ONE of Gladstone’s Catholic priests has lent support to a bid to build an Islamic centre in the central Queensland town, despite an anti-Muslim campaign.
“I’m absolutely in support of them being able to worship as easily as I do,” Star of the Sea parish priest Marist Father Kevin Redmond said.
The Islamic Society of Gladstone has lodged a development application to build a worship centre in an industrial zone backing onto a railway line and separated from the Toolooa State High School.
However an anti-Islam Facebook page, with thousands of followers, is urging Gladstone residents to oppose the project.
The Stop The Mosque Gladstone page was created by Townsville resident Kim Vuga, and cites “safety concerns” as the reason for encouraging residents “to lobby councillors and MPs in opposition to the Islamisation of our town”.
“We need to get as many objections as we can,” Ms Vuga, who leads the political party Love Australia Or Leave, and in 2014 opposed the building of a $70 million Islamic boarding school in Mareeba, said.
“We are dealing with people who come over here and they are very good at segregating themselves from the community.
“As soon as we get an Islamic centre in Gladstone, that is only going to allow the (the Gladstone Regional Council) to go ‘Hey, we’re set up here, so let’s let in a couple of thousand refugees into Gladstone’.”
ISG spokesman Mohammad Uddin said about 100 Muslim families lived in the Gladstone region and his organisation, which has operated for the past decade, was “an integral part of the social fabric”.
“With due respect to those who oppose the project, ISG is happy to work with and address any concerns that they may have,” he said. “We are an open society and will continue to be so.”
Mr Uddin said an Islamic centre was needed to cater for the growing number of Muslims families in Gladstone.
“Our community is built up of diverse individuals from different demography and professions,” he said.
“We have born-and-bred Australian Muslims, Muslims from Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“Our community represents a wide spectrum of professionals like doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, mariners.
“They work for both public and private sectors including LNG plants at Curtis Island.”
Fr Redmond has met with Islamic leaders to discuss the building proposal and said no one should be worried.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and that’s leading to a greater concern than is necessary,” he said.
“People are calling it a mosque but it is an Islamic centre. For example it doesn’t have a minaret, and it is designed for multiple purposes. So it is not a mosque in that sense.”
Details of the single-storey place of worship at 4 Anson Close, Toolooa, are detailed in a 290-page development application before the Gladstone Regional Council.
“Currently we do not have such a facility that provides for basic community needs,” Mr Uddin said.
“The centre, when built, also, will be open to the public during the centre’s operating hours.
“People from the wider community are welcome to visit the centre, ask questions they may have and know Islam from genuine sources.”
The Islamic Society clearly states in its application: “No amplified call to prayer is proposed as part of this development.
“The only amplified call to prayer or sermons (during Friday prayers and Eid prayers) are only confined within the walls of the prayer area.”
Ms Vuga is not convinced.
She believes Gladstone is vulnerable to an Islamic takeover.
“One only has to look at Lakemba in Sydney,” she said.
“They’re allowed to shut down their streets down there and it looks like Saudi Arabia or somewhere in Jordan.”
Fr Redmond said opponents of the project such as Ms Vuga, should look closely at the proposal, and consider the contribution made by members of Gladstone’s Islamic community, many of them skilled workers.
“They are proudly Australian. And they are proudly part of our town and have been contributing to the Gladstone (Region) Interfaith Network for a number of years,” he said.
“I think it is right they have the opportunity to gather at their own centre.
“It’s really important to make a distinction between our Islamic brothers and sisters who are faith-filled, love our country and want to be here, and terrorists who are trying to destroy the way that we live and the values that all Australians want to celebrate and uphold.
“Our Islamic brothers and sisters are also those opposed and hated by the terrorists.”
By Mark Bowling