– A response to Paula Simons- Edmonton Journal

Paula Simons wrote an opinion article in the Edmonton Journal titled “Mosque opposition may be more than traffic issue “(May 1st, 2010).  You can read it here: 
http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/cityplus/story.html?id=6fdee516-a3c9-4e71-82de-cff0e90bc5a6&p=1

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Here is our  reply to Ms. Simons:

Ms. Simons begins her article by asking the reader to choose between two options – preserving a rundown strip mall, or having there an Islamic Community Center that would inject a new life into that mall.   We suggest a third option – a strip mall that will serve the entire Gariepy neighborhood rather than a community most of which live in other neighborhoods.   If indeed Ms. Simons is correct and Gariepy is an “ageing neighborhood” (her words), then we need services appropriate for our advancing age, such as a medical center.  How exactly can an Islamic Center serve our needs?  Why do we need one more school in a neighborhood that already has three schools?  Recently, Edmonton Public has closed six schools.  Why is MAC not approaching Edmonton Public and about renting/buying one of these sites? 

Ms. Simons claims that the mosque will be small and the private school will have a small number of students, 100-150.  The letter we received from the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) says that they intend “to add private school that would accommodate 150 (or whatever the expected number of) students.”  The school thus can enroll more than 150 students.   The school is only one service the center is expected to offer to the Muslim community.   For example, MAC has received a permit for a 200-seat mosque.  However, according to MAC’s own data, the mosque will serve the whole city and it can accommodate between 1300-2300 worshippers.  There is a significant discrepancy between the figures, which needs to be reconciled. 

Ms. Simons proposes a plan to coordinate the activities of the Church, located across from the site, and the Islamic Center.  On the face of it, it is a very sensible idea.  But is it doable?  In addition to spiritual services, both religious centers provide (or will provide in the case of the Islamic Center) various services including special events such as wedding ceremonies, cultural events, or fundraising activities.  For example, on May 21, the church is planning a Pyrohy dinner event.  Friday is a very important prayer day for Muslims.  Coordination of these events may prove challenging.  In addition, the Islamic Center plans to offer Weekend Arabic and Islamic School on Saturday and Sunday that will accommodate approximately 500 students.  How can the two centers coordinate their parking needs on Sunday?   Although Ms. Simons is dismissive about this issue and shows little respect to our concerns, for those experiencing it firsthand it is a serious headache.

What Ms. Simons does not mention in her article is that a few hundred residents have already signed the petition to reject the application to rezone the mall to allow for a private K-9 school.  The core argument is that the site is inappropriate for a school for parking, traffic, and noise issues.  The provocative headlines on page A1 (“Hints of Islamophobia in Opposition to Mosque”) and on B1 (“Outspoken Neighbors Could be Harboring Lingering Islamophobia”) have nothing to do with reality, which is much more down to earth – we support the Islamic Community in its bid to establish a center that will provide it with much needed social, recreational and spiritual services.   However, the current site is not the right one for all the reasons Ms. Simons mentions. 

With her regrettable use of the inflammatory term “Islamophobia,” Ms. Simons has stained hundreds of people in our community.  Had she done her research better she would have found that in the early 1990s this very same community defeated a rezoning application from the St. Anthony Ukrainian Orthodox church, located across from the strip mall in question.  We do not recall anybody calling the residents “Christianophobs” at that time.  Ms. Simons should ask herself why, and then perhaps apologize to the Gariepy community.

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