I WOULD like to congratulate Khurshid Ahmed for his hard work and persistence regarding the mosque project.

I am a Dudley resident as well as a Muslim and have, from a distance, watched him fight a public battle for what he believes to be justice.

The mosque is to be constructed on land which the council exchanged with Dudley Muslim Associatiation in 2001. But as soon as the DMA proposed the building of a mosque, the council has been relentlessly obtrusive in allowing the construction to proceed. I am sure they regret the decision to exchange now.

The logistics of the exchange are not important now. The importance is in what lies ahead and what this means for the residents.

Government Planning Inspector Philip Asquith has finally attempted to clarify the situation.

I, like many of my friends, was born in Dudley and have spent most of my life learning its history in our schools. We are all aware of the small market town centred around its castle and two churches which, over the past two centuries, has grown into a metropolitan and ethnically diverse region.

Now we want to alter that history to include a mosque and community training and enterprise centre (CTEC).

I note that of the articles available on the Dudley News website, that marked as least read is the actual report which is a whopping 15 pages of technical talk that most of the “deprived, with high levels of unemployment, low skills and low academic attainment” folk of St Thomas’s Ward (as stated in the report) would find an enigma.

I hope that Mr Ahmed and Councillor Malcolm Davis have found time to digest the article and, Mr Ahmed in particular, realises the fight is not over yet.

Over the past 50 years, Dudley has become a multicultural melting pot with people from all nationalities settling amicably with those indigenous to the region. Yet over the past five years, Mr Ahmed and Mr Davis’s epic battle has served to create a rift among a community which was settled in harmony and integration.

My thoughts regarding the new mosque are not valuable as a neutral but clearly as a Muslim I will be placed in the “Pro” bracket. So, some questions for Mr Ahmed and all us neutrals to ponder...

Do we really need a mosque with a 600-person capacity when the current daily attendance for prayers is less than five per cent of this number – and even less if we exclude the employees and trustees?

There are three days in the Muslim calendar (one of which is contentious) on which a larger congregation occurs and in my experience this has rarely been as high as 600.

Why does the mosque have to have a tall minaret? A minaret is used by the muezzin to call people to prayer and has traditionally been high to allow a voice to be carried to some distance – but the report highlights that “No electrical amp should be heard outside the perimeter of the mosque”. This renders the tall minaret a useless feature as it will not be used for its intended purpose.

So, stop thinking big and think reality please.

St Thomas’s ward was highlighted by the report as “the highest Asian or Asian British ethnic group in the Borough. This together with adjacent wards of St James, St Andrews, Castle and Priory, and Netherton and Woodside are some of the most deprived, with high levels of unemployment, low skills and low academic attainment, St Thomas’s ward being amongst the four per cent most deprived wards nationally and the third worst in the borough”.

So how are we explaining the spending of £18 million (minimum requirement at current plans) in such a difficult economical climate?

In addition, no clarification has been given of the employment potential. Will this employment be within the equal opportunities regulations with a representative number of non-Muslims?

A cost of £2 million a year has been predicted for running the facility. So lets do some simple maths. If the centre opens seven days a week and each of the 600 regular attendees sends two children to the sports centre every day for a year, the total revenue at £2 (reasonable cost) a head will be £876,000. Slightly short of the target.

So if you charge more, the “deprived” of St Thomas’s Ward will not attend and if you charge less you loose out once more. I know it’s not that simple but if you target this centre purely at Muslims it will soon become economically non-viable.

I think the overall plans should be reviewed and a more modest approach is adopted (it is after all, a hallmark of Islam to show modest).

Maybe if people approached each other with peaceful discussion then an amicable conclusion can be reached – a more modest and tasteful mosque with a CTEC of substantial grandeur.

How the DMA plans to have this project near completion, for cheap, by December 2008 will be worth watching. But like most of us in Dudley, the one reason for looking forward to Christmas this year will be to finally see the end of this topic – once and for all.

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