By Steven P. Spreitzer
Opposition to a proposed mosque in Sterling Heights provides an opportunity for open-minded people to support their fellow co-religionists who are continuing to write the rich history of metro Detroit’s diverse faith community. On August 18, a number of concerned citizens expressed their opposition to the proposed mosque at a Planning Commission Meeting. I have watched similar scenarios play out over the years as Lebanese, Pakistani, Indian, Bengali and other people from around the world come to metro Detroit to find a better life. These newcomers follow the earlier immigrants from Eastern Europe who have made Detroit their home for over three-hundred years, bringing their Christian and Jewish religious traditions and building over 2,000 congregations, which have deeply enriched our region. Similar to what Roman Catholic immigrants faced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, our Muslim sisters and brothers have had to endure unnecessary scrutiny. Such injustice is what prompted the founding our former parent organization, The National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1927 (now the National Conference from Community and Justice) and the Greater Detroit Interfaith Roundtable of Christians and Jews in 1941 (now the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion).
Whether it was the Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, the Islamic Organization of North America in Warren or the Rayan Center in Plymouth Township, the Muslims who brought these mosques to our area listened to citizen concerns and made adjustments to their plans. Working collaboratively, they won citizen and government approval. Driving by these and the 25 or so other mosques in southeast Michigan today, reveals places of worship integrated smoothly into their communities, much like the neighboring Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and other congregations. Now is the time for the good people of Sterling Heights to build upon their status as a Welcoming City, while coming to know the members of the proposed mosque and learning about the great world religion of Islam. There are no shortage of organizations to assist including Macomb County based Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (www.icrj.org), which hosts the “Listen, Learn and Live” series for adults and Religious Diversity Journeys run by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit (www.detroitinterfaithcouncil.org), which adds to seventh grade world religion coursework by arranging visits to diverse places of worship, seeding the next generation of good neighbors.
Muslims have been thriving in the United States for hundreds of years, bringing what open-minded people know to be a religion of peace. Despite the pronouncements of some, Islam teaches that to harm one person is to harm all of humanity. To draw conclusions about any religion by the behavior of people who have hijacked the religion for political and economic gain, is to miss the bigger picture. Some will continue to choose fear and ignorance. But people of good will may find guidance in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he stated that he wasn’t worried about the words of his enemies, but was worried about the silence of his friends. Please consider contacting the Council of American Islamic Relations (www.cairmichigan.org) and the Michigan Muslim Community Council (www.mimuslimcouncil.com). For those who are on a journey of faith, engagement will serve to enhance that journey and serve to improve human relations in our community.