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County board to vote on contentious Muslim school proposal

class March 4, 1998
Web posted at: 2:26 a.m. EST (0726 GMT)

LEESBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- The Loudoun County, Virginia, board of supervisors on Wednesday will vote on Saudi Arabia's controversial plan to build an Islamic school in the county.

The proposal to erect the Islamic Saudi Academy on a 100-acre site near Ashburn, Virginia, has generated noisy community opposition by citizens who regard the institution as a civic danger.

James Ahlemann   

Other residents believe the opposition to the school is nothing less than religious bigotry.

The 3,500-school, a campus-style facility, would replace a 1,200-student school in Mount Vernon, Virginia, which the Saudi government says it has outgrown.

The kindergarten- through 12th-grade institution now serves Muslim youth from 28 nations and the United States.

"I'm a little concerned about human rights abuses," says James Ahlemann, a pastor at the Christian Fellowship Church who has been leading the opposition to the facility.

Anthony Nozolli   

"Saudi Arabia persecutes, imprisons and kills Christians, Jews and other faiths. I don't believe the Saudi Arabian government has the right to enjoy favored status while they're killing people," said Ahlemann, whose church is near the proposed school.

Opponents fear that the institution could attract and harbor terrorists. Also, they have argued that a new school will tie up traffic and tax local emergency resources.

Many citizens and public officials have been shocked by the vociferous rhetoric of the opposition.

Heather McDonald   

Supporters say the school and its students would be like any other in the United States and that fears over the $50 million project are based on unfounded beliefs about Muslims, Arabs and terrorism.

Heather McDonald of the academy said: "It's ignorance and it's really not knowing what's out there."

Anthony Nozolli, a consultant to the school, says: "It's just a school that follows a normal Virginia curriculum."

The Loudoun County staff and the planning commission have recommended approval of the facility.

Correspondent Kyoko Altman contributed to this report


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