Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Muslim, Christian groups battle over plans for mosque

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. -- On a prime piece of real estate in suburban Detroit stands a large, vacant elementary school with no vestiges of life -- save for a tiny sign that identifies the building as the "future home" of the Islamic Cultural Association.

But a plan to create a mosque and community center has thrust this quiet site into a battle between a prosperous Muslim community and a Christian legal advocacy group that wants to derail the project as part of its goal to confront the "threat of Islam" in the United States. The effort is "targeting innocent Americans because of their faith and willingness to engage in the community and to contribute," said Shareef Akeel, the Islamic group's attorney. "They're targeting a people simply because of their faith."

The effort to reject the Islamic association began last year, when it bought the school in upscale West Bloomfield Township. Some residents made a legal bid to have the $1.1 million purchase denied over claims the deal was somehow corrupt and kept from the public.

In the process, they gained the support of the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center. The center and residents accuse the school district of talking with the association behind closed doors and accepting illegal campaign contributions from an association official.

A judge dismissed the case, saying the plaintiffs had no standing to file a complaint. But they've appealed, and the law center has asked a grand jury to investigate. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has yet to decide, but the law center says it's confident he will empanel a grand jury.

Outside court, the center accuses Islamic groups in the United States of taking advantage of the legal system to wage a "stealth jihad" that aims to transform the United States into an Islamic nation. The center also accuses the Islamic group of having ties to terrorism because of its links to other Muslim groups.

The confrontation in West Bloomfield and similar clashes have made Detroit "an active front in a kind of culture war," said Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan anthropologist and expert on the city's Islamic presence.

The Detroit area is home to one of the nation's largest Muslim communities, with 150,000 to 200,000 Muslims in the city and its suburbs. Many emigrated from the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere. The population has sometimes drawn anti-Muslim protesters.

Muslim critics regard Muslims' social and economic advancement in the Detroit area as "somehow anti-American," Mr. Shyrock said.

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