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Chicago Tribune: Mosque donates city garden

November 14, 2006

A Chicago-area mosque hopes the creation of a new public garden next to the Adler Planetarium will help bolster the image of Muslims as a community engaged in the city's future.

Members of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview donated about $100,000 for the development of the 1-acre garden along the lake. Bushes, trees, perennials and a bronze plaque, which depicts a 1791 astronomer's astrolabe in Iraq, have replaced the sod and barbecue grills that were there last year.

On Monday members of the mosque, including its leader, Imam Jamal Said, and his wife, Aisheh, a vice president of the mosque board, joined Mayor Richard Daley and Parks Supt. Tim Mitchell at the garden for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The project was the idea of Muslim businessman Talat Othman, who turned to the Mosque Foundation about two years ago to help fund the garden.

"I thought we needed to show something that's visible," he said. "This will alleviate the perception of Muslims that they are only concerned about themselves. It will also allow other Muslim groups to emulate and contribute to society in a way that they have not done in the past."

That perception may be particularly important for the Mosque Foundation, where some leaders have been criticized for insular, conservative religious views. One of its former officials, Muhammad Salah, is now standing trial, charged with helping to fund acts of terrorism targeting Israel.

But Oussama Jammal, former board president of the Mosque Foundation, said the mosque didn't agree to fund the garden as a reaction to criticism.

"Hopefully this project will answer those who have questions about the Muslim community," he said. "If it serves that purpose, great."

Othman said the choice of the site and theme could also help remind visitors of the historic role Islamic culture has played.

"Muslims made major contributions to astronomy and astrology from the 12th to 14th Centuries," Othman said. "So it seemed very appropriate to have a garden by the planetarium."


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