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Warren Should Welcome New Mosque (April 17, 2006)

I had a touch of déjà vu today when I heard that the city of Warren had just approved a plan that would allow for the opening of the city’s first mosque. My déjà vu was not necessarily related to the opening of a new mosque, but to the comments of some Warren residents I read in both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News—which I have to say appalled me.
I have heard disparaging remarks like this before; I hail from Hamtramck where there has been an ongoing debate for nearly two years about the right of mosques to play a call to prayer.
I remember when the issue came to a head in Hamtramck—whether several of the city’s mosques were within their legal right to play the five-times-daily Islamic call to prayer over a loudspeaker. I remember Hamtramck’s newspaper was deluged with letter after letter from residents either for or against the measure, some more informed than others. Hamtramck finally permitted the call to prayer to be played, but that hasn’t stopped residents from still debating whether or not it really should be allowed. Personally, I was one of the people who saw no reason why the mosques should not be allowed to play the call to prayer.
I was always glad that I grew up in Hamtramck, because it meant that I was a Polish girl who attended traditional Catholic school, but went to the parties that my Filipino neighbors threw, and yes, was used to the fact that there was a mosque down the street. I only thought that being able to hear the call to prayer would add to Hamtramck’s mix of cultures and people that I found so appealing.
After the call to prayer had been approved, I remember standing on the steps of one of Hamtramck’s old Polish Catholic churches during an early morning Mass, when on the wind came musical strands of the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. Some people thought it interrupted the Mass, but I thought it was beautiful. It was one of those rare moments where for a second I regained the long-lost hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be a time when we really could all just get along.
Perhaps this is why I was so shocked when I heard about the situation in Warren—the planning commission wasn’t debating about anything like a call to prayer that might be disruptive, but simply on whether or not a mosque could be built. I was even more shocked to learn that this would be Warren’s first mosque, so perhaps I should pay more attention when I go out into the suburbs.
But as I said before, the most disturbing aspect of this is the comments made by several Warren residents at the planning commission’s meeting, as Dan Cortez of the Free Press said, there was “a series of ill-informed, fear-tinged and derogatory comments from residents and city planning commissioners.” For instance, the Free Press asserts as well that there was applause when a resident demanded proof that the Islamic Organization of North America, which plans to open the mosque, didn’t have connections to terrorists. And in the Detroit News, Warren resident Olga Soroka, who is concerned that the new mosque may cause noise problems if it ever broadcasts a call to prayer, is quoted as saying of her and her husband: "We don't feel too good. We're probably going to sell our house."
So, to all the residents of Warren who are wary of the new mosque for whatever reason, whether it be noise or traffic worries or terrorism concerns, I have seen people with your fears before. And I have seen people with your fears live through them. I applaud the Warren Planning Commission for approving the plan for the new mosque even if many residents were opposed to the idea. Even in Hamtramck, where there have been mosques for many years and a call to prayer for about two years, some residents still share your fears. I am in no way any sort of expert on Islam, but I do know that my city wasn’t worse off for allowing a call to prayer. So residents of Warren, welcome this new mosque into your neighborhood, and you might just see that you have nothing to fear but fear itself.