Melbourne church leader warns that mosque could be used as training ground for religious fanatics

Anti-Islamic sentiment has flared in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, with the planned renovation of a mosque near Monash University prompting a senior member of the local Uniting Church to claim mosques may provide a training ground for religious fanatics.

The Monash mosque is in a house owned by the university and used by about 1000 people, mostly staff and students, each week for prayers. However, the president of the Islamic Association of Monash Mosque, Mohamed Mohideen, said the house was too small to host the growing congregation, including international students and nearby residents.

The chairman of the Monash Uniting Church congregation, Richard Farrell, wrote to the Monash City Council at the end of October on church letterhead, opposing the planned development “on behalf of the Monash Uniting Church Congregation”.

Mr Farrell wrote that the expansion would disturb residents with the call to prayer, and impinge on their privacy, and that the streets would become congested, particularly during Friday prayers.

He wrote that “in effect a mosque is a training ground for religious moderates at one end of the scale and religious fanatics at the other end. Such opinions in extreme cases can promote ‘jihad’ and the destruction of the ‘infidel’ right up to teaching about the assassination and bombing of Christian and other establishments.”

Mr Mohideen, a microbiology lecturer and deputy chairman of the Monash Interfaith Gathering, said the Muslim community was saddened by the objections. “For Muslims, prayers are important and we need a place to pray. The university has been kind enough to provide us with a premises for 20 years, and now it is time to look at redeveloping that to make sure it is more comfortable.”

The general secretary of the Uniting Church’s Victoria-Tasmania Synod, the Reverend Dr Mark Lawrence, said Mr Farrell’s comments were “extremely unfortunate” and did not speak for the overall church.

He said the suggestion the facility could be “a training ground for … religious fanatics” went against the church’s strong desire to interact with all faiths in a respectful manner.

The Uniting Church minister of the Monash Congregation, the Reverend Hoon You, said the church committee had discussed the mosque renovation last year and decided any objections would be sent to the council in an individual capacity. “We didn’t want to make this a religion-against-religion situation,” he said. “Our church has English classes and other community activities that welcome Muslims, too.”

But Mr You said the use of mosques to train religious fanatics was still continuing in Europe, and this had triggered concern among some members of his congregation.

“The meaning of ‘mosque’ is ‘submission’, so when Islam invades European countries and they dominate, the first thing they do is build the mosque,” he said. “We do not know what the Muslim community is planning, so we would love to hear more on their reasons for developing the mosque, instead of their prayer room, which they already have.”

City of Monash councillor Geoff Lake said Mr Farrell’s objections were “misinformed, un-Australian and have no place in a vibrant multicultural community such as Clayton”.

Cr Lake said if the letter represented the views of the local congregation, “the church leadership should step in to address such widespread prejudice”. If not, he said the church should demand Mr Farrell’s resignation “for his misrepresentation of the congregation’s position in a formal legal process”.

The Age, 16 January 2013