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'Tiny minority' protests Muslim developments

A “tiny minority” of Australians is protesting against development plans for a community centre and mosques by Muslim organisations.

In western Sydney, extremist activists have been vandalising an industrial property in Padstow where the United Muslims Association (UMA) plans to build a mosque; while anti-Muslim protesters clashed with supporters outside Penrith Council after the Muhammadi Welfare Association’s development application for a community centre was approved.

In rural Victoria, a group of Bendigo residents has commenced legal action in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) against the council’s approval of Australian Islamic Mission’s proposed mosque.

“We need to do everything we can to create peace and harmony. People putting up signs saying, ‘Muslims are not welcome here’ shouldn’t be in Australia.”

– Abbas Raza Alvi, secretary of the Muhammadi Welfare Association

Mosque plans in industrial Padstow

Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, of the UMA, raised $3.25 million to buy an industrial property in Padstow and a subsequent development application for a $10 million mosque that will include an underground car park and cater for 5,000 worshippers will be submitted to Bankstown City Council in coming months.

“If the council gives us (approval to build a mosque for) thousands, we’ll cater for thousands, if it gives us hundreds, we’ll cater for hundreds,” Sheikh Shady said, adding that he was confident his “generous” community would raise the required funds for what would be one of Sydney’s grandest mosques.

The UMA had “struggled in (a rented centre in) Riverwood, as our property is next to residences, and we’ve been having a backlash there since day one. Next door there’s a pub, but (the residents) don’t have issues with them.”

But the newly-acquired site has also been subject to vandalism and community protests. The property has been broken into, walls and electricals have been damaged, and signs covered with anti-Muslim stickers, including one that reads, ‘Halal funds terrorist organisations’, have been plastered on the property.

The Australian Defence League (ADL), which models itself on the far right extremist English Defence League, has reoprtedly posted photos taken inside the property on their Facebook page .

Sheikh Shady believes the protests are from a “tiny minority” driven by “negative media.”

“(The community protests) are from racism and bigotry. Some people have hatred towards Islam (and) the Australian Defence League has been inflaming the situation,” he said, adding that the protesters “were a threat to Australian society.”

“No action has been undertaken against this group of people and that’s what frustrates us as a community,” he said.

The protests are unfair and his community wants to be “good neighbours,” Sheikh Shady said, and planned to allow the adjacent Chinese Christian church to use their car park on Sundays.

Minority backlash in Penrith

Meanwhile, protesters draped in Australian flags outside a meeting at Penrith City Council clashed with anti-fascist protesters, as councillors voted eight to five in favour of a development application for a community centre at Kemps Creek, submitted by the Muhammadi Welfare Association.

Abbas Raza Alvi, secretary of the Muhammadi Welfare Association, said many of the protesters came from outside the Penrith area and were a “highly racist group who were holding up placards and chanting slogans that ‘Muslims aren’t welcome here’.”

During the protests, Detective Inspector Grant Healy of NSW Police had to speak to the crowd and call for calm.

Abbas Raza Alvi said, “Australia is our home. We migrated here and we like it here. My children are working here... We need to do everything we can to create peace and harmony. People putting up signs saying, ‘Muslims are not welcome here’ shouldn’t be in Australia.”

“We are on the land of the indigenous people.”

The Shia Muslim organisation had raised $950,000 in funds to buy the property on Elizabeth Road, Kemps Creek - up the road from a Sikh gurdwara - in 2013.

They have since raised another $1million for what could be a five-year construction process for a 640 sq m, two-storey complex, which was modified to comply with the council’s development control plan. It will have a two basketball courts, a badminton court, a swimming pool, a storage shed and landscaped gardens.

“Our ladies have sold their jewellery (and) our children have given a dollar a day from their pockets (to raise funds),” Abbas Raza Alvi said.

The organisation comprises mainly of Australian-Pakistanis and Australian-Indians, as well as Australians from Bangladesh, East Africa and Hazara migrants from Afghanistan. They view the Penrith area as central to its population that live in Liverpool, Campbelltown, Bankstown and Auburn. The organisation already owns a mosque in Granville.

Abbas Raza Alvi, who is also on the board of the Ethnic Communities Council and Australia-India Chamber of Commerce, said he wants to “promote peace and harmony” and “the centre (will be) open for everyone.”

He has invited schools in the area use the centre's sporting facilities free of charge.

Residents group files in court

Meanwhile in Bendigo, a group of 14 residents led by local woman Julie Hoskins and represented by Robert Balzola have objected before VCAT that the approval of the Australian Islamic Mission’s proposed mosque be revoked, citing traffic, environmental and safety concerns.

Correspondence submitted by residents to Bendigo Council and read out before the tribunal included safety concerns about the impacts of Sharia and that “Islam hates Christians.”

VCAT president, justice Greg Garde, adjourned the case until February 23, 2015, when the hearing continues. 

The Point

Minority groups are protesting developments by Muslim organisations

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