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Mosque in Bernards runs into opposition

14 January 2013 General No Comment Email This Post Email This Post
Basking Ridge, NJ - Residents oppose a plan, Tuesday, January 8, 2013, to build a 4,000 square foot mosque on this 4.3 acre site at 124 Church Street in the Liberty Corner section of town. JASON TOWLEN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER / Jason Towlen/Staff Photographer

Basking Ridge, NJ – Residents oppose a plan, Tuesday, January 8, 2013, to build a 4,000 square foot mosque on this 4.3 acre site at 124 Church Street in the Liberty Corner section of town. JASON TOWLEN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER / Jason Towlen/Staff Photographer

BERNARDS — When a local Islamic organization hired Bernardsville architect Daniel Lincoln to design a new mosque, he set out to create a building that would serve its purpose as a house of worship and fit into the colonial and bucolic character of this township’s Liberty Corner.

He’s proud of the result. The 4,252-square-foot building with white siding and a gray roof could be mistaken for a large home. Remove the crescents, and the two 35-foot minarets could pass for chimneys.

But many of the people who would be neighbors of this mosque aren’t as appreciative.

“When they look at this building, all they see are the letters M-O-S-Q-U-E,” said Lincoln, who also is president of the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.

The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, which purchased the 4.3-acre property at 124 Church St. in late 2011 for $750,000, is not the first Muslim group to run into resistance trying to build a mosque.

In 2011, the Al Falah Center of Somerset County, bought the former Redwood Inn restaurant in Bridgewater to build its own mosque. As in Bernards, a mosque was a permitted use in that township’s land-use laws. But months later the Township Council changed its zoning laws in an effort to stymie the proposal. That case is now part of a continuing lawsuit in federal court.

The Muslim population in Somerset County has nearly doubled in the last decade. Muslim congregations here often meet in borrowed spaces, such as community centers.

The resistance the Muslim groups meet before local land-use boards is not new, nor is it just a local concern, several religious leaders said.

“There is always resistance to any mosque. That’s why Muslim groups spend a lot of time when they look for a mosque to find a project that can’t be turned down based on the law,” said Yaser ElMenshawy, head of the Islamic Center of Hunterdon County in Flemington.

ElMenshawy said that there is usually less resistance in “more urban areas where there is lots of diversity,” such Jersey City, Paterson or Newark.

Original post: Mosque in Bernards runs into opposition

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