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Macomb County

Mosque Exposes Fears In Warren (April 12, 2006)

Plans Ok'd Over Residents' Worries

The plans for Warren's first mosque were approved, but a series of ill-informed, fear-tinged and derogatory comments from residents and city planning commissioners Monday night still echoed a day later.
"It's reminiscent of the Jim Crow South of the 1950s and 1960s," said Dawud Walid, executive director for the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the meeting Monday night.
"There were blatant Islam-ophobic comments made by two members on this board," he said, adding that he is happy the plan was approved. "But we're also very discouraged by some of the comments from both the residents and the commissioners."
During the two-hour session, one Warren resident was loudly applauded for demanding that the developer prove the Islamic Organization of North America won't have ties to terrorists. Planning commissioner Maurice Daniels asked if sacrifices would be made. The planning commission rejected the plan a month ago, and nearly tabled it Monday before giving it the OK. Steve Elturk, the 50-year-old Troy man who proposed the project, did not return messages Tuesday to comment about the meeting, but he is going ahead with the project.
Crews already have started renovating the old office and retail building on Ryan Road just south of 12 Mile, and Walid said Elturk plans to host an open house at the new mosque in order to promote a better understanding of Islam.
"What I saw were not only anti-Islamic sentiment, but anti-minority sentiment," Walid said. "We are hopeful that there are no types of retaliatory actions taken against the mosque. One positiveis that there are people in the academic and religious communities in Warren that spoke out in favor of the mosque."
Walid said he wants to hold symposiums on race relations in Macomb County in response to Monday's raucous meeting.
Similar wild insinuations from residents and commissioners when Elturk originally was denied approval drew the attention from the U.S. Department of Justice. Stephen Thom, spokesman for the Justice Department, said Tuesday that a federal mediator was following the situation to ensure Elturk's civil rights are not violated.
Walid said he was told the Justice Department will review tapes from Monday's meeting. Warren spokesman Joe Munem said Elturk worked hard to accommodate the requests of the planning department. City planning director Ed Bayer told the commission that Elturk met all of the city's requirements. He added that the administration was appalled at the comments of Daniels and some residents.
"We welcome any house of worship that complies with our codes and ordinances," Munem said Tuesday.
Barbara Sollose, 68, is president of the Central Homeowners Association of Warren, which has 80 members living near the mosque site. She said they still are concerned that traffic will become an issue.
"It's not a religious thing, not with our group. It's not," Sollose said. "It's that the place is so small."
Contact DAN CORTEZ at 586-469-1827 or cortez@freepress.com.