Gwinnett commissioners to decide on Muslim cemetery

By Arielle Kass, ajc.com Staff Writer

In emails to Gwinnett County planning commissioners, a resident urges the panel to remember 9/11. Another expresses concerns about loud chanting. On Facebook, one woman complains that Islam “isn’t peace loving.”

The phone calls, Planning Commission chairman Chuck Warbington said, have been worse.

Tuesday, Gwinnett County commissioners will decide whether to rezone property near Skyland Drive and Temple Johnson Road in Snellville to allow the county’s Community of Bosniaks to build a cemetery. The mostly Muslim community has 80 percent of its metro Atlanta members in Gwinnett, a spokesman said.

“Frankly, I’ve been embarrassed with some of the emails and some of the Facebook comments related to this case,” Warbington said at a planning commission meeting earlier this month. “The demeaning of a person based on their creed, color, race or religion is inappropriate and our county demands our citizens to be better than that.”

Local residents have talked about lower property values and increased traffic they say could come with a cemetery.

But Warbington said there were also several comments about not needing “these type of people in our community.”

“A lot of people don’t understand not all Muslims are associated with terrorists,” he said. “It’s a difficult time in our culture right now, in our world, that makes people afraid.”

The Bosniaks already have permission to build a mosque on the 12.6 acre lot, but have asked to put a cemetery with a maximum of 500 plots there instead. The spokesman, Darel Duliman, said there are about 8,000 Bosnian-Americans in the area, and those who choose to bury family members there will do everything it takes to be good neighbors. Planning commissioners recommended the county approve the cemetery.

Chris Ross, a Lawrenceville resident, emailed planning commissioners to ask them to approve the proposal.

Ross said he believes the Bosnian-American community, many members of which fled from genocide, should have the opportunity to be buried together.

“A lot of anti-Islamic things were said” through the rezoning process, Ross said. “It looks like they just read it on the Internet and took it as true. … As people did their research, they would understand the community really appreciates the United States of America.”

Ross said he was caught off guard by some of the language that was used.

“There was an undertone of highlighting the fact that these were Muslim people,” he said. “I do think we need to get past judging people by one facet of their existence.”

No one returned phone calls at a phone number listed for the Community of Bosniaks.

In Gwinnett, Dianne Hix wrote several emails to planning commissioners.

“Please consider your decisions carefully,” she wrote. Hix listed three other pieces of property owned by “Muslim people” and said, “You might wonder why they do not wish to have their cemetery associated with their mosques. I certainly do.” She did not respond to an email seeking additional comment.

Neither did another resident, Erin Tollison, who said a friend “had one of these so called ‘cemeteries’ behind his house” and could not sell is for five years “because of the loud ceremonies and chanting.”

“I have to ask if any of you lived next door to this or across the street would you be OK with the loud ceremonies, the possibility of the home you built and work so hard to maintain devaluing to nothing, the traffic in an already populated area being increased by up to 8,000 members passing through,” she wrote. “We are a country of freedom of religion and speech, however we are also a country of what should be to respect and honor thy neighbors. …I ask that for my neighbors and our sakes you please reconsider this proposal.”

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