With wounds still fresh from a divisive plan to build a massive mosque in a residential area of Sterling Heights, Michigan, a group of Pakistanis are moving forward with plans for another project, and this one involves the conversion of a church into a house of Islamic worship.
The group held an “open house” last weekend at the former St. Mark Lutheran Church on 16 ½ Mile Road in Sterling Heights. But a group of Christians who attended said it was unlike any open house they’d experienced.
A Realtor was present, along with several Pakistani men dressed in traditional Islamic robes.
“They used the term ‘open house’ because they probably didn’t know what else to call it,” said a local woman who dropped in on the event Sunday. “But in retrospect I think they were looking for money. That was their plan, to show the property, explain what they were going to do with it and see if people would donate.”
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she lives just two miles from the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in nearby Rochester Hills. Mosques in Oakland and Macomb counties tend to start out small and become very large, she said.
Sterling Heights is unique in that it is home to not only a growing Muslim community but one of the largest concentrations of Chaldean Catholic Christians in the U.S. These Christians fled persecution in Iraq. Word of the open house spread quickly among Chaldeans and other Christians when a flyer showing the targeted church started circulating in the area last week.
There is a feeling in the community that the plan to turn the church into a mosque may be connected in some way to the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, about 15 miles away in Rochester Hills. That mosque’s congregants are also mostly Pakistanis who speak Urdu.
Sterling Heights already has two mosques in operation and a third that is tied up in litigation. The city went through a highly contentious, divisive debate in 2015-16 in which a 20,000-square-foot mega-mosque called the American Islamic Community Center, or AICC, was denied a permit by a 9-0 vote of the planning commission. That denial received a standing ovation from an overflow crowd of residents at city hall in fall of 2015, but the decision would later be overturned under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department. The DOJ joined local Muslims in a federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination.
The city settled with the Muslims and agreed to allow the construction to start on AICC mosque but then a citizens’ group filed its own lawsuit against the city alleging that it approved the project out of a bias toward Muslims, many of whom would be attending the mosque from outside the city, when the overwhelming majority of city residents opposed the project citing traffic, congestion and parking issues. Making things more contentious is the fact that the targeted neighborhood is populated largely by Chaldeans Christians, many of whom had escaped Muslim persecution in Iraq.
LeoHohmann.com contacted several Christian refugees in Sterling Heights this week to ask about the church-mosque conversion project. They all refused to speak on the record, fearing retribution from the Muslims.
In an interview with WDIV-TV last year, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor laid down the gauntlet, letting it be known unequivocally that, in terms of the AICC lawsuit, he stands on the side of the Muslims. Taylor said the city plans to “defend against it pretty vigorously” and “go after them for sanctions for this very frivolous lawsuit.”
Dick Manasseri, spokesman for Secure Michigan, a citizens’ watchdog organization, said that for any group to try to open another mosque in Sterling Heights before the controversy over the previous one is settled represents “a very bold move” that has raised a lot of eyebrows.
“Why would any church board, knowing about the controversy of the previous mosque plan yet to be decided in the courts, decide to open the door to another mosque that’s coming in from the side, unless they are a player in the interfaith movement, which is going on all over Michigan right now,” he said.
The targeted church property sits on 4.8 acres with enough parking for 150 cars. The property last changed hands, according to courthouse records, in August 2012 when it was acquired by an entity called God’s Love Overpowers Ministries from Crown of Life Lutheran Church for $375,000. According to the listing agent, the property is now under contract to be sold to the Muslim group for approximately $440,000 and the transaction is scheduled to close in less than three months. Since there is already a house of worship on the property, no rezoning hearings will be required.
Some residents have also noticed a change in the city’s Ethnic Community Committee over the last couple of years. The committee’s biggest event is its annual Cultural Exchange, and that event gets a little bit more Islamic every year, says Tom Mitchell, a retiree who has lived in Sterling Heights since 1965. The city’s transformation into a multicultural hub sped up under the direction of Mohammed Alomari, an immigration attorney who was named last year as chair of the Ethnic Committee. Three of the nine committee members have Muslim names, according to the city website.
“I understand the original founders of the Ethnic Committee back in 1990 wanted to help new immigrants assimilate into our American culture and become more informed of their new surroundings and new neighbors,” Mitchell said. “Back then the outreach efforts were for Sterling Heights residents only.”
But that’s no longer the case under Alomari’s leadership, Mitchell said. With Alomari’s approval, the Cultural Exchange welcomes not just ethnic-food vendors and musicians but Islamic propaganda outfits such as the Omar Center for Awareness and Understanding, which is a network of grassroots Islamist activists who work through interfaith channels handing out free copies of the Quran, copies of Islamic sermons and various other religious literature under the guise of promoting “freedom,” equality and justice for all, according to its website, OmarCenter.org.
The group takes its name from the 7th-century caliph Omar, an Islamic leader who followed Muhammad and is often referred to by Muslims as “the Great Conqueror.” He earned this nickname for his achievements of defeating the two major powers of his time, the Persians and the Christian-led Roman Empire. Omar is also notorious for instructing his lieutenants to never allow a Christian or Jew to have a position of influence over a Muslim, whether in the military or civilian life. So much for equality.
Another group approved to set up a booth at the Cultural Exchange in March was the IONA Mosque of neighboring Warren. They handed out free Qurans and pamphlets published by Sound Vision, a Chicago-based nonprofit that some say presents a whitewashed view of Islam as a religion of peace.
“Mr. Alomari, as chairman of the Ethnic Committee, approves whatever exhibits or displays get set up at the Cultural Exchange, and now I know why we have all these groups like the Omar Center and IONA Mosque being given access in our citizens, with free Qurans, pamphlets and flyers showing how to contact civil-rights attorneys and immigration attorneys, all written in Arabic,” Mitchell said. “This has nothing to do, anymore, with getting to know your neighbor, this is all propaganda for their movement and the average person in our community has no clue this is going on.”
Manasseri says Michiganders can expect more of this type of deceptive outreach, not just in Sterling Heights but in every corner of the state if Dr. Abdul El-Sayed wins this year’s gubernatorial election. He is running in the Aug. 7 Democrat primary and seeks to become America’s first Muslim governor.
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