Local Islamic leaders Elsayed Omran of Ardmore, who teaches Arabic at Villanova University, and Havertown contractor J. Kelly Hayden, a convert to Islam, testified last night about the activities they anticipate at the mosque.
But it was questioning by neighborhood resident Donna Shovlin that focused on the subject of fear. "I think sometimes we're skirting the issue here," Shovlin said, apologizing for being nervous when she stepped from her seat in the audience to the podium.
"You appear very nice, good men. But you know, in our society, I think we're very fearful about what the Muslim community represents. That's my fear as a community person. I'm trying to be as gracious about my fear as I can," said Shovlin.
"There's a lot of violence attributed to this particular sect of people. And I really do think that that's a valid fear of those of us who live in the community. What is really going to happen over there? Where are the people going to come from?" she asked.
"Is Mr. Farrakhan going to be there one night?" she added, in reference to Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. "They're honest-to-God valid things that we as a community feel. And I feel I had a right to tell you those things."
Hayden, of Irish background, responded without any hesitation. "A guy like Farrakhan scares me too. . . . But you can't ascribe that to Islam. It would be as though I said every Irishman has a six-pack of beer and a bomb in the basement. I'm Irish . . . and a Muslim."
Hayden commented after last night's session that he was glad the issue had been raised with such candor so that he could address it.
In his testimony, Hayden said that Muslims pray five times daily, starting before dawn and concluding well after sunset. Local Muslims expect about 150
families to use the mosque, he testified. Based on that number, Hayden said, the mosque could draw from 60 to 90 worshipers to the Friday midday service, the main service of the week. The property also would be used for weddings, funerals and religious celebrations, Hayden said.
Lawyer Fred B. Fromhold, representing the foundation, told the board that he and Lansdale lawyer Gerald Hamburg, representing area homeowners, are negotiating an agreement to resolve neighborhood concerns about use of the campus. To expedite negotiations, Hamburg agreed last night to forgo cross- examination of witnesses while Fromhold agreed to recall them if Hamburg so requested.
Last night's session was the second in the hearing, which began Jan. 13 with testimony from Mahmoud A. Taiba, of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, head of the foundation. The hearing is scheduled to continue March 3.
Northeastern Christian Junior College closed its doors to students after completing the 1992-93 academic year because of declining enrollment.