Osama Abbas harbors no ill will toward the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church in Sugarcreek Twp. for opposing the zoning change that would have allowed a new mosque on South Alpha-Bellbrook Road.
"I don't blame people who have been frightened of Islam by all the negative media images," he said. "I see it as an opportunity to educate them."
Abbas, his wife, Lema Rabah, and his father, Mohamed Abbas, are members of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, the group seeking a new mosque for up to 975 people and a family center for up to 400. The Sugarcreek Twp. Board of Zoning Appeals recently rejected a variance that would have allowed the mosque to be built on 15 acres the society owns, citing traffic and sewage concerns.
Abbas, who lives in Huber Heights, said "no one can really say" whether the church's efforts influenced the decision. But the church's opposition points to what Abbas says is a misunderstanding of Islam and the people who practice it. He wants non-Muslims in the area to know that the 200 or so Muslims who meet for prayer on Fridays at the small mosque on Josie Street in Dayton aren't much different from them.
"We're doctors, we're engineers, we're students, said the 27-year-old software engineer. "We're mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. We're just normal citizens living normal lives, trying to succeed in this world."
The Rev. Barry Jude, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sugarcreek Twp., said he and his 1,900-member congregation have a constitutional right to express their views on Islam and to let township officials know they don't want a mosque in their community. The church moved from Kettering in 2006 to a 100-acre complex on Swigart Road, about a mile from the proposed mosque.
Jude said he has told his congregation "to hate the sin but love the sinner" when it comes to Islam. "We're here to promote Christ and his kingdom ... and we want to lovingly do that," he said. "Obviously, there are wonderful people who are Islamic."
Karen Dabdoud, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Cincinnati, said her organization is seeing a dramatic rise in civil rights complaints from Muslims — nationally and in Ohio. CAIR and its affiliates processed 2,467 complaints in 2006, a 25 percent increase from 2005 (1,972 reports) and the third straight year complaints have reached record highs. Seventy-two of the civil rights complaints in 2006 came from Ohio, the CAIR study said.
The American Islamic community had hoped that complaints would begin to subside after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 as Americans gained a better understanding of Islam. "But it hasn't happened that way," Dabdoud said. "We're seeing an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric floating around."
It's no surprise that an affluent suburb such as Sugarcreek Twp. would attract a mosque. Of the estimated 2.8 million Muslims living in the United States, more than half earn more than $50,000 a year, with engineering, medicine and computer programming their most common professions, CAIR said. (MORE)