MOSQUE is a word which has been spoken often in South Shore in recent months.
But for some local residents, its very mention is causing a lot of anxiety and anger.
The Noor-A Madina Mosque opened on Waterloo Road at the start of the year – and its appearance has caused significant waves in the local community.
Last week, a 3,000 signature petition was handed in at Blackpool Town Hall calling on councillors to close down the “illegal” site.
The petition claims the mosque – a former takeaway – was operating illegally as planning permission for its change of use was applied for retrospectively.
The application is to be heard at the town hall in the coming months.
At a stormy public meeting held at The Waterloo Pub, on Tuesday, however, David Owen, head of planning at Blackpool Council, reassured residents the legality of the site was not an issue.
Today Natasha Shah, co-owner of the Noor a Madina Mosque, detailed her plans for the site and spoke of her wish for integration in the South Shore community.
She said: “People think we are millionaires who hope to buy up the whole block but this isn’t true.
“If we did have to move it would be a shame, all we want is somewhere to practise our faith in peace.
“We want the whole community to use this site for GCSE or parenting classes, our doors are open for anybody.
“We are not here to convert everyone to Islam, we just want to be part of the community.”
There are five buildings on the site, four in a terrace and a further property at the back.
Two are currently in use, the main mosque, and a meeting room which is also used for GCSE classes.
A third building, the women’s mosque, is in the process of being decorated and the fourth building in the terrace, which is currently boarded up, will house an after school club and multi-faith library.
The final building will eventually be used for special events but there are no plans for its development until next year.
The long-term plan includes applying to build a new modern mosque on the site, which blends with the local area.
But these plans, if granted, are at least five years away, according to mother of seven Mrs Shah.
Up to 60 Muslims gather for Friday prayer at present. It is the parking for the mass gatherings, in particular, which is causing concern for Waterloo Road business people.
South Shore residents have also questioned the need for another mosque in Blackpool, when there is one under a mile away on Central Drive.
But the Muslim community in the resort may be bigger than people realise.
Mrs Shah said: “There are around 6,000 Muslim households here. It’s not just people of Pakistani origin, there are Turkish people and Moroccans who are Muslims too.
“We don’t use the other mosque because we are more moderate Muslims. There are differences, just as there are different types of Christianity.
“The media and people like the English Defence League encourage a lot of scare mongering about Islam, we are not here to take over the country.
“I am offended when people accuse us of playing the “race card” to get this application through, I’ve never made an issue of my race or religion.
“I was born in this country and I have always encouraged my children to integrate with other faiths.
“I have heard parents encouraging their children to shout racist comments at me. It is a shame because they are influencing the next generation and not letting them make up their own minds.”
Greg Cook, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said feelings hadn’t changed about the mosque.
He said: “I was keen to steer the meeting away from race and religion and onto the car parking issues.
“Almost all of the comments were focused, quite rightly, on the logistical issues. That site is wholly unsuited to any business which attracts a lot of traffic.
“There are racists out there, I’m not disputing that, but people are very concerned the race card will be played to get this application pushed through.
“Anybody who speaks out against Muslims seems to be immediately accused of being Islamaphobic, and this is not the case.
“The objections would be just as strong if this was plans for a bowling alley or a very busy church on that site.
“I am in no doubt if these plans are passed, it will cause major traffic problems in this area. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”