Fears grow over 'hardline' mosque in western Sydney

Sydney, Australia - RESIDENTS are fighting a mosque and cultural centre they believe will become a headquarters for the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam in Sydney.

Auburn Council, in Sydney's west, has outraged residents by approving the three-storey mosque with dome and minarets on a site occupied by a Depression-era Art Deco fire station.

The Australian Islamic Cultural Centre, which has links to Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism, plans to demolish existing buildings - including the fire station - and construct a mosque for up to 1000 worshippers, a library and a youth cultural centre with two levels of basement.

A petition demanding the council reverse its decision and preserve the heritage fire station in Harrow Rd is circulating in the suburb.

Activities planned for the complex include cultural and religious lectures, weddings, prayers, cultural, religious and language classes, fundraising, public speaking, Ramadan festivities and counselling, welfare and rehabilitation services.

Harrow Rd resident Barry Walsh, who is campaigning to save the fire station, said the development was so large it almost certainly was planned as a "corporate head office".

"There is a chamber for 1000 worshippers at a time, a dome and minarets with the sign of the crescent moon," he said.

"It's an opportunity for the Australian Islamic Cultural Centre to house its operations. The $9 million for it will come from overseas."

Mr Walsh said residents aimed to collect 8000 to 9000 signatures on a petition demanding Auburn Council preserve the fire station or its facade.

Islamic Cultural Centre spokesman Shafiq Khan runs nearby Al-Faisal College at Auburn and is known to have connections in the Saudi Government, which has spent an estimated $120 million bankrolling mosques, schools, clerical salaries and Islamic scholarships in Australia.

He was not available to comment.

Councillors have voted 7-3 to approve the mosque with conditions, but will consider a rescission motion at a meeting in January.

Labor councillor Patrick Curtin said concerns surrounded a lack of information about the proposal relating to noise, drainage, overshadowing, hours of operation, height, traffic and parking.

Mr Curtin refused to comment on the applicant but said he had not been impressed by its presentation.

"The recommendation (to approve the development) is based on insufficient information," he said.

The development application was accompanied by a petition with 1800 names supporting the complex.