Michigan: mosque expansion plans face resistance

Hamtramck — Two proposals to build mosques are raising tensions here as Muslims seek to raise their political influence in this culturally diverse community.

One group, the Al-Islah Islamic Center, now headquartered in a 3,000-square-foot space on Caniff, wants to relocate to a remodeled two-story, 20,000-square-foot building in the city’s central business district at Jos. Campau and Caniff.

Already approved for a zoning permit, the group has run into resistance from the city’s zoning board over its proposed remodeling of the building.

A second group, the Abu Bakr Al-Siddique Islamic Center, is expected to face the city’s planning commission on Wednesday to seek approval to convert a building in the city’s industrial zone on the northeast corner of St. Aubin and Faber into a mosque.

Supporters of the Al-Islah project packed a recent zoning board meeting to urge approval of the relocation plan. Some said they suspected the city’s resistance springs from anti-Muslim sentiment. “This is more than glass and parking spaces, this is Islamaphobia,” activist and resident Bill Meyer said.

Masud Khan, who serves on Al-Islah’s board as secretary, said city officials seem to be driven by the old guard of predominantly Polish constituents. “This town is mostly Polish people; they feel like this is threatening their comfort zone,” Khan said.

Opponents of the Al-Islah relocation, however, say they are not anti-Muslim, but rather are concerned about traffic, lack of parking and the rapid proliferation of Islamic worship centers in the core city.

The zoning board on Wednesday voted 4-2 to deny three variance requests from Al-Islah related to the amount of windows in the building’s storefront and the location of parking spaces. The two dissenting votes came from two of the panel’s three Muslim members. A third Muslim commissioner, Mohamed Hussain, removed himself from considering the matter because he is a member of Al-Islah and did not want the perception that the group unfairly benefited from his influence.

Supporters of the project pleaded with the board to reconsider plans, saying the building’s proposed design fits in with the aesthetic tastes of the city’s burgeoning Muslim community.

Detroit News, 10 February 2013