The Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shia Center plans to break ground next year on a 20,000-square-foot, two-story facility on Lawrenceville Highway at Hood Road. The mosque bought about four acres around its existing small buildings and is working with Lilburn officials to prepare for the new mosque.
The quiet preparations follow a public outcry over the proposed mosque that twice led the Lilburn City Council to reject the rezoning needed for it to move forward. A federal lawsuit and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice pressured the city to approve the expansion five years ago this month.
Lilburn isn’t the only metro Atlanta community that has expressed concerns about mosques. Earlier this week, hundreds of Newton County residents gathered for town hall meetings to oppose plans for a mosque and Muslim cemetery. Residents in Kennesaw and Alpharetta also have objected to mosques in recent years, though the cities ultimately permitted them.
Several Lilburn residents told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week the mosque’s expansion plans don’t bother them.
“I’m glad they can expand,” said Leslie Edwin as she sat outside a store in downtown Lilburn Thursday. “I’m glad they can have a place to worship.”
But Edwin said some residents probably are concerned. Mayor Johnny Crist and four City Council members did not respond to requests for comment.
The mosque’s trustees want their neighbors to know that – despite frequently expressed fears of terrorism and Sharia law – Islam is a religion of peace.
“We are like any other place of worship,” said trustee Hasan Afroz. “Our message is peace and love, and our doors are open for people of all faith and religion.”
Founded in 1998, Dar-e ‘Abbas has grown to more than 100 families – most of them of Pakistani and Indian descent. They worship in two buildings on Lawrenceville Highway. But they have long hoped for a better facility.
In 2009, the mosque sought the zoning needed for an expansion but was denied. As the fight dragged on, the mosque filed the federal lawsuit, and the Justice Department launched an investigation. In August 2011, the City Council approved the necessary zoning to settle the dispute.
Since then, the mosque has been raising money and buying property, and relations with the community have improved. Trustees say they’ve worked with planning department officials on their expansion plans. They’ve also invited the police department to help with special events.
Safdar Abedi, a spokesman for Dar-E ‘Abbas, said he understand why some Americans are on edge — terrorist attacks committed by some groups in the name of Islam.
“But we want to make it clear that those terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, as they are violating the basic principle of Islam, which is peace,” he said.