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Warren Mosque Seeks Acceptance (August 18, 2006)

Steve Elturk, 51, of Troy expects to open his mosque in November. Steve Elturk strokes his salt-and-pepper beard as he recalls the incident a few weeks ago that reminded him the task of opening the first mosque in Warren is just beginning.

Elturk was headed to his mosque, the Islamic Organization of North America Masjid & Learning Center, on Ryan Road just south of 12 Mile. While in traffic on Ryan, he looked over and was greeted by a scowl from a man who seemed to disapprove of Elturk's presence in Warren. "You can tell he's full of rage," Elturk of Troy said Thursday. "I wasn't surprised. You're going to encounter people who don't know and are ignorant of the situation. That has been very stressful."
Stress is something Elturk, 51, got used to last spring, when he fought disapproving residents and city officials who made wild accusations about the group, including suspicions it might be tied to terrorism. After securing permits, construction on the mosque began earlier this month. Elturk wants to open the building in late November.
Donations from members are covering the estimated $250,000 in construction costs. There are still signs that trouble could be lurking. In June several glass bottles were broken in the parking lot, a floodlight was broken and an electric meter was shattered. Elturk initially blamed the incident on teenagers with nothing better to do, but then he reconsidered. "Maybe I do want to believe it was just kids," Elturk said with a cautious smile. "I am anticipating something worse."
The recent crisis in the Middle East has left Elturk wondering whether uninformed residents might blame him for the situation. And Elturk still has family — his mother and a brother and sister — living in Lebanon.
To try to combat the negative vibes, Elturk has met regularly over the past several months with other church leaders in Warren.

"We're trying to bring together the hearts of all the churches in Warren," Elturk said.

The Rev. Gary Schulte of St. Sylvester Church in Warren met with Elturk for lunch Thursday. Schulte said any fear in the Warren community comes from misinformation about Muslims. Pamphlets explaining the Muslim faith that Elturk gave to Schulte were quickly snatched up at St. Sylvester.

"People want to know what it's all about," said Schulte, who wants to organize some community roundtables to discuss Islam. "People don't understand it. I think people in Warren make that mistake."
Zahid Sheikh, 46, of Sterling Heights said the Muslim community in Macomb County is looking forward to a second mosque in the area. Sheikh, a doctor, said he regularly worships in Detroit and Rochester Hills. Sheikh said he'll attend the new mosque because he works at 15 Mile and Ryan.
Sheikh said Warren has not always been accepting of minorities, but that has to change due to the shifting demographics.
"It's an uphill struggle. … Now you have a lot of people from the Middle East and it's going to be more diversified," Sheikh said. "It has to change."
Contact DAN CORTEZ at 586-469-1827 or dcortez@freepress.com.