Kennesaw reverses course; permits mosque

The Kennesaw City Council reversed itself Monday on the controversial issue of allowing a mosque to operate in a storefront on Jiles Road.

The application for a land-use permit by Suffa Dawat Center, Inc., was rejected Dec. 1 by the Cobb County city when four of the five council members voted against it during a heated meeting at which many members of the public spoke out against the worship center.

Each of those four council members — Leonard Church, Tim Killingsworth, Jim Sebastian and Debra Williams — reversed their votes Monday and approved the land- se permit, which now allows the mosque to seek the necessary permits to operate. Mayor Pro Tem Cris Eaton-Welsh voted in favor of the land-use permit originally.

Nayyer Islam, one of the applicants for the mosque, said it will be a few months before the storefront is operational as a worship center. Islam’s attorney, Doug Dillard, said he will likely file a lawsuit in federal court against the vote two weeks ago to protect his client’s right to sue in the event that the council’s re-vote is challenged and reversed.

If Monday’s decision isn’t reversed, Dillard said, he will drop his complaint. Dillard said he is satisfied with the result and appreciates the council members recognizing the vote two weeks ago was not proper.

About a dozen protesters stood outside city hall Monday, holding signs that read: “Ban Islam;” “No Mosque;” and “Cults Have No Rights.”

Samir Malik, who will worship at the center, said all the protesters are invited to the new facility.

“We invite them to come out, peacefully,” Malik said “Put those signs down and we’d love to address any questions they have. Talk to us, one on one, in a peaceful setting.

“There’s a very, very small minority that is opposed to us.”

The Kennesaw vote was the latest in a series of metro Atlanta mosque controversies and the most recent to come to the attention of federal authorities. Immediately after the vote to deny the mosque, representatives of the mosque say they spoke to the U.S. Department of Justice about what they see as blatant discrimination in violation of federal law. In recent years, the Justice Department has intervened in similar cases across the country, including decisions by Lilburn and Alpharetta to deny mosque expansions. Under federal pressure, those cities ultimately approved the expansions.

Islam said he expects 50 or 60 worshipers on Fridays; he expects the number will be about 20 or less during the week. Islam said the storefront was attractive to them because its rent was cheap and the location is central to their worshipers.

There will be no limitations — or stipulations — required for the mosque to open. Mayor Mark Mathews said some of the protesters and the media made the land-use issue more controversial that it actually was.

But then he added: “It’s been an emotional issue for every one.”

Mathews said the Suffa Dawat Center will still have to get its plans for the facility approved, and get various permits, a business license and clearance from the fire marshal before becoming operational.

“You think the city council is bad, go to a fire marshal, right?” Mathews joked. “At this point, what we’ve provided is the special-land permit that allows them to move on to the next step.”

The re-vote was placed on the meeting’s consent agenda, which means none of the council members explained their change of vote. Mathews said each of the four asked that the issue be placed on consent. He called it an “efficiency” issue.