Imams Reluctantly Back New Road Near Phnom Penh Mosque

Source: The Cambodia Daily

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Othsman Hassan, a Muslim community leader and Labor Ministry secretary of state, speaks outside Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Several hundred imams voted on Monday to support the placement of a new road near Phnom Penh’s most prominent mosque, even though many seemed critical of the plans to divide the land into two plots.

“My sense is that building the road cutting across will cause disorder and disturbances,” said Sman Rozet, an imam from Kompong Cham province who nonetheless voted in favor of the road’s placement.

The road that would split Al-Serkal Mosque’s land has divided the capital’s Cham Muslim worshipers into competing factions siding either with Ahmad Yahya, secretary of state at the Social Affairs Ministry, who opposes the road’s placement, or Othsman Hassan, his counterpart at the Labor Ministry who has endorsed the plans.

Tensions over the road in the area near the old Boeng Kak lake came to a head on Friday when about 100 worshipers kicked down fencing that City Hall had erected to mark the road’s controversial boundary near the mosque.

Mr. Hassan attempted to settle the dispute on Monday by summoning imams from the CPP-aligned Highest Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Cambodia to hear officials from City Hall and the municipal land management department explain the new road, which would lead past a condominium development and golf course.

A vote called by Mr. Hassan after the speeches indicated unanimous support for the current project, even if many seemed indifferent or skeptical of the plans.

“I came here as the leader ordered,” said Mr. Rozet, the imam, referring to Mr. Hassan. “But I don’t care whether they build it or not, because I don’t come here to pray.”

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Imams from the Highest Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Cambodia gather at Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Mat Ly, an imam from Kampot province, likened the mosque’s dilemma to a similar dispute at Prek Pra pagoda in Phnom Penh, where he said authorities eventually agreed to respect the pagoda’s boundary.

“I think they should do the same thing here that they did over there,” he said.

Before the meeting, Mr. Hassan promised a “fair and democratic” vote of imams chosen by worshipers, and vowed that the path from the pagoda would “not disturb the worship of Allah.”

“City Hall promised to compensate the more than 1,000 square meters of land for us, so we will not lose any land,” he said, adding that the new land was located near a different mosque. “Why don’t we have the road to let the world see our mosque?”

Deputy Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said on Monday that the project was on hold until municipal governor Pa Socheatvong returned from Vietnam.

Mr. Yahya, who was successfully sued by his rival for defamation after accusing Mr. Hassan of personally profiting from the project, denounced the vote as rigged.

The imams were selected to come based on loyalty, he said, calling for a vote that included his supporters as well.

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