US mosque's bid to repeal prayer restrictions deferred

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – Members of McLean Islamic Center (MIC) arrived at a hearing in northern Virginia on Wednesday for the second time to overturn earlier restrictions on worship hours and attendance, however the decision was deferred to a later date.

A public hearing was held in Fairfax County to decide whether MIC should be allowed to extend its hours of operation to allow congregants to attend the fajr (pre-dawn) prayers.

The neighboring Carrington Community Association (CCA) argued that the noise allegedly created by Muslims that congregate in the morning would be heard in nearby homes, which the CCA says is a noise violation.

However, no such complaints have been filed. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) alluded that the argument is unprecedented.

“We seem to be more sensitive to the noise issue now than we have before,” said zoning board member James Hart.

Since the last hearing, the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning presented an amended report which would allow an extension of hours for prayer services to be held between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. (0900GMT – 1200GMT), without any limits on cars.

The report also recommended special extensions for religious events, including the month of Ramadan, the Islamic New Year, and Eid celebrations.

The BZA decided not to approve the report and voted to defer decision until Dec. 12, citing it would allow more time to conduct further traffic and noise reports of the area surrounding the place of worship.

-Restrictions on prayer services

MIC opened its current location in 2015 in the Tyson’s Corner area, which currently boasts the third highest income generation in the U.S.

It is also the only Islamic area of worship within a 10 mile radius, with a congregation of around 220 worshippers.

MIC was approved a special permit as a place of worship, with certain restrictions such as not allowing full prayer services between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and only allowing ten worshippers to attend the dawn prayer.

In April, MIC called for an extension of their hours to allow them to operate at full capacity from 4 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The mosque argued that since they opened there have been no noise complaints during early morning hours.

“The Fajr prayer service is not party time,” said Zafar Farooqi, a board member of MIC. "They’re not there for idle chatter."

However, the CCA filed a complaint to the county after seeing 12 cars parked in the lot during one of the dawn prayers, violating an initial agreement of a 10-car limit.

Since the county suspended the early morning services, 261 dawn prayers have been suspended.

According to the Islamic faith, praying five times a day is mandatory, with the first prayer beginning at dawn and the last one ending in the evening.

-A fight for religious rights

Members of the MIC community, along with members of other faith communities, took turns one by one to appeal to the board to repeal the restrictions places on the mosque.

“MIC plays a central role in our lives and connect us with each other,” Sultan Chaudhry, President of MIC, said. “When you visit us, you will fine a quintessential American place of worship.”

"As a leader of a religious community myself, I've never seen an institution asked to limit its use or its parking to such an extreme degree," said Jeff Sacks, a rabbi at the Temple Rodef Shalom.

A few members of the Carrington community, however, came forward to note that the extension of hours would cause a disturbance in the area.

"Noise is a problem, even with the current hours we are being awakened with the sharp beeping of car horns as people lock and unlock their cars," said Stephanie Buchanan, a member of the community.

Seven homeowners of the neighboring Carrington community closest to the Islamic center said, according to MIC, they were not bothered by early morning services.