Minnesota: city council rejects Islamic center plan

St. Anthony City Council members on Tuesday rejected plans to locate an Islamic center in the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters off Old Hwy. 8.

The proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center had been on hold for months after some residents objected to the center and city leaders studied whether city zoning would support the facility.

About 150 people attended Tuesday’s council meeting, where Muslim proponents asked the council to approve the nearly 15,000-square-foot center, which would be used for worship and assembly by the congregation of about 200.

“I’m a proud American. This is home. The center will serve the needs of our community,” Sadik Warfa said. “I know this issue is very emotional for some people. We are a melting pot. We are all Americans.”

Close to a dozen St. Anthony residents asked the council to deny the proposal, which they argued would reduce tax revenues, an argument Mayor Jerry Faust denied. Others contended the center would attract increased traffic in the neighborhood and create problems for those living nearby.

Some who spoke against the center made disparaging comments about the Muslim faith, although Faust tried to discourage such remarks. “Islam is evil. There’s no other religion in the world that endorses violence,” said John Murlowski, before Faust cut him off.

Supporters of the center expressed disappointment following the 4-1 decision.

Ali Garushi, a spokesman for the Islamic center, said Muslim leaders will convene in the coming days and will consider filing suit to challenge the council’s action. “It’s discrimination against Muslims,” Garushi said. “This is a dirty war they’ve been doing.”

Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the decision “sends a message they [St. Anthony leaders] don’t support freedom of religion and they don’t support individuals’ rights to build a place of worship.”

She said her group plans to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, noting that the department has launched an investigation into 28 cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications.

Star Tribune, 13 June 2012

Update:  See “Muslims aren’t giving up on opening Islamic center”, Star Tribune, 13 June 2012

And “CAIR-MN asks DOJ to probe bias in rejection of Islamic center”, CAIR press release, 13 June 2012