KATY, Texas – A plan to build a mosque in this Houston suburb has blown up into a neighborhood dispute, with community members warning the place will become a terrorist hotbed and one man threatening to hold pig races on Fridays just to offend the Muslims.
Many neighborhood residents claim they have nothing against Muslims and are more concerned about property values, drainage and traffic.
But one resident has set up an anti-Islamic Web site with an odometer-like counter that keeps track of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims' land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day. Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.
"The neighbors have created havoc for us and we didn't expect that," said engineer Kamel Fotouh, president of the 500-member Katy Islamic Association.
Fotouh vowed to press ahead with plans for a mosque on the 11-acre site, as well as a community center that would offer after-school activities, housing for senior citizens, a fitness center and an Islamic school.
"We just bought it," Fotouh said. "And we are going to use it. We have the right like any one of them."
Katy, population 13,000, is a mix of middle-class bedroom-community neighborhoods and small farms on Houston's western edge and boasts of being the hometown of Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellweger. It is 70 percent white and 24 percent Hispanic.
The Houston metropolitan area has about 170,000 Muslims, according to the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, and among their many mosques is one built in Houston by former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Islamic association bought the land in Katy in September for $1.1 million. It said the overall cost of the project has not been determined.
The dispute began when the group asked Baker to remove his cattle from their newly bought land. Baker agreed but mistakenly thought the Muslims also wanted him off the land his family has lived on for more than 100 years. The rumor spread.
Baker, who makes marble and granite fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms and also owns livestock, said he got so mad he put up a sign announcing the pig races.
(Baker's attempt to offend missed its mark, according to Fotouh. Muslims do not hate pigs, he said; they just don't eat them.)
As for the Web site, the address is virtually identical to that of the Katy Islamic Association. The site claims the neighbors will have to hear the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque's minaret five times a day — the Islamic group denies that — and offers an audio sample.
Besides keeping track of the running total of post-Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Web site provides home addresses of some association members and advises people who see anything suspicious to contact the FBI. Many people have sent anti-Islamic e-mails to the site.
A few complaints about the mosque project have also trickled in to Harris County offices: The "Coming Soon" sign was on government property; the parking lot gravel was piled up without a permit; the project would increase traffic in the quiet neighborhood.
County Commissioner Steve Radack said traffic concerns can be addressed as they are elsewhere, with off-duty police officers. He also noted the group has said it would comply with rules on drainage and flood control.
Cynthia Blackman wrote Radack that the center was a security risk: "Would you and your family safely and comfortably live next to this 11-acre Muslim mosque and facilities?"
The reaction has not been all negative. Fotouh said one man came to the mosque on a Friday afternoon and apologized for his neighbors. "He moved me, really," Fotouh said. "The sense of fairness, the sense of standing by the underdog."
Though he now concedes the Muslims are probably not after his land, Baker said he is obligated to go through with the pig races, probably within the next few weeks, because "I would be like a total idiot if I didn't. I'd be the laughingstock now because I've gone too far."