Chicago Tribune: Religious leaders urge approval of DuPage mosque

By Serena Maria Daniels and Joe Ruzich

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-willowbrook-mosque-20110119,0,4860135.story

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Muslim leaders and representatives of other faiths are urging DuPage County officials to reject the recommendation of the county’s Zoning Board and allow construction of a mosque near Willowbrook.

Proponents of the plan said Wednesday that they were troubled that a factor cited during the Zoning Board’s discussion of the mosque was that it would add to an oversaturation of religious institutions in the area.

“How many mosques constitute an oversaturation in DuPage County or the unincorporated area of DuPage County, according to the DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals?” asked Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at a news conference. “The answer would be one. One would be one too many apparently, and that’s very disconcerting to us.”

The Zoning Board voted 5-2 last week to recommend rejecting the request from the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America (MECCA) for a proposed mosque, school and recreation center on 91st Street near Illinois Highway 83. The County Board’s Development Committee will make its own recommendations on the issue in February, and the County Board will make a final ruling later.

The Zoning Board’s action marked the third time in recent months it has recommended against proposals concerning Muslim places of worship.

Critics of the MECCA plan had expressed concern about potential flooding and traffic problems with the addition of the proposed mosque.

But at last week’s meeting, Zoning Board member Barry Ketter said MECCA’s mosque “increases in what is my opinion a saturation of religious institutions into this specific area.”

There are three other religious institutions — none of them Islamic — near the proposed MECCA site.

Ketter’s comments came as a shock to MECCA president Abdulgany Hamadeh.

“I thought we covered all our bases,” he said.

Some at the news conference said they see an alarming trend against mosque building.

“As a Jew, I am deeply troubled by the pattern across our Chicagoland and across America to deny Muslims houses of worship and community centers,” said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

On Wednesday, Ketter reiterated his comments.

“I feel it will overburden the area,” Ketter said in a telephone interview. “This is a residential area and people should be able to enjoy their properties.”

Development Committee member Brian Krajewski said Ketter’s comments about the saturation of religious institutions will not affect his decision on the proposed development.

“That should not be an issue,” Krajewski said. “Issues such as traffic and safety are important for us.”

Last year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging discrimination in rejecting a zoning proposal for an Islamic education center and place of worship near Naperville. In December, the Zoning Board also recommended rejecting a petition by an Islamic group to operate a religious center in unincorporated West Chicago. That proposal is still pending.

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