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New Mosque Opens In Warren (May 26, 2007)

WARREN The first mosque in the city of Warren was opened on Friday nearly two years after the Islamic Organization of North America acquired the building and began struggling to gain acceptance in the community.
The city’s Planning Commission voted down the organization’s initial proposal to establish the mosque, and residents have expressed intolerant sentiments and suspicions since the beginning of the process.
Head of the organization, Imam Steve Elturk, said the U.S. Justice Department became involved in the case to protect the civil rights of Elturk and the group. He said they even promised a federal lawsuit if the city continued to illegally reject the center.
In April, 2006 the commission approved the plan 5-3, but bigoted remarks, demands and accusations continued.
Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, at the time compared the atmosphere to the “Jim Crow South of the 1950s and 1960s.”
More recently, the mosque has been vandalized on several occasions (as have several in the Detroit-area in the past months), and a drunk man, later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, threatened and cursed at Elturk outside the building, using racial epithets.
Elturk, who has also repeatedly been the victim of apparent ethnic profiling, having been detained by authorities at the Canadian border on four occasions and twice at the airport, said that Warren residents have expressed “strange, bazaar accusations” and worries about what would go on at the center “like harboring terrorism and performing animal sacrifices.”
He said that the Justice Department told him they got involved after reading about the city’s negative response in the news media.
Describing himself as an optimist, Elturk persevered and, with the help of interfaith groups and initiatives, was finally able to open the center on Friday.
He and Walid met with local FBI officials on Wednesday to discuss remaining concerns about vandalism and discrimination, and for the Friday grand opening, the center held an open house, inviting the community and people of different faiths to tour the building and learn about Islam.
Warren Mayor Mark Steenbergh and Senator Debbie Stabenow and other officials were expected to attend.
Elturk said he wants the community to understand the organization’s simple intentions to “serve God, and serve the community.”