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NEWTON COUNTY, GEORGIA -
Q) Which is correct?
1) 3 past presidents came from Newton County,
2) The County was named after Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newton,
3) A Mosque is setting up a paintball and survival course on 135 acres,
4) None of the Above
(OK, maybe it isn't #2, try #3)
Newton County lifts moratorium on mosque
By: Marium Zafar |- last Updated: September, 14, 2016 at 7:30 a.m.
Eleven years ago, Mohammad Islam built a house of worship inside a small ranch home in Doraville, Georgia. A decade later, the Al Maad Al Islami mosque went from opening its doors for a few members to hosting over 200 people for Friday evening prayers, according to CNN.
The upsurge of Muslim people in the community called for a properly established place of worship, so in August 2015, Islam sealed his purchase of a 135-acre plot 40 miles southeast of Atlanta with Newton County’s approval for the construction of a mosque and cemetery, according to CNN.
Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Georgia chapter Edward Ahmed Mitchell said the moratorium issued on Aug. 16 was unconstitutional.
“The county said it imposed the moratorium to address legitimate concerns about outdated ordinances. Although we thought otherwise, we’re willing to put that behind us. As long as they lift the moratorium, let bygones be bygones,” Mitchell said.
However, this isn’t the first time state officials have balked at the building of mosques. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has records from 2009 to 2015 of more than 40 cases of community interference with mosque plans – many of which occurred in Georgia.
Kennesaw’s 2014 rejection of an application for a mosque situated in an empty shopping center and the Lilburn City Council’s 2009 dismissal of the local mosque’s expansion, with the two councils revoking their decision after receiving lawsuits from the U.S. Department of Justice.
City councils claim they oppose mosque construction due to community concerns about traffic, noise and property value, but some residents tell a different story.
On Aug. 22, AJC journalist Meris Lutz reported on the Newton County’s hearing at Covington courthouse, during which a majority of the speakers cited concerns over terrorism and Muslim assimilation in the community.
“Some expressed fear that the mosque would become an al-Qaida training camp or impose Sharia law on the community,” he reported.
For Muslim Americans like Perimeter college education major Nabila Khan at Dunwoody campus, said the public’s Islamophobic perception is the fault of the media.
“The media has portrayed Islam in such a bad way that people have no other choice but to think that Islam is wrong. So I don’t blame people for being confused, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be ignorant and believe everything we see on the news,” she said.
Khan mentioned her local mosque is a vital part of her community, not just for Muslims but for non-Muslims as well, because it opens up conversations about Islam through youth programs and weekly lectures.
Hafsah Qazi, Georgia State Computer science major at the Altanta campus, also values her local mosque.
“I go to the masjid to strengthen my relationship with Allah (swt) and connect with people of many different backgrounds who share the same beliefs as me,” she said. The masjid is a safe, peaceful place which allows people to come together and worship and pray, as well as build a strong, thriving community.”
Georgia State’s distinguished university professor of political science, Jennifer McCoy, PhD, said these fears can be traced as far back as 2001 and even more so during recent times due to attacks in the U.S., Europe, Turkey and Bangladesh.
“They have also been inundated with misinformation that comes in talk shows and even the presidential campaign. The natural fear is thus intensified by myths that are repeated non-stop in social media and the radio,” she said.
According to McCoy, people tend to listen to a single source of usually opinionated news that may reinforce their beliefs rather than challenge them, then “the fears and conspiracies they dream up become even stronger,” which is why mosques that represent concentrations of Muslims may appear disquieting.
“We need individual citizens, political candidates and news media to all challenge myths that are repeated as fact whenever we hear them,” McCoy said.
Imam Islam has already taken a position of open communication and encouraged interfaith dialogue in response to some of the residents’ Islamophobic reactions. Islam plans to visit multiple churches in Newton County over the next few weeks and invite community members to visit the mosques.
As CAIR’s GA representative, Mitchell also holds Islam 101 talks and outreaches to conservative, Republican and tea-party organizations to address their concerns about Islam. He also promotes open discussion between Muslims and non-Muslims in communities.
“For some people, there is no distinction between radical terrorist and normal Muslim. Even though there are terrorists who consider themselves Christian, no one blames the church for inciting terrorism because everyone knows what a normal Christian is like. Some Newton County residents don’t know Muslims and thus, can’t make the distinction,” he said.