MARULAN Hall was packed to capacity on Thursday night as residents met with Council to discuss a controversial proposed Muslim cemetery and prayer hall.
Emotions ran high in a sometimes fiery meeting convened at the community’s request.
The site chosen for the development at 15213 Hume Highway is on a 329-hectare property recently purchased by the Al- Mabarrat Benevolent Society.
The Society wants to establish a 3,500 plot cemetery, an ancillary prayer hall with a roof area of 1476 square metres, and a car park of about 800sqm with capacity for up to 53 cars and three buses.
But the very idea is angering residents.
Many at the meeting didn’t want it on their patch and feared it would assume the scale of Lakemba or Auburn mosques.
Others were worried about planning permissibility, traffic, groundwater contamination and the need for such a facility.
The site is zoned E3 Environmental Management, meaning cemeteries and roads are permissible with consent.
Moderator Ian Weekley had his hands full controlling the debate.
Also watching on and fielding questions were Mayor Geoff Kettle, five other councillors, general manager Chris Berry and planning director Chris Stewart.
A spokesperson for Arrahman Islamic Centre stressed that the organisation was not invited to attend but welcomed any questions from the community.
The spokesperson said the Centre invited the community to contact its offices or visit the Society’s offices in Sydney to discuss any aspect of our development application.
The Al-Mabarrat Society was set up by the late Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlullah in 1978 to construct a social welfare association for needy orphans, blind and deaf people, according to its Facebook site.
It is also an international organisation with branches around the world. The Society’s Australian arm is based in the Sydney suburb of Arncliffe.
But many in the community are asking ‘why Marulan?’ The Islamic Centre’s spokesperson told the Post that Marulan was one of several districts considered due to its proximity to Sydney and its ability to accommodate the proposed cemetery project.
Some in the community only heard about the plan via word of mouth.
Mr Stewart told the meeting that residents living within a 1.5km radius of the proposed site were notified on June 26. Mr Berry told the Post Council has extended the exhibition period for submissions until August 2, giving residents more time to put their views forward.
“We will then move to get those submissions to the relevant State organisations for their consideration,” he said.
However, Mr Berry said people could still make submissions even after the closing date.
“A report to Council wouldn’t be likely to be tabled until October at the earliest, and both Geoff Kettle and I have said that because it was a controversial development application, we would hold a planning forum in the hall at Marulan sometime in September,” he said.
Peter Callaghan is interim organiser of a group set up to oppose the cemetery proposal.
He says Al-Mabarrat has links with Lebanese terrorist organisation, Hezbollah.
“Al-Mabarrat purports to be a charitable organisation and at present in Australia it is functioning as such, with a particular interest in caring for orphans, which is commendable,” he said.
“However Al-Mabarrat, is part of an international organisation which gave birth to the terrorist organisation Hezbollah. For the first 22 years of its involvement with Hezbollah, they took no part in any charitable work. United States sources have suggested that in those 22 years, Al-Mabarrat was part of the filtering of $1.3 billion of international money into Hezbollah. In that period, they built no orphanages in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria or Jordan. So essentially for the first 22 years of their existence, they funded terror.”
The Islamic Centre spokesman rejected this, saying: “Al-Mabarrat is a charitable organisation formed in Lebanon in 1978. It has no involvement or link with any political party both in Lebanon or outside of Lebanon. Its primary aim is to develop and work on the humanitarian and social aspect of caring for orphans.
“The British Embassy in Beirut supports Al- Mabarrat with its work for the disabled. We also note that both recently and in the past, Al- Mabarrat has hosted all Australian Ambassadors visiting from Lebanon.”
The spokesperson said there were no other plans for the remainder of the site at this stage; the organisation was simply focused on completing the cemetery project.
Mr Callaghan said he was impressed with the way Council dealt with the concerns of the people at the meeting.
“Council actually demonstrated a real willingness to guide us through the submission process for the development, and gave everyone the chance to have their say,” he said.
“I think the only thing we could have expected out of a meeting like this tonight was an extension, which we have been granted and the understanding that the development application is substandard and needs far more stringent scrutiny. My understanding is that Mayor Kettle indicated that it would be some time in October, which is sufficient time for us.”