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June 14, 1999
Rejection of Mosque Project Riles New Jersey Community
A P Kamath
When Yusuf Dadani and heads of over a dozen Muslim families in Old Bridge, a middle class town in New Jersey, planned for a mosque and a school several years ago, they decided at the very outset the facilities will not be built in a residential area. They were too familiar with the obstacles faced by Muslims and Hindus in several American towns and cities when similar projects were proposed. Technically, the opposition came from the town zoning boards worried over increase in traffic and noise levels. But the Muslim and Hindu community leaders often felt that it was prejudice against the non-Christian religions that led to the rejection of their applications.
So the Old Bridge Muslim community, comprising many immigrants from the Subcontinent, planned its $ 2 million mosque and school project, on the outskirts of the town.
But in the second week of June, they heard the town planning board had turned down their project by a 5 ro 3 vote saying it believed that traffic increase could cause problems to the people in the neighborhood.
In preparing to take the issue to the court, Yusuf Dadani, a member of the committee that submitted the application to the planning board four months ago, asserted his committee met all of the concerns expressed by planning board members during the three sessions over a three and half month period the board considered the proposal. The board had been assured, for instance, that except for Friday's prayers, there would not be many worshippers during rest of the week.
"We have followed the law to the letter," Dadani said. "Now, the only course of action available to us is to go to the courts."
"We're have been praying in our own homes mostly right now," Dadani said in explaining to the town board about the urgency of constructing the mosque and the school.
Thomas Norman, the planning board attorney, said the members were concerned about the increase in traffic caused by the worshippers and parents of schoolchildren.
Dadani wonders if a non-Muslim or a non-Christian had proposed a house of worship and a school, the neighbors would have raised the same concerns.
The mosque and school were to be built on 2.6 acres of land, the site of an old plumbing supply company. The plans calls for the existing 3,000-square-foot building to be renovated. Additions to the structure would provide a prayer hall, a fellowship hall, meeting rooms and the school, which would have students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Al Leibowitz, chairman of the planning board, said he felt for the Muslims.
"They are looking for a place to worship and we welcome that," he said. "They just had a bad location."
But Dadani is not sure if the feelings are genuine.
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