Building a Mosque After 9/11: A Tale of Two Cities

Muslim leaders recall differing community reaction to the approval and building of two Southland mosques in Frankfort and Orland Park post 9/11.

The year was 1978. Bob Marley convinced warring Jamaican factions to shake hands. China lifted a ban on the works of Shakespeare. Pete Rose logged his 3,000th major league hit.

And in the sparsely populated town of Frankfort a small group of Sunni Muslims founded a Sunday school to preserve their cultural heritage and religious doctrine that would later become known as .

After four years of renting local classrooms and offices, enough money was raised to purchase property from a Frankfort crop duster at 8860 W. Saint Francis Rd. The farmhouse would eventually become the school. The airplane hangar would become the prayer hall.

“It was nothing but pure farm land,” AIA co-founder and vice chairman Tariq Khan recalled. “Saint Francis Road was just basically a one-lane road with an S-curve and a small bridge that only one car could pass at a time.”

The Islamic organization flew mostly under the Frankfort community’s radar for the next two decades, steadily raising money to erect a proper place of worship and dining on their property. Those who knew of the Sunday school and prayer hall, including its one and only neighbor, were very supportive, Khan said. Unlike the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, there would be no angry mob and police barricades after the felling of the World Trade Center.

“As far as I’ve heard, people didn’t even know we were there,” said Khalid Mozaffar, AIA communications and outreach director, as well as the assistant principal of its school. “There’s a long driveway. Now, of course, you can see the big dome from Saint Francis Road. Back then it was just another house.”

Isolated though it was, by Khan’s estimation the congregation has grown from its 1980s collection of 25 families, mainly of Indian and Pakistani descent, to almost 400 families today.

Mozaffar said he knows non-Muslims living in Frankfort who were asked to sign a petition against the construction of the group’s mosque, even though such opposition never turned up at the public hearings to obtain building permits in late 2002. The approved the permits unanimously and AIA broke ground in 2005, with only minor irruptions coming from a few anonymous phone-call threats and broken windows.

“We never felt like we were in danger or we were harassed,” Mozaffar said. “When we were building the new building, there were some who said, ‘Oh, we can’t have a mosque here.’ And then we said, ‘But we’ve been here for 20 years,’ and the whole argument went away.”

Not so in Orland Park.

Doctors and Businessmen and Engineers

The third and final public hearing regarding the construction of the in 2004 drew several hundred people and police, forcing the village board to relocate its meeting to the Civic Center.

“We didn't want a scuffle,” Badie Ali, a 29-year-old executive board member at the prayer center, said. “We told people to come who could keep their composure because we knew there might be some things said that they don't like.”

Several residents asked the village to deny the mosque on noise and traffic grounds, which Ali acknowledged as “legitimate.” Less diffidently, others clutched signed petitions and argued heatedly that the mosque would become a breeding ground for terrorists, and one man even declared, without irony, “If you build it, Muslims will come,” Ali said.

Nevertheless, unanimously approved construction plans for the mosque and were backed by many—but not all—of the village’s churches. Fresh out of college at the time, Ali said he isn't bitter today about the incident because the insults, slung by a vocal minority, didn’t represent the whole town. Opponents tried unsuccessfully to put the issue on a ballot.

Along with members of the Southwest Interfaith Team, a religious alliance co-founded by AIA, Mozaffar also attended the meetings and remembered the inspiration he felt when hearing non-Muslims make statements like, “You can’t call all Muslims terrorists. These people are already part of the community: they’re the doctors and businessmen and engineers. They need a place of prayer where they live.”

Leaders from both mosques refer to the incident in Orland Park as a matter of poor timing, political rhetoric and misguided fear. But they vow that their organizations are places of prayer and charity, not politics. A short list of either mosque’s charitable recipients includes Habitat for Humanity and the Greater Food Depository of Chicago, as well as local pantries.

“Whoever the skeptics were,” Mozaffar said, “they were proved wrong.”

Sister with a Veil On

Not a single resident complained to plan commissioners and trustees in 2009 when the prayer center applied for permits to erect a support building to handle the overflow of classes, lectures, mentorship programs and more. Ali estimated that OPPC draws about 1,000 mostly Palestinian Muslim families and has accommodated as many as 2,000 worshippers in a single day.

“We've been blessed, and it's to our vision of what we want to do here,” he said. “We're fellow citizens, Americans in the community. We've been here a long time. It's very hard in this area, and even the south suburbs in general, to drive without seeing a sister with a veil on. Muslims are now becoming such a fabric of society that people are used to them.”

Ali believes that Islam was the first thing hijacked on 9/11, and that it will take time and, more importantly, the cooperation of the Muslim community to mend the damage.

“Muslims … have been an exclusive group,” he said. “When it comes to their beliefs and their culture, they kind of keep it to themselves. They don't share as much as they should share with other people. After 9/11, I feel that Muslims have a huge responsibility to educate people on what Islam is.”

Ali is also chairman of the OPPC Youth and Outreach Committee and offers free tours of the prayer center. Just look for the blue brick and gold dome at 16530 104th Ave. You can’t miss it.

“That was the idea,” he said. “We didn't want to be hidden in the corner. We want to be out in front, to let people know that the doors are always open.”

Both mosques are encouraging people to attend Daley Plaza Chicago's  “An Evening of Remembrance and Hope,” starting at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, sponsored by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. Visit the American Islamic Association and Orland Park Prayer Center for more details and contact information about a possible bus trip departing from OPPC.

Ben Feldheim (Editor) September 08, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Dee, the answer is simple, because this is a part of our community. Keep your eyes out for the other stories we've done related to 9/11. There will be more leading up to Sunday. http://orlandpark.patch.com/articles/we-live-it-every-day-mothers-of-soldiers-find-solace-in-other-families-with-deployed-loved-ones
Joe Vince (Editor) September 08, 2011 at 05:55 PM
To all commenters: Before you enter an opinion that paints huge swaths of people with one brush, reflect for a moment on how you would like it if you were defined by the worst member of a group you identify with. I'm not sure many people would want Timothy McVeigh to be considered the model for their Christian or patriotic beliefs. Or that John Wayne Gacy should be considered the example of what a typical Illinois resident is like. Extremism in all its forms is the problem, and individuals are responsible for their evil actions. Condemning those who do not espouse or subscribe to the destructive, violent beliefs that are responsible for events like Sept. 11 only breeds the kind of fear and malevolence those people wanted to spread to begin with. You know what fights against that? Coming together on our similarities. You'd be surprised how alike everyone actually is when you get right down to it. Also, commenters, by invoking Hitler and/or Nazism in an argument that is not about World War II or Hitler and/or Nazism, you're giving the signal to everyone that you're not interested in having a reasonable discussion. It's called Goodwin's Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law), and I think we can all rise above it. Thanks, Joe Vince Local editor, Frankfort
Donna Brazas-Reynolds September 08, 2011 at 06:02 PM
I am saddened that so many in my community cannot have a charitable heart in the most basic interactions with other members of my community. That's right, Muslims are members of our community too. They didn't suddenly appear to take over, and there is no secret plan to eradicate non-Muslims. They are workers and livers and doers in our community, just like all of us are. How can any one of us point a finger of prejudice at those who are Muslim, when every single one of us has a background where we were the object of prejudice when our ancestors arrived? At the turn of the last century, there were differing pay rates for doing the same job, depending upon whether the workers were Italian, Irish, German, or Polish. Those here the longest usually made the most, not because they were the most talented workers, but because people were used to seeing them around. In another 20 years, my children will laugh that Muslims were treated the way some of the people in Orland Park are treating them now. . . I hope.
Harlen M September 08, 2011 at 06:07 PM
There are plenty of white christian homogeneous suburbs to live in. As most people from a different ethnic or cultural background choose to live in the city. My personal opinion is if you have a problem with people of different religions, races, or cultural backgrounds. Then move to one of those homogeneous suburbs. There are plenty nearby in northwest indiana and will county. Muslim have just as much right to congregate in a nice middle class suburban community as any other group. Why does it seem that so many people think that if you are of a different cultural background or different race, you must conform to uniformity when living in the suburbs? The Muslim religion is the second largest religion in the world. America's involvement in wars in largely Muslim populated countries in the middle east, north africa, and central asia should not be misunderstood with being at war with the muslim religion here in the united states. If a mosque is being built in a suburb then obviously there are enough muslims living there to support one.
Teena Long September 08, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Grouping all Muslims together with a small group that uses their religion for acts of terriorism is no different then saying all Baptist are the same as the ones in Utah that are going around the country protesting Soldiers funerals. I dont have to agree with someone with different religious views or political views then I have but this is a free country and they are entitiled to what they believe. I dont feel that we should change our laws.. not they should not be aloud to wear head wraps when they have DL pictures taken. They dont change their laws to our beliefs but we are expected to change for every other culture.
Brian September 08, 2011 at 06:56 PM
To be equally protected by our great Bill of Rights and Constitution's sanctioned institutions, still seems to be a difficult set of too many problems unsolved, a "work in progress". This work, while we focus on our many thoughts and prayers during this tenth season, post 9-11, has a mixture of success (to one degree or another and likewise) failures. These last ten years of work has too often failed to effectively protect, prevent or in some instances, even reduce minor to major, unfounded, bias motivated words to criminal acts against Muslim as well as other, vulnerable minority American residents as well as citizens. We can all be parts of the many solutions to do better, by working "shoulder to shoulder" to build a fairer and more just society. Our American history tells us we always be vigilant and pro-active inorder to reduce discrimination and sterotypes, that at least are personally and morally offensive, but also may, and often do violates our human rights, always reflecting poorly on our better, humaine capacities! One way for all of us to recommit to our fellow Americans' is to join in the work of the South and Southwest Interfaith Team, a 10 year plus old interfaith organization. You can join as an individual or a congregation and benefit greatly through dialog, forums, and social service. To learn more, begin by "visiting" www.swiftinterfaith.org. We hope to see you in person soon! Brian Zakem, Flossmoor
Joe Vince (Editor) September 08, 2011 at 07:00 PM
@Brian: Since you brought it up, check back with Patch tomorrow for a feature on the history of SWIFT and how it came about in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Joe Vince Local editor, Frankfort
Deb Melchert September 08, 2011 at 07:51 PM
No one and I mean no one hates the terrorists as much as I do. If that's a sin, I'll take it up with God when he decides.............but to call all Muslims terrorists is as blatantly stupid as believing all blacks are gang members, all Italians are in the Mafia, etc etc etc. Everyone is entitled to and should be outraged at the events on 9/11/2001, but make sure your anger is in the right place. That said, I hope to see everyone at the Patriots Day ceremony at the train station. We'll honor all those lost on 9/11 and celebrate a day of UNITY of ALL Americans, regardless of race or faith
SouthSide September 08, 2011 at 08:12 PM
"...and make our country" AND WORLD "strong. amen"
SouthSide September 08, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are Muslims. This applies everyday, and especially near the day of remembrance. This is the perfect occasion for these articles.
Harlen M September 08, 2011 at 09:26 PM
I don't think it's ok to group ANY muslims together with the acts of terrorist. Even if the terrorist happen to be muslim. It's the second largest religion in the world. The terrorist were acting on there own agenda on behalf of countries that the united states is at war with. Not reenacting religious scripture from the quran by blowing up the world trade center. That is, unless you believe that the united states is anti-muslim and we are actually fighting some kind of biblical holy war around the world based on religious scripture.
Jenny C September 08, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Jesse ~ In case you haven't caught it yet, Dee wrote the year '1951' because that would be the ten year anniversary for the attack on Pearl Harbor, comparing it to where we are in time to 9/11. I get why some want these articles posted at this time. And personally, I see that as a jab to those who died on 9/11 and to their families. So even though the intentions may be good, it is insensitive to those who are still hurting. All over the country, I saw photos of citizens raising banners declaring 'We Will Never Forget', and it seems as though many already have. These articles should be held up until 9/12 and the week following. Not prior. The victims should always come first.
Jesse Marx September 08, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Jenny C, Thank you for pointing that out. The mistake was all mine, but my thoughts still stand. In response to your other point: many Muslims (excluding those on the planes) died in the 9/11 attack. Would you ask their families to wait until 9/12 to grieve?
Missy September 08, 2011 at 11:39 PM
It is understandable that people still have fears of Muslims. The terrorists were Muslims. You watch a pack of dogs attack and destroy your neighbors, you would probably be afraid of dogs after that, even though most dogs don't do things like that. It's human nature to be angry and afraid, and from that anger and fear it is easy to generalize those feelings. That being said, the hate and anger should be directed at terrorists of all kind. Do I worry because the Middle Eastern terrorists still want to kill us? Yep. Am I going to allow that fear to make me hate all Middle Easterners? No. But I am am a proud American. My heart still hurts when I think of those who lost their lives and their families who were torn apart by this vicious attack. When I read an article about 9/11, right now as we sadly lead up to the ten year anniversary, I don't want it to be about the struggles of the American Muslims. I'll read about it next week, or the week after. Right now I want to focus on those who lost their lives, the families, and focus my attention, respect, and sympathy on them. I know in my head that these people in this article had nothing to do with 9/11, but in my heart, I just don't think this is the time for articles about building mosques. May be wrong, but it is what it is. So, I'll take a break from the Patch for a few weeks and come back later.
Jenny C September 08, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Jesse ~ I am saying that one group out of many should not be singled out. Why the special treatment? These were all Americans, and their ethnicity and/or religion shouldn't be the focus. What should be is the fact that these were innocent people who went to work as usual and had their lives changed forever. When people's differences are showcased, that's where the divisions begin. Keep shining the light on the fact that we are all Americans.
Ben Feldheim (Editor) September 09, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Missy and Jenny C., I'm just curious, have you read the other stories we've published about 9/11 this week? Other folks have made similar "singling out" points, so in case people have missed them: http://orlandpark.patch.com/articles/firefighter-pulled-from-the-rubble-at-ground-zero-captivates-high-school-students http://orlandpark.patch.com/articles/we-live-it-every-day-mothers-of-soldiers-find-solace-in-other-families-with-deployed-loved-ones Come back tomorrow and we'll have some perspective from local firefighters.
Jenny C September 09, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Thanks, Ben. I did read the 'mothers of soldiers' one and now just read the 'firefighter pulled from the rubble' since you posted the link. Both topics are all-American. I can appreciate that. And right at the bottom of the 'pulled from the rubble' article, a quote stood out - "Our school is so diverse and after 9/11 everyone came together,” Morlock said. “They wanted to set an example about how the rest of the country could come together as well.” What an excellent observation. Come together as Americans who love America. We need to find our similarities. We are behind the rest of the world as far as this goes. Celebrating diversity has been a tragic mistake, as Europe has learned.
RJT123 September 09, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Read the Koran, and you will see that it CLEARLY states that non-muslims (called infidels) are second-class citizens and are to be treated as such. They can't own land or even ride a horse-- this isnt my idea- it's in THEIR Koran- read it before pretending that Muslims believe in equality!
Harlen M September 09, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Who cares what the quran says about non-muslims? The bible says things about non-believers also. All religious doctrines frown upon non-believers. In today's world christians are responsible for by far more innocent muslims being killed then the other way around. In the iraq war alone somewhere around 111,000 iraqi civilians have been killed during the fighting.
Qasim Choudry September 09, 2011 at 02:47 AM
@RJT123. It is very clear to me that you have not read the Holy Quran," koran". Your statement is not only false and slanderous but also based on total ignorance. The things you quoted are not mentioned any where in the holy book. The religions are exclusive. Each one has the followers and non believers( non followers). To you any person who does not believe in "your religion" is doomed, that person may be a hindu, budhist, fire worshiper or believer of any other ideology.
Deb Melchert September 09, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Qasam has a very valid point. Terrorists, be them Muslim or not, have used their religion as a basis for killing people for centuries. How many years has the Protestants vs Catholics war been going on in Ireland? It's the radicals that we need to fear, and every group has them.
J.J. September 09, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Speaking from a younger viewpoint, it's crazy that people attack Islam and it's followers like they are all the spawn of Osama Bin Laden. 99% of Muslims are not radical, and every religion has its nut jobs (ie. Westboro Baptist Church). We just need to be accepting of others cultures, it's really not that hard.
Ben Feldheim (Editor) September 09, 2011 at 04:01 AM
So, celebrating diversity is a mistake?
Jenny C September 09, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Ben ~ Absolutely! Are you saying that you aren't aware of the backlash? http://hotair.com/archives/2011/02/11/multiculturalism-a-failure-says-europe/ When going to this second link, please read the people's postings following the article... http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100072142/germany-abolishes-itself-the-publishing-sensation-that-challenges-europes-diversity-consensus/ How does that saying go... divide and ______?
Ben Feldheim (Editor) September 09, 2011 at 07:21 AM
Jenny, did I say I wasn't aware of the backlash? Government-mandated tolerance rules are hardly the same thing as our sites running a couple articles about Muslim experiences. I'm certainly not suggesting you should like people, or befriend anyone. I am suggesting you should at least try not to judge an entire culture based on the actions of a few. I also think you can be patriotic without being xenophobic. And lastly, at one point or another, we were all immigrants. I wonder how many Americans' immigrant ancestors left their birth country because of some form of persecution. I know mine did. Later this morning keep your eyes peeled for an interesting list of stories we'll be posting. Then ask yourself if we've really focused our attention as narrowly as you suggested before.
Dennis Wilson September 09, 2011 at 08:46 AM
So with so many Muslims in our community here in the south suburbs can anyone tell me why it seems to be impossible to meet, greet, or even make eye contact with any of them? Hard to be friendly when a simple matter of holding a door for someone is ignored. Not one time has any of my Muslim neighbors said hello or offered a friendly smile. In ten years my Muslim next door neighbors have not even spoke to me while we were both working in our back yards even though my wife and I both have made an attempt. I think that is very telling as to why the relations are where they are.
Donna Brazas-Reynolds September 09, 2011 at 01:19 PM
To Dennis, fear may be the issue with your neighbors. We too have Muslim neighbors, and up until a couple years ago, I only saw the mom backing out of their driveway in their van, taking the kids to private school (I knew that from how the kids were dressed). My husband spoke to her husband a few times, once when he wanted advice on if he should call the police for an anti-Muslim graffiti on his property. Now, our children play together. Why? Because the kids are outside all the time. They have no fear of non-Muslims. Now their oldest are almost out of the house, and their younger ones are old enough to see my kids playing and want to join. Just this week, I signed up three different families who are Muslim for my daughter's girl scout troop, and all were polite, nice, chatty. The fear that they will be harassed for just "being" is starting to ebb away, and of course that affects their levels of interaction with others who are non-Muslim. Based on many of the posts I've seen, however, many seem to still harbor negative feelings. That makes me sad for all the broadened experiences people are missing out on.
MS September 09, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Multiculturalism failed in Europe not because people couldn't get along, but because of the entrenched nationalisms in those countries. It's really hard to understand other cultures when everything and everyone is 100% French or German around you and when its been that way for centuries. So what the Germans are talking about now is how to better integrate minorities in German societies not through a celebration and acceptance of their diversities-- which essentially keep them in separate groups from the majority-- but by assimilating them into German society. Assimilation is the ultimate form of acceptance of other peoples and cultures. This is, however, often seen as a "hostile take-over" and some groups resist assimilation. But assimilation is by nature peaceful since no one is forced into anything. It just happens as individual decisions become collective action. It's not ethnic cleansing. Turkey agrees that multiculturalism in Europe has failed and actually encourages Turks in Germany to become Germans, to learn the language and accept the culture as their own. Here in the USA, we aspire to assimilation more than we think. Remember the "melting pot"? and the idea that we're all Americans? We can celebrate our diversities if we want but at the end of the day, no one forces us into anything and we celebrate our commonalities more.
Harlen M September 09, 2011 at 02:48 PM
How many people even socialize very often with there black neighbors? That is not what diversity is all about. Some folks have the social skills to socialize outside of there element, but most folks don't have these social skills. I have lived most of my life in chicago. Living in a diverse neighborhood is more about people from different backgrounds being able to have access to and enjoy all of the amenities of the neighborhood. There are enough people living in the area from different cultural and racial backgrounds for everyone to feel comfortable and at home. Many minorities move to this area for that reason. I know several blacks who have moved to mostly homogeneously white suburbs in northwest indiana and will county. As much as it was there personal choice at the time to do so. They almost always seem to discuss how they did not figure in on the high level of social isolation that there family and particularly there kids have experienced. Some have experienced very rude behavior from there white neighbors, there kids have been called racist names by there white schoolmates, and have been physically picked on to the point of one black parent being forced to enroll her son in karate class. So for the most part it's not so much about diversity as it is about everyone being able to feel comfortable and enjoy living in the same community.
Jenny C September 09, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Ben ~ You asked me - "did I say I wasn't aware of the backlash?" No, which is why I asked you if you were. I wasn't comparing you running an article to what is going on in Europe. (sigh) I was showing how multiculturalism has failed in a country that had tried it sooner than we had. Wise men learn from other's mistakes. It is foolish to think we could try the same thing and have a different result. Please explain to me why people here at Patch seems to always resort to labeling others xenophobic or being judgmental?? Typically, when someone has nothing else to say, they stoop to name calling. I love this country and want to keep her strong. Someone posted below that we are a melting pot. Excellent point. And melting is the key word. We melt together to become American, not each of us keeping to our distinct traditions. It is wrong to drive around in a car, flying flags of other nations, for example. I hadn't said that you were 'only' focusing on a religious group and ethnicity, but that you had focused on them and that should have waited until 9/12, out of sensitivity. I guess that point was missed. I'm glad to hear your ancestors had made it out of a bad situation.


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