The 200 families of the Islamic Society of Frederick were thwarted in their plans to build the county's first mosque early yesterday when the Frederick County Commission voted 3-2 to deny the group the water and sewer hook-ups it needed.
The vote came at 1:30 yesterday morning after an emotional public hearing crammed with children, women in traditional Islamic dress and men in chinos. About 50 people, including some non-Muslims, spoke in favor of the Islamic Society's request, while eight people spoke against it.
When the vote came, "All the kids were crying. I cried myself," said Khalil Elshazly, a Frederick engineer and the head of the fast-growing Islamic organization. "We were all devastated and in a state of shock."
The group members are convinced the outcome was swayed by anti-Muslim bias, Elshazly said. But commissioners on either side of the vote insisted religious bias played no part in the decision. Instead, they said, the vote became a referendum on sprawl in the county, which is still largely rural but under pressure to develop.
"I know my colleagues, and I've never seen any signs of bigotry in any of them," said Commissioner Ilona Hogan, a Republican, who introduced a motion to grant the Islamic Society's request. "If there's any group they're prejudiced against, it's developers."
Commissioner John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr., also a Republican, voted against the request. The county's water and sewer systems are already strained, Thompson said, and the commission needs to strictly enforce earlier decisions to withhold water and sewer services in rural areas.
"The Islamic community is certainly welcome in Frederick County," Thompson said. "At least temporarily, we've reached the point where we no longer have water and sewer services for new growth. It's certainly not a religious issue, because anybody wanting to buy a piece of property in Frederick County today is going to have the exact same problem."
Members of the Islamic Society, who now worship shoulder-to-shoulder in a small house and travel two hours to Washington to bury their dead in consecrated ground, assumed their request would be routine. In 1996, commissioners granted an exemption to the water and sewer restrictions for a baseball camp on the 100-acre site the society had chosen for its mosque.
Thompson said the property's previous exemptions were "a bad call."
By the same 3-2 margin, the panel also denied water and sewer hook-ups to Monocacy Village Church. The church can go ahead with construction anyway, Thompson said, because it has an approved plan for well water and septic tanks. The proposed mosque does not.
Elshazly said the Islamic Society will appeal the commissioners' decision.