Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community fanned out across the Joppa area Saturday, hoping to educate residents about their beliefs amid a dispute over a townhouse development they want to build.
Wearing T-shirts that said “True Islam” and carrying pamphlets describing the tenets of their faith, volunteers with the religious sect said they wanted to ease concerns about their plans for the Harford County townhouse community known as Old Trails or River Run.
“The message we’re trying to get out is the same one we’ve been trying to convey for decades, and that is love for all, hatred for none,” said Abdul Latif Bennett. “We’re really trying to introduce ourselves to the community, to let them know that we’re not ISIS, that we’re a peaceful, law-abiding community.”
The townhouses under construction on Trails Way have been the subject of a series of public meetings in Harford County. Local residents have said they believe the community would discriminate against non-Muslims. The Ahmadi group says the homes will be open to all.
Last month, the owner and builder of the homes filed a federal lawsuit against County Executive Barry Glassman and other top county officials, as well as state Dels. Pat McDonough and Rick Impallaria.
The plaintiffs, OT LLC and Gemcraft Homes, allege the county unlawfully moved to block the construction and the sale of the homes in response to “anti-Islamic sentiments expressed by certain public officials and certain members of the community.”
County officials have said permits are on hold for reasons related to stormwater management, performance bonds and other issues. They declined to comment on specifics in the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation, but spokeswoman Cindy Mumby said the county would “present our response in federal court.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim group is not a party to the lawsuit, and Bennett said it didn’t know about the suit until it was filed.
Members say they want to answer any questions people have about their religion and the housing development. They’ve scheduled a weekly open forum every Tuesday this month at 7 p.m. at the Joppa Magnolia Fire Station to answer questions about the development. An open house is also planned for their Rosedale mosque on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Bennett and others stationed themselves outside the busy Joppa Market Place, which houses a flea market and Amish market. Other volunteers visited homes within a 2-mile radius of the townhouse development, leaving pamphlets there.
“Whatever reaction we get from the community, we’re accustomed to it,” said Musa Asad.
Baltimore County resident Charles Smith stopped to talk with a volunteer. He said he had heard about the development on the news.
“If they’re not going to give me any problem, I’m not going to give them any problem,” he said as he entered the flea market.
As Bennett reached to hand out pamphlets to those leaving the market, some patrons shook their heads or said, “No, thank you.” But many thanked him, took the literature and kept walking.
In one encounter Saturday, a man pulled up in his car to a group of volunteers outside the flea market and said Muslims believe that non-Muslims should be killed.
“No, no, no,” several of the volunteers said.
“It’s not true, sir,” Bennett said, holding out a pamphlet.
“Either convert or die,” the man said. “That’s what the Quran says.”
“It doesn’t say so,” Bennett replied. “It really doesn’t.”
The man soon drove away.
Bennett said hostile reactions are “par for the course.”
“Ever since 9/11, we’ve met resistance at every turn,” Bennett said. “But our response has always been the same — that is, we meet resistance with kindness, with love.”