NEWBURY residents have spoken of their disgust after receiving “hurtful and divisive leaflets” encouraging them to object to plans for a new mosque in the town.
The Newbury Jamme Mosque and Bangladeshi Welfare Centre, in Pound Street (pictured), wants to raise £400,000 for a new “cultural and community centre” in a nearby location.
However, many residents had a flyer posted through their doors last week entitled ‘Does Newbury need a 2,500 sq foot mosque here?’ which urges them to disapprove of the proposals.
One resident, who didn’t want to be named, said: “This anonymous petition just dropped through my letterbox and I am saddened and angry about it.
“Would this have dropped through my letterbox if it was a petition for a new church building? Probably not.
“I do hope that some noise is made about this as this is an often unfairly discriminated minority of law-abiding citizens that add value to our community.
“To treat them in this way is, in my view, unacceptable.”
The leaflets have also been met with anger from Waheeda Soomro, a prominent member of the local Muslim community and former chief operations officer at All2gether.
She said: “I am very proud to be part of the active and integrated local Muslim community of Newbury and Thatcham.
“We have no room for hate mongering, creating fear and division.
“The local Muslim community has been very active in building community cohesion and understanding, dispelling myths and assumptions about Islam.”
Another resident, who got in touch with the Newbury Weekly News, said: “This canvassing by an unknown person or group seems to me to be very hurtful and divisive and in our current situation extremely unhelpful.”
One other contacted the NWN to say: “Like many residents of Newbury I recently received through my letterbox material encouraging me to object to the development of a new mosque in Newbury.
“These forms have been produced to look like official council literature, and are in any case at best legally dubious.
“This is a clear and blatant attempt to subvert the normal planning application process, and is wholly predicated on anti-Islam sentiment, rather than any real concern for the built environment of Newbury.”
Another resident who received a flyer added: “Whilst the body of the text in the leaflet isn’t offensive, I found the sentiment fairly offensive.
“It’s basically inciting people to object to the relocation of the mosque, currently on Pound Street.
“Obviously if people want to object then that is their democratic right, but someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to highlight this application, so it does make me wonder what their end goal is.
“I am not associated with the mosque in any way but think this is a bit unfair.”
The leaflet shows a map of the position of the proposed new mosque, a photograph of the building to be taken over, and the address of the planning department at West Berkshire Council.
It claims the proposed mosque is out of keeping in a residential and business area, that there is inadequate parking and that the mosque would be open every day.
The leaflet also claims that at certain times throughout the year, at special religious festivals, there would be increased congestion.
On the mosque’s website, it says: “At the present moment, we are renting sports halls and have a small mosque in Newbury but neither of these can be a long-term solution.
“We wish to have a centre where we can pray, hold maths and English classes for our children, undertake sports activities (such as indoor football, cricket, tennis), have a regular point of contact with the statutory services (police, ambulance, fire, NHS, housing associations, town council etc).
“Somewhere we can provide assistance and reassurance to those in need, promote cultural understanding by inviting others (of any faith or of none at all) to associate and share points of view.”
Newbury Jamme Masjid is the first mosque to be built in Newbury and was opened to the public in 2000.
The Newbury Jamme Mosque & Bangladesh Welfare Centre is open to visitors throughout the year.
On the website, it adds: “Since the mosque was built, it has become a focal point for the Muslim community.”