Just outside Manassas, in a strip shopping center that houses everything from an adult video store to a mosque, a feud has erupted over what's in a name. A street name, to be precise.
"Prayer Court" is what the narrow road leading into the Sudley Corner Center is now called. It wasn't always. Until 18 months ago, it was known as Center Entrance Court. Some people preferred it that way and want that name restored, though the way Abolfazl Nahidian sees it, the complex could use a few blessings from the three religious groups that meet there.
Now, less than two years after the Muslim prayer leader successfully petitioned to have the name of the street facing Manassas Mosque changed to Prayer Court, Prince William County officials have voted to change it back again.
The turnabout, scheduled to take effect Jan. 10, has upset Nahidian and hundreds of others who worship on Prayer Court. They have filed for an injunction against the county, claiming that changing names again will cause "considerable hardship" to the mosque.
But the condo association that owns the shopping center near Interstate 66 argues that the mosque, in obtaining the name change in July 1998, violated the rights of the 77 businesses in the complex by not seeking their opinions.
"You can't just do that," said Julie Fletcher, vice president of the board of directors for BuildAmerica Eight, the condo group. "These are private streets that the county had no business changing [the name of]. . . . What made Mr. Nahidian think he could just change the name is unknown to us."
Assistant County Attorney Jeff Notz was unavailable for comment, but letters between the condo association and the county indicate that officials had the authority to make the switch. County policy says a street's name can be changed when the majority of addressees approve. In the case of Prayer Court, both the mosque and PC 4 Less, a computer company--the only two addresses on the street--agreed.
Nahidian said the name Prayer Court better suits the complex and the 3,600-square-foot mosque, with its classrooms and large prayer room. "The way we think of it, prayer means only that we're paving a road to our creator, and it fits well here," he said. "We feel that changing the street name makes the appearance of the place nicer."
Fletcher, though, likened the change to "borrowing your sister's sweater and then giving it away to someone else without asking."
What angered BuildAmerica's board, she said, was that neither management nor other unit holders were consulted before the change. "It was on the whim of one unit owner who didn't check with others first," Fletcher said. "This is the street that leads into the complex, the one everyone uses to give directions."
Nahidian said he feels the anger is geared more toward his culture rather than the name change itself. "One of the problems is people just don't know about us or want to understand," he said. "They say it doesn't have anything to do with that, but I think it does."
Islamics constitute less than 2 percent of Prince William's population of 260,000, making it difficult to have much effect, Nahidian said.
Fletcher, speaking for Sequoia Management, which oversees BuildAmerica, said the naming decision has nothing to do with race or religion, but rather about what's proper for a shopping center. In a letter from the condo association to the county, managing agent Chet Hahne wrote that the name Prayer Court was "potentially objectionable to some people" and not conducive to business.
Responded Nahidian, "They say that this type of place shouldn't have a prayer in it, but everyone we talk to likes the change."
Inside the mosque, religious posters adorn the walls and Muslim books line the shelves. It is a place for prayer, reflection and peace, Nahidian said. Next door is the Word Alive Full Gospel Church; across the parking lot is the Iglesia Pentecostal Bethel. Thus the name Prayer Court makes perfect sense to Nahidian.
"But things just aren't perfect, and there has to be struggle," he said. "We just hope to win. We think it will make a difference."
CAPTION: Abolfazl Nahidian, a prayer leader for Manassas Mosque, stands near the sign for Prayer Court at Sudley Corner Center. "The way we think of it, prayer means only that we're paving a road to our creator, and it fits well here."