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Interfaith group backs Muslim mosque

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New Jersey

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (Reuters) -- A Muslim group moved ahead Tuesday with plans for a new mosque in a small New Jersey town where an interfaith coalition helped overcome opposition from some locals who issued leaflets claiming the place of worship would attract terrorists.

The zoning board for Voorhees, a Philadelphia suburb, approved the $193,000 plan for the mosque last week despite opposition from some neighbors who feared the facility would bring terrorist links to their doorsteps.

"It was approved because there was no legal reason in the world to disapprove it," said Rev. Melanie Morel Sullivan, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in nearby Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Sullivan also belongs to the Coalition for Multifaith Democracy, a group including Methodists, Catholics, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims and Jews, who backed plans for a new mosque proposed by the local Muslim American Community Association.

Before the zoning board's unanimous decision to let the project proceed, a minority of townspeople distributed flyers that implied money for the mosque might be coming from violent militant groups. But that only energized the coalition.

"This is a very touchy time for the world," said group founder Lisa Volpe, who decided to support the mosque after concluding that opponents were driven by "fear and misunderstanding" stemming from the September 11, 2001, attacks and continuing assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq.

"I was concerned that the national issues would be played out locally," Volpe said.

In the end, the zoning board received more than 300 postcards in support of the mosque.

"We were very heartened by the support that the Muslim community got from different churches," said Zia Rahman, managing trustee of the association. "It was very helpful and it far outweighs the opposition."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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