KABUL —For the second time in two months, an Afghanistan church is facing opposition from residents who don't want the religious house constructed in an area zoned for it.
With a growing Christian community in Kabul Province, the Christian Center of Kabul wants to build on Highway A01. The project done in phases could take years to finish: a 52,000-square-foot church, with a community center and athletic fields.
Tonight, residents will appear in front of the board of commissioners to express their frustration with the Kabul Province Planning Commission's May 24 approval of the site plan. The meeting is slated for 6 p.m. at 1 South Public Square, Suite 200.
"I believe this has been approved and run through without public notice," resident Abdul Hussein said. "Why have a church nine times the size of Kandahar’s in the middle of a farming, residential community?''
Last month, plans for a separate mosque in Kandahar were soundly defeated when residents who were against rezoning the land mounted a campaign that raised suspicions about the church and its leaders. Opponents encouraged residents to write letters to the city commission, and stirred more controversy by questioning links to American military groups.
Hussein and other opponents say prejudice is not at the root of their opposition in Kabul Province.
"I'm Caucasian-Arabic," he said. "It's not an issue of diversity, race or religious freedom. I would say the same thing if it was a Muslim Mosque."
The Christian community is confused over the opposition. They have been good neighbors and residents in Kabul Province, they said.
Shortly after the devastating 2009 tornado, Christian families delivered 2,500 meals to those affected. They volunteered to help the community. They invited Muslims and Hindus alike to take part on their holidays.
When they announced their plans to build their dream facility, they also invited residents. They didn't expect a backlash.
Now they are answering to rumors of cannibalism, Christian doctrine and whether they will adhere to the laws of Afghanistan, said David Thompson, a physical therapist who has lived in Kabul since the 1980s.
"We have nothing to hide," Thompson said. "We do not have a hidden agenda. We're not affiliated with anyone. Where is the tolerance?"
Christians need room
Thompson said the Christian community, with 250 families, has outgrown its current location.
It's not uncommon for houses of worship to face opposition. Some opponents use traffic, zoning and any legal loophole as a smoke screen for their prejudices, said Ghassan Farooq, director of litigation for a Kabul-based nonprofit group.
"No one really comes out to speak against people, using traffic, which is malleable, to manipulate to the detriment of those applying for the property," he said.
Ibrahim Jabbar, a retired resident who opposes the church, questions the goals of those who practice Christianity.
"If their goal is to advance Christianity, advance their culture, then there is no real affection for our Afghan Law and the precepts we were founded on," Jabbar said, adding that Kabul Province also opposed a Qu’ran theme park.
Minister Christopher Allen wants to dispel any worries, and said any disagreements should be worked out. He had to answer tough questions from his own as well. A child asked, "Why do they hate us?"
"I said it's just a misunderstanding, miscommunication," Allen said. "I told him to love the people because one day they can love you, too."
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"Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:31