Friday, August 27, 2010

Permit Denied For Mosque In West Rogers Park

It is an empty restaurant in the West Rogers Park neighborhood. Some wanted to turn into a mosque. Business leaders and the city apparently don't agree. Local Chicago news reports. It sounds a bit like the controversy over the proposed mosque in New York near where the Twin Towers fell. Perhaps at first glance, but not when you scratch beneath the surface. We're hearing from the local chamber of commerce and alderman's office that the city has denied a special use permit that would allow a mosque to replace a shut down hot dog grill. It's based on the need to generate tax revenue on the former site of the original Fluky's and later U Lucky Dawg, at 6821 N. Western Ave. But at a time when opposition to mosques in general is making headlines, the particulars here, for some, sound disturbing. It's one of Chicago's more diverse communities, with a strong Muslim presence; where for some opposition to a proposed mosque is frustrating at best. "Angry is not our religion. Our religion is respect," said one man. "This is a religious freedom country. You are not supposed to deny right to build a mosque," said another man. It's the same neighborhood where the former hot dog restaurant along busy Western Avenue has sat vacant for two years - and where the Faizan e Madina community wants to locate a mosque. "We are planning to educate people about Islam, a misunderstood religion," said Rashid Mopiwala, Faizan e Madina. Amie Zandel is president of the area's West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
Islam, A Misunderstood Religion
"Our neighborhood is probably one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city of Chicago," said Zandel. Zandel says the organization's 200 members include a strong Muslim presence. "Our membership is probably made up between 30 and 40 percent Muslim," she said. Yet in spite of that, the chamber is opposing construction of the mosque on the site. "We want to see our community thrive, and we need more economic development to come in, first and foremost," Zandel said. The chamber says the mosque's tax exempt status in that commercial location would eliminate much needed tax dollars and halt growth. But some fear opposition to the mosque is opposition to Muslims in general. "That's not the case. We have many Muslims already in the community. We celebrate the diversity," Zandel said. "If it's a religion, they have to respect religion first," said one man. It's a position not all here understand, but mosque members, who say they live in an accepting community, know in Chicago economics and politics can sometimes trump religion. Rashid Mopiwala says he does not think the decision was based on bigotry and racism. "There's not any racism involved," he said. "There are some politics maybe, but not religious." Members of the congregation say they are still formulating a plan on what to do next. It is the holy period of Ramadan for Muslims, and when reporters spoke to them tonight they said in spite of the area's many mosques, there is need for more.