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Joint Resolve Gets Mosque Open (May 24, 2007)

Multifaith effort pushed project past obstacles

Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News
“Although we had some mishaps along the way, I am an optimist,” Imam Steve Elturk says of his work to open the first mosque in Warren. “I normally tend to kind of put these kinds of things behind me and concentrate on more positive things.”
WARREN — By dint of persistence by Muslims, activists and clergy of other faiths, the city's first mosque opens Friday after years of fits and starts.
Leaders for the Islamic Organization of America faced a no vote at their first hearing last year before the Planning Commission. Some intolerant words were uttered, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice to send representatives to the next meeting.
Months later, a drunk accosted the leader of the mosque in the parking lot. Then someone splashed paint on the back wall, in one of a series of recent incidents of vandalism at local mosques.
But as local Muslims busy themselves preparing for the opening, they and others say more Warren residents seem to be coming to an understanding of the Islam in their midst.
"I think that people have a tendency to be somewhat anxious about what they don't know," said Joseph Munem, communications director for the city. "And, actually, we have had anongoing dialogue about the mosque. Imam Steve Elturk is committed to the notion of educating non-Muslims about Islam.
"I think that with the incessant media attention to terrorism that people tend to use terrorism and Islam rather interchangeably, and I think that is creating some of the misunderstanding here," Munem said. "We support Mr. Elturk's efforts to disabuse people of that notion."
After the first prayers are said in the new mosque on Ryan on Friday — beginning with the call to prayer at 1:10 p.m. and an open house for the community at 3:30 p.m. — Mayor Mark Steenbergh and other dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, or members of her staff, and local residents will attend a grand opening at 5 p.m.
"It's a mosque, and it's in Warren," Art Trinova, a delivery truck driver and former resident of the city, said as he unloaded fresh loaves of bread at a nearby market one recent morning. "I guess that concerned some people.
"But something tells me it's going to be professional people, you now? Some engineers from the (GM) Tech Center and probably a few doctors and pharmacists from around Macomb County, you know?" Trinova said. "What's the big deal?"
It almost did not happen. But a strong push by local religious leaders, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahia's, Hindis, Sikhs and others, helped win the day.
"Although we had some mishaps along the way, I am an optimist," said Elturk, who is originally from Lebanon, although the largest segment of his congregation is of Pakistani descent. "I normally tend to kind of put these kinds of things behind me and concentrate on more positive things.
"We are closing an old chapter and, with the grand opening, we are opening a brand-new chapter and hopefully the relationship between us and the community will build understanding and trying to learn from one anther rather than having bigotry and hatred," Elturk said.
There are an estimated 125,000 to 250,000 Muslims in Metro Detroit, according to a 2003 study of mosques in the area. Elturk expects to have about 30 to 40 families in his new congregation, for starters.
For some of the pious of other faiths, the establishment of Islam in America is all a bit inspiring.
"I think it is certainly a challenge, because it reflects how America is changing," said Steve Spreitzer, the interfaith coordinator for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion.
"We in the interfaith movement see Islam as a gift as a blessing and a religion that has a lot to offer, and it is most profoundly experienced by meeting Muslims."
Elturk, left, works with Gamal Ali of Dearborn and Waheed Rashid of Rochester Hills on Wednesday as they prepare printing materials for the mosque. The mosque's grand opening is Friday.
You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359 or gkrupa@detnews.com. http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070524/LIFESTYLE04/705240342/1041