- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

WALKERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — The corn fields and church steeples proudly displayed on Walkersville’s municipal seal reflect traditions that some residents say are threatened by plans for a Muslim mosque and convention site in the rural town of 5,600.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA insists it will be a peaceful, friendly neighbor, but its proposal — including an annual national gathering of thousands of Ahmadis — has met resistance from the town’s overwhelmingly Christian residents who treasure their relative seclusion in a nation at war with Islamic extremists.

“Muslims are a whole different culture from us,” said Ralph Whitmore, the town’s mayor, taking a break from stacking inventory at his livestock feed store. “The situation with the Muslims is a touchy worldwide situation, so people are antsy over that.”

Two days after Ahmadiyya leaders fielded questions at a public forum on Aug. 20, town Commissioner Chad Weddle introduced a zoning amendment that would prohibit places of worship, schools, private clubs and antique shops on land zoned for agriculture — including the 224-acre farm the Ahmadis have contracted to buy.

If the five commissioners approve the measure in a vote expected this fall, the Ahmadis would be blocked from establishing a mosque on the site but could ask to have the land’s zoning changed to institutional, which includes places of worship and schools. If the amendment fails, the group would need only a special exception — easier to obtain than a rezoning — to proceed. Their request for a special exception is pending before the town’s planning commission, which held a public hearing Tuesday and is expected to vote Oct. 23 on whether to recommend it to the commissioners.

Mr. Weddle said he offered his amendment not to block the Muslims but as part of a plan to preserve open space and help the Banner School, a private, nonsectarian institution for grades K-8.

“My ordinance should benefit that group if they want to build on that property” because without rezoning, the site can’t be served by public water and sewer, Mr. Weddle said.

Syed Ahmad, a federal economist who is managing the Walkersville project for the Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said the group plans to use the farm’s private well and septic systems and won’t need public water and sewer.

Mr. Ahmad, a naturalized citizen who emigrated from Pakistan in 1980, says the Muslims won’t go where they’re not wanted. The group’s leaders have gone door-to-door to persuade Walkersville residents that Ahmadis are not terrorists, but Mr. Ahmad acknowledged that the September 11 attacks and the U.S. war on terrorism have made Walkersville residents wary.

“They hear ‘Muslims’ and they don’t know anything beyond that,” he said. “To me, it’s natural until they get a chance to ask questions what our beliefs are — and then they realize these are good people.”

Some residents aren’t convinced. David Sample testified during Tuesday’s hearing that he is an intelligence officer whose office at the Pentagon, about 40 miles away, was destroyed in the September 11 attacks.

“We need to be forthright about our direction and the protection of our community,” he said. “I just stress to the board and the community that we pay attention to what’s going on, what the motive is, who the people are.”

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