Controversial Georgia Mosque Wins Approval

A controversial, 20,000-square-foot Muslim worship center won approval Tuesday by city council members in Georgia.

The Lilburn City Council approved a Muslim congregation's request to construct the center after two years of contentious debate.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the council approved the plan by a 3-1 vote.

The four-member council was deadlocked on a December vote of the zoning request. It prolonged a yearlong conflict among the Shiite Dar-E-Abbas congregation, city leaders and residents who oppose the group's expansion.

The congregation owns and worships on 1.4 acres. It originally sought to rezone more property, but later said it would build only a mosque and parking lot.

Wasi Zaidi helped found Dar-E-Abbas in 1998 and says "our neighbors might be mad now, but we love them."

The Department of Justice has been investigating the city to determine if it violated Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by rejecting earlier zone applications, The Wall Street Journal reported. Under federal law, local authorities cannot impose "a substantial burden" on religious groups and treating them "on less than equal terms" than others in land decisions, the article said.

The Dar-E-Abbas congregation, which owns and worships on 1.4 acres, had sought to buy and rezone an additional 6.5 acres for an expanded mosque, gymnasium and cemetery. The congregation later said it would build only a mosque and parking lot. That request failed in December.

At the hearing last night, Alan Owen told council members those opposed to the rezoning objected to the land use and "have never used religion as a tool in our arguments," reported  

"Those of us who oppose this rezoning have put forth our objections based on land use and zoning issues," Owen said. "We have never used religion as a tool in our arguments."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.