WASHINGTON — Public debate over a proposed mosque in Prince William County has focused on whether waste should flow into a public sewer or a septic system, but some wonder whether the controversy stems from anti-Muslim bias.
In 2014, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) purchased land in Nokesville, with plans to build a 22,400-square-foot mosque.
Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the board for ADAMS, said that Muslims in the area have been using rented space in Manassas for prayers.
“Our American dream has always been to have a location in western Prince William County,” Jaka told WTOP.
In December, the county planning commission voted 6-2 to approve the project, with the caveat that the building would use a septic system.
“We appreciate it was approved,” said Jaka. “We would like to advocate for public sewer, which we believe would be more environmentally friendly.”
Many houses in the area are required to use septic systems, but Jaka said larger facilities are better-served by the public sewer system.
Jaka said many of the properties near the proposed mosque are connected to the public sewer.
“The county did approve a public sewer for the church across the street. We would like to have that same treatment,” said Jaka.
Opponents have expressed concern about the building height, parking lots, increased traffic and development in what’s known as the Rural Crescent area, which lies between rural Fauquier County and the more urbanized eastern half of Prince William County. Jaka said an elementary school and high school are nearby.
One neighbor in opposition to the mosque, Tammy Spinks, said ADAMS “knew the property they bought was in the Rural Crescent and that sewer is not allowed.”
“They bought it anyway because the property was cheaper than the developed area,” Spinks said.
Jaka said the group is dedicated to being good neighbors, and has made several concessions to promote cooperation.
However, Jaka said 30 proposed mosques around the country have been hampered by anti-Muslim bigotry, disguised as land-use issues.
“We do not see as much explicit bias as we’ve seen in those other cases around the around the country,” said Jaka.
In December, the Justice Department sued Culpeper County alleging discrimination after the Virginia county denied a request for a permit to build there.
Jaka doesn’t believe that will be necessary.
“We hope we can work with the county to come up with a win-win solution for Prince William County, our community, and the neighbors to make this a great addition to western Prince William County, said Jaka. “But obviously we want to advocate for our rights under the Constitution of the United States and equal protection under the law.”
Jaka is hopeful the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will agree, when it takes up the issue at a still-unscheduled, upcoming meeting.