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As Longview mosque goes up, opposition from neighborhood grows

By Glenn Evans
Jan. 24, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Longview-area Muslims hope to complete a mosque on the northern edge of the city in coming months - amid opposition from residents in the neighborhood - a mosque spokesman said Tuesday.

Islamic Community of Longview member Saleem Shabazz said the 35 or 40 Muslims planning the worship center are encountering opposition from some future neighbors.

"We expected that," he said. "I don't think we're asking for anything from anyone that anyone else doesn't have."

Envisioned as a 2,500- to 3,000-square foot mosque and cultural/education center, the facility on Amy Street would take the place of an apartment where local Muslims have held Friday prayers for about two decades, Shabazz said.

Members have rented larger spaces when needed, such as for the annual dinner at the end of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, some Amy Street residents are saying everyone has a right to a place of worship, just not on their street.

Resident Dewayne Willie, however, draws a distinction between a home and place of worship.

"If it was a house being built there by a Muslim family moving in, I would do the same thing that was done for us - I would welcome them," said Willie, whose house abuts the future mosque property.

Elizabeth Owens, whose home of nearly 40 years is two houses down from the roughly six-acre lot where the building is being constructed, said the mosque appears inevitable.

"We can't stop it, maybe, but we oppose it," she said

Owens distributed about 20 signs being used in a First Baptist Church promotion - each says "Jesus" with the church's name in small print at the bottom - that neighbors have placed in yards up and down the street.

"It's going to be, to us, foreigners," she said. "We're not acquainted with that culture, and we have children and we have concerns, yes we do. I understand everybody has to worship, but why do they have to bring it to a Christian community? I think that's terrible."

Owens said she was referring to all of Longview when she said "Christian community." She said neighbors object specifically to the mosque coming to their street for safety reasons.

Amy Street is a dead end and quite narrow. The east-west road begins in the Longview city limits but soon enters Gregg County.

"I think we have a driving surface of 23 feet," Owens said. "And you're going to add another 40 or 50 cars here?"

Shabazz said Friday prayers are at 1:40 p.m., so any increase in traffic will be during the afternoon.

"We don't have the amount of traffic that a big church or something like that would have," he said. "On most Fridays, I think we're talking in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 cars."

A member of the Longview Race Relations Committee, Shabazz said he has discussed aspects of the new mosque with the county commissioner for that precinct, Charles Davis.

For instance, he said, some neighbors have expressed concern over the call to prayer, which typically is broadcast across an area.

"That's not going to happen," he said. "I told Commissioner Davis back in October that, out of concern for the neighbors and not disturbing them or anything, we will not use the outdoor public address system."

The nearest mosque is in Tyler, and Longview-area Muslims have been candid about wanting their own place of worship.

The location was selected early in the fall.

Davis on Tuesday acknowledged several calls "from people out there who are unhappy for various reasons."

One early complaint was from a resident who said she and her mother suffered breathing difficulty when brush cleared from the lot is burned.

Davis said brush now is hauled off site for burning.

Another caller was worried that altering the elevation of the lot could cause drainage problems.

"And they came to an agreement that they wouldn't do anything that would cause a flooding problem," Davis said. "I think it's full-steam ahead to build a mosque out there. I'm not sure we can do anything about it, or if we should be trying. It's a free country."

Shabazz said he hopes early opposition can be calmed.

"When you've got people that are actively fanning the flames and the fears, you're going to get those reactions," he said.



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