Hills are alive with the sounds of harmony


November 17, 2007 12:00am

SMASHED windows, severed pig heads, threats of violence and mass rallies: all over an Islamic prayer hall on Sydney's fringe.

No, this is not Camden. It is another community split asunder five years ago when Annangrove locals rallied against the construction of an Islamic prayer hall in the heart of their bible-belt suburb.

The man at the centre of that dispute - Abbas Aly - has some advice for the people of Camden.

"People in Camden should come and see what happened in The Hills, which went from a nasty situation to a beautiful situation," Mr Aly said.

Mr Aly faced a heated backlash from locals opposed to the prayer centre, with an action group called the Annangrove Progress Association taking the battle to the Land and Environment Court.

More than 8000 objections were lodged against the Annangrove Muslim prayer centre in 2002 before the court overturned Baulkham Hills Shire Council's decision to reject the proposal.

The site was subjected to constant vandalism, including smashed windows and a severed pig's head impaled outside the building.

In the bitter court challenge, members from the residents group said they had a jihad placed on them for their staunch opposition.

But according to Mr Aly there has been none of the predicted doom that locals feared an influx of Muslim worshippers would have on the amenity of Annangrove.

"Once people started coming in and having a look around, talking to us and sharing a cup of coffee - their attitudes changed," Mr Aly said.

A new development application currently before Baulkham Hills Council for an extension of the prayer hall's hours has received just a handful of objections - a far cry from the 8000 in 2002.

One of those objections comes from Annangrove Progress Association president Dermot O'Sullivan, who stands by their group's opposition to the prayer hall.

Mr O'Sullivan said, while there might not be any problems now, it could be a different situation in 10 to 15 years when the number of worshippers grows and increases the strain on roads and infrastructure.

"The substance of our objection was always about the appropriateness of a development like that in the locality it was proposed and we stand by that," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"The trouble was that people who stuck their hand in the air and objected were all called a bunch of redneck racists."