Amid concerns about sharia law and Muslim treatment of women, a crowd largely supported a proposed mosque in Brookfield, applauding a man who apologized to local Muslims for some of the negative reaction they have faced.
"I want to say I'm sorry for the necessity for this (public meeting)," said Dudley Riggle of Brookfield, a retired Lutheran pastor and professor at Carthage College in Kenosha.
"We would not be having this occasion if we were about to build a new synagogue or Bahai temple or an ultra-conservative mega church or a liberal Protestant denomination and I'm sorry about this," Riggle said. "And I'm sorry that it degenerates into which religion is right... This is about something fundamental to our country, which is the freedom to worship as one sees fit, which is freedom of speech, freedom of assembly."
"Amen!" someone cried as many applauded.
But others, such as Brookfield resident Chuck Bloom, suggested the Muslim community and leaders should be more vocal about denouncing acts of terrorism.
Some questioned whether local Muslims would follow the U.S. Constitution or try to impose their religious laws on the community.
Bob Viall of Brookfield said Muslims were trying create sharia law amid violence in some European countries.
"How do we know that over time that isn't going to happen here? Because it is happening there," Viall said, drawing applause. "As more and more mosques get built and more and more Muslims come here, how do we know that it's not going to happen here?"
He questioned whether there would be an influx of immigrant Muslims.
Muslims from Brookfield on a panel told the audience of about 100 people that they were heavily invested in their local communities and had no desire — as some have feared — to dominate, subvert U.S. government law or convert people from other religions.
Concerns arise about treatment of women
Othman Atta, an attorney and executive director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, said sharia law are the rules and principles of Islam.
One woman in the audience, Swannie Tess, strongly objected to Muslims saying they believed in the same God as Christians.
"Don’t include my God in your book because they are not the same," she said.
"Your painting of Islam as a religion of moderation, I don’t believe is true. Whereas Christians should have love and salvation of sinners as a rule.... Islam has destruction of infidels, and that would be jihad," Tess said.
Tess said she was aware of two Muslim women from Dearborn, Mich. who were being "harbored" in Wisconsin. Mushir Hassan, a Brookfield physician and leader of the mosque project, said a minority of Muslim men who were "using sharia law to defend boorish, abusive behavior" give all Muslims a bad name and need to be condemned.
"But for you to say that all Muslims in Brookfield are somehow espousing that regiment I think is totally incorrect," Hassan said. "We as Muslim Americans completely abide by the Constitution. We're going to use the principals of the sharia to be able to help decide what we are going to teach to our children and teach to ourselves."
Three Muslim women on the panel said they were not oppressed by their husbands, whom they praised as helpful, cooking for them and taking care of their children when the trio of women recently ran a marathon.
Muslims part of the fabric of Brookfield
Masarat Allagaband said she is a substitute teacher at Brookfield Academy, a soccer coach and volunteer. She said Muslim families are part of the fabric of Brookfield and have been more more than a decade.
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The two-hour meeting Monday night hosted at Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church on Greenfield Avenue in Brookfield, started with Hussan explaining the mosque project, as well as answering criticisms and misconceptions about Islam.
"You kind of see this Muslim group coming into Brookfield and it’s like, 'Whoa, where did these Muslims come from?" panelist Lateef Khan said. "And wow, they're going to go build a mosque in the central part of Brookfield? What the heck is going on?' I can imagine how that would be concerning."
Khan said greater dialog and interaction would lead to more understanding and acceptance.
Attorney Paul Jaessing urged the city to approve the project.
"I think that it’s important that the people of Brookfield stand up and say, 'Welcome, our Muslim brothers and sisters,'" Jaessing said. "Build the mosque."
Traffic concerns not cited
Monday's question and answer session never discussed traffic, nor any other issues related to the proposed site on Pheasant Drive east of Calhoun Road and north of North Avenue. That was somewhat by design, however. Islamic society members noted that city officials can not consider religion when they debate and vote on the project in coming weeks so Monday's forum was the place for such discussion.
Society members say growth of members and convenience are driving the request to build the mosque — a second location to the mosque at 4707 S. 13th St. in Milwaukee.
The downtown mosque has seen its weekly worshippers more than double from about 600 in 1999 to more than 1,500 currently, members say.
About 75 to 100 Muslim families live within 10 miles of the Brookfield site, they say.
For convenience in attending weekly Friday afternoon prayer services, a group of about 25 Muslims started holding services in 2000 in a room at Elmbrook Memorial Hospital. Other Waukesha County sites were used, and since 2008 a group — now about 60 people — meets at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
In 2009, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee purchased two lots totalling four acres on Pheasant Drive on industrially zoned land that formerly housed Sanders C & Sons Welding.
The city will hold an informational session on the project May 2. The Plan Commission will hold a public hearing May 7 to hear comments from residents before debating and possibly voting on the mosque. The Common Council could consider it at its May 15 meeting.
- For more information on the mosque, see Patch's previous stories.