Updated:DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.,None —
Leaders of a DeKalb County mosque face legal trouble after mounting code enforcement violations landed them in front of a judge.
Mosque leaders said they are being harassed. Neighbors said it’s not a story about religion, but about code enforcement and following the rules.
A judge had already put the mosque and its leaders on probation, but that hasn't stopped them from holding services. Attendees arrive by the dozens from around the metro area every Friday. Sometimes there are several hundred people, but their mosque doesn't look like most.
"They would park in my yard and park in a lot of the neighbors’ yards, and you couldn't get out of your driveway," said Tom Owens, who lives near the Attaqwa Mosque in Doraville.
Owens said with 16 code enforcement violations, the mosque is not a good neighbor.
"It makes my neighborhood look bad when people drive by. It just looks trashy," he said.
Owens was referring to additions built behind the homes. Mosque leaders bought up eight different parcels and expanded.
"They haven't gotten the permits. They haven't had their plans reviewed," DeKalb County spokesman Burke Brennan told Channel 2 Action News.
DeKalb County requires a standard in construction to make sure the buildings are safe for the occupants and visitors, including children at the mosque’s school advertised on the web. The mosque was found in violation of the standard and was cited. Code enforcement officers have visited at least eight different times.
"We're issuing the citations as we see the infractions being made. Then, they have to go be adjudicated in front of a judge," Brennan said.
A judge put the mosque leaders on probation in November, ordering them to tear down the existing structures and not to hold assemblies or services until a new mosque is built.
"They've had an assembly every day on Friday since that. They've been on probation by the court, and they've just ignored that court order," Owens said.
"We can't re-cite them for those infractions that are already under probation. However, we did cite them for some new violations," Burke told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
One new violation is for building a paved area without a permit. It happened after neighbors complained about illegal parking on their lawns. The mosque got rid of livestock they were keeping, but when Channel 2 Action News visited the property, the cages were still there.
Owens also had complaints about the noise from the mosque.
"Just recently (they) started playing the horn at 7 o'clock in the morning. They should have to obey the law just like I have to obey the law," he said.
Channel 2 tried several times unsuccessfully to schedule an interview with the imam, or mosque leader. When Channel 2 showed up at the mosque, the imam said he felt Owens’ complaints to the county were harassment.
"I don't want to talk please, and we don't need to. Someone is harassing us, and you're helping him," said Imam Mohammad Enamul Haque.
Haque said he didn’t need to explain himself to Fleischer.
"I don't need to prove to you," Haque said.
But he will need to prove himself to a judge. Last week, mosque leaders were back in court for two more citations, this time with an attorney.
"People are free to assemble and pray peacefully, and that’s what they have been doing and they have no intention of changing their behavior," said attorney M. Khurram Baig.
Owens said it’s not about prayers, it's about property.
"Once they're cited, they need to correct the problem. Just don't pay the fine and continue to do it," said Owens.
The judge had given the mosque until last Wednesday to tear down the existing structures, but that has not happened.
The judge has now scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning to decide whether to revoke the probation, and what sort of punishment they should face for violating her order.