aware and attend while they packed the audience with supporters.
Now the Mosque lawyers can go back to City on Dec. 1st and claim that they had their promised meeting and hardly anyone showed up and 'gee' isn't it a shame that all those who did not want the Mosque wouldn't bother to show up.
You should also be aware that a major proponent of this Mosque, millionaire Mr Abdul Kareem Amer, is not a Kennesaw resident but lives in Marietta just 6 blocks from the East Cobb Islamic Center at 1111 Braswell Rd, Marietta, a 2 minute car ride from his $800,000 10 room home. And if he doesn't like that Mosque he can attend the Masjid Ibad-ur-Rahman Mosque just 3 miles from his home or any of the 7 which are all closer than the Kennesaw site.
This 'meeting' was just a sham! I hope the City isn't fooled by this nonsense.