Medill Reports: Islamic group puts pressure on DuPage to change stand banning mosque

By Sridhar Natarajan

http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176578

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In tough economic times most neighborhoods would welcome development. But in suburban Willowbrook, they’re waving it off for an unusual reason: religious oversaturation.

At least according to the Zoning Board of Appeals in DuPage County which has cited that, and concerns of traffic and flooding, to deny a permit for an Islamic cultural center that would include a mosque in Willowbrook.

The decision has baffled members of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America, the group behind the proposed construction.

The center, joined by prominent members from across the faith spectrum, on Wednesday said it is launching an appeal to overturn the decision and accused the board of appeals of curtailing religious freedom.

“Their decision is wrong and is incompatible with the area’s tradition of embracing diversity,” said Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “Giving religious oversaturation as a reason is outrageous.”

This is the third application for building a mosque that has been denied by the zoning board in DuPage in less than two years.

Of the five members who voted to deny permit, three cited religious oversaturation as a concern. But according to Paul Hoss, who works with the DuPage zoning board, no accusation of discrimination can be traced back to the board.

“A number of objectors were bold enough to say they had nothing against a mosque,” he said. Hoss said the area has a lot of traffic concerns and that problem was raised by area residents during public hearings.

The group behind the project carried out two studies to counter claims that building a mosque would have an adverse effect on the infrastructural resources.

The board of appeals, however, did not undertake any study to identify the threats, Hoss said. “The board took into account the concerns raised by the neighbors” he said.

“There is a possibility the decision could be overturned,” he added. The county’s development committee is scheduled to give its recommendation on the issue on Feb. 1 and the County Board will consider the recommendations before taking a final decision.

The Islamic council says it hopes objective standards will hold more weight than flimsy reasons at the next meeting.

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