NORTHERN LIBERTY, Iowa – A proposal to build a camp for young Muslims on federal land in Iowa is causing some controversy in the neighborhood.
“What we want to develop is a youth camp that is a positive environment for Muslim youth and those of other faiths to belong to,” said MYCA Director Jalel Aossey.
The camp is to be built on federal land and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (search), with a Muslim prayer tower and a year-round convention center that would be rented out off-season.
Leasing federal property to non-profit groups isn’t unusual for the Army Corps. But this proposal has raised hackles among residents in the community. Some complaints are environmental in nature because of the size of the proposed camp.
Andrew Matthews, who lives across the street from the site, said he and his neighbors are collecting money for a lawyer and are ready to sue because they were originally told the camp would be small, like its predecessor.
“It turns out that it’s a 17,500 square-foot convention center that’s going to be used nine months out of the year as a private hotel center,” said Matthews. “If they sized it according to what the Girl Scout camp is, none of it would be problematic.”
Others are worried because the camp is for young Muslims.
“There is a widely held misconception that the Islamic religion is a peaceful, loving religion,” said Greg Evans of the Concerned Citizens of Johnson City, Iowa. “It’s really not.”
E-mails and letters to the Army Corps of Engineers have charged that the youth camp could become a “terrorist cell.” One went so far as to call Muslims “parasites.”
“I think it’s just going to take time, but I don’t think it’s worth focusing on their negative remarks,” Aossey said.
The Corps of Engineers said that Aossey has already cleared an FBI background check.
Its decision on whether to lease the property to Muslim Youth Camps of America is expected by July.
This would be the first Muslim summer camp under MYCA that would use government land, according to Aossey, but there are a number of other Muslim camps around the country.
One of them -- the annual Muslim Youth Camp in southern California, which began in 1962 -- decided to cancel its 2003 session, according to its Web site, www.muslimyouthcamp.org.
The group cites as reasons the shortage of volunteers and the need to protect the safety of campers “in light of the current political tensions” and their “potential impact on our American Muslim community.”
Fox News' Yolanda Maggi, Steve Brown and Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.