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Opposition to suburban mosque predictable and sad, Muslims say

posted on: Feb 24, 2016

By Angie Leventis Lourgos

Chicago Tribune


The semi-retired attorney from Palos Park was saddened to learn that yet again someone wished to deny him the right to worship, this time in the community he has lived in and loved for some 35 years.

An anonymous flier circulated in mailboxes and online this month decried plans to open a mosque and community center at the site of a former church in this southwest suburb, roughly a mile from the home of 72-year-old Omar Najib, who intends to pray there.

The Muslim American Society bought the property at 12300 S. 80th Ave. in December and plans to do minor maintenance at the site, with no opening day scheduled yet. The leaflet titled “Save Palos” accused the house of worship of threatening to erode housing values and congest traffic.

“It’s just bigotry,” Najib said. “It should bother anyone, so it does bother me.”

Opposition to new mosques has become “almost a given” in the Chicago area as well as throughout the country, a brand of Islamophobia often shrouded in concerns over zoning or urban planning, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C.

Residents in Bayonne, N.J., rallied last month against plans for a Muslim community center there, bearing signs that read “Stop the Mosque” and “If the Mosque Comes the Mayor Go’s” (sic). Around the same time, members of a Christian group spoke out against a mosque scheduled to open this spring at the site of a former South Milwaukee, Wis., church. In late November, tempers also flared at a forum over an Islamic center proposed in Fredericksburg, Va.

“It used to be a lot more subtle. Now it’s in your face,” Hooper said, attributing this shift to misplaced anger after recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., as well as the anti-Muslim rhetoric of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

“They have really moved Islamophobia from the fringes to the mainstream,” he said.

Palos Park mosque plan prompts racist flier
Mosques still growing

Attempts to establish new worship sites for Muslims in the Chicago suburbs have sometimes been met with resistance.

The DuPage County Board initially denied an Islamic center a permit but then in 2013 agreed to pay the center a $445,000 settlement after a federal judge ruled the board had acted inappropriately. A Glenview mosque was approved in 2006, even though 500 residents had signed a petition against the house of worship. An Islamic center opened that same year in Orland Park, despite resident protests citing fears of terrorism and too much traffic.

And many in the southwest suburbs still remember the mosque that was never built in neighboring Palos Heights, a case that made national headlines.

News of an Islamic center opening at the site of a former church there in 2000 drew so much ire that the city council offered the mosque $200,000 to walk away from the deal. The buyout was vetoed by the mayor at the time, Dean Koldenhoven, who had called it an insult to Muslims. For taking a stand for the mosque, Koldenhoven was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2002. He was also voted out of office, which many attributed to the mosque fight.

“That was 16 years ago,” said Koldenhoven, who received a copy of the Palos Park flier this month, which he said looks suspiciously similar to a flier circulated in Palos Heights when his community was in the throes of controversy. “I can’t believe it; it still rears its ugly head.”

The buyout was also opposed by Najib, the Palos Park attorney, who headed a local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee back then.

He was also planning to worship at that mosque, and had spoken publicly against selling out religious faith for money.