With wounds still fresh in the minds of residents of Sterling Heights, Michigan, where a proposal to build a mega-mosque in the middle of a residential area sparked multiple lawsuits, a group of Pakistanis is moving forward with plans for another controversial mosque project, this one involving the conversion of a church.
The group held an “open house” last weekend at the former St. Mark Lutheran Church on 16 ½ Mile Road in Sterling Heights. But a group of Christians who attended said it was unlike any open house they’d experienced.
A realtor was present, along with several Pakistani men dressed in traditional Islamic robes.
“They used the term ‘open house’ because they probably didn’t know what else to call it,” said a local woman who dropped in on the event. “But in retrospect I think they were looking for money. That was their plan, to show the property, explain what they were going to do with it and see if people would donate.”
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she lives two miles from the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in nearby Rochester Hills. Mosques in Oakland and Macomb counties tend to start out small and become very large, she said.
Sterling Heights is unique in that it is home to not only a growing Muslim community but one of the largest concentrations of Chaldean Catholic Christians in the U.S. These Christians fled persecution in Iraq. Word of the open house spread quickly among the Christians when a flyer showing the targeted church started circulating in the area last week.
There is a feeling in the community that the plan to turn the church into a mosque may be connected in some way to the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, about 15 miles away in Rochester Hills. That mosque’s congregants are also mostly Pakistanis who speak Urdu.
Sterling Heights already has two mosques in operation and a third tied up in litigation. The city went through a highly contentious debate in 2015-16 in which a 20,000-square-foot mega-mosque called the American Islamic Community Center, or AICC, was denied a permit by a 9-0 vote of the planning commission. That denial received a standing ovation from an overflow crowd gathered at city hall, but the decision would later be overturned under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department. The DOJ joined local Muslims in a federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination.
The city settled with the Muslims and agreed to allow the construction to start on AICC mosque but then a citizens’ group filed its own lawsuit against the city alleging that it approved the project out of a bias toward Muslims, many of whom would be attending the mosque from outside the city, when the overwhelming majority of city residents opposed the project citing traffic and parking issues. Making things more contentious is the fact that the targeted neighborhood is populated largely by Chaldeans Christians, many of whom escaped Muslim persecution in Iraq.
Several Christian refugees in Sterling Heights were contacted about the church-mosque conversion. They refused to speak on the record, fearing retribution from the Muslims.
In an interview with WDIV-TV last year, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor let it be known unequivocally that, in terms of the AICC lawsuit, he stands on the side of the Muslims. Taylor said the city plans to “defend against it pretty vigorously” and “go after them for sanctions for this very frivolous lawsuit.”
Dick Manasseri, spokesman for Secure Michigan, a citizens’ watchdog organization, said that for any group to try to open another mosque in Sterling Heights before the controversy over the previous one is settled represents “a very bold move” that has raised a lot of eyebrows.
“Why would any church board, knowing about the controversy of the previous mosque plan, decide to open the door to another mosque that’s coming in from the side, unless they are a player in the interfaith movement, which is going on all over Michigan right now,” he said.
The targeted church property sits on 4.8 acres with enough parking for 150 cars. It last changed hands, according to courthouse records, in August 2012 when it was acquired by an entity called God’s Love Overpowers Ministries from Crown of Life Lutheran Church for $375,000. According to the listing agent, the property is now under contract to be sold to the Pakistanis for approximately $440,000 and the transaction is scheduled to close in less than three months. Since there is already a house of worship on the property, no rezoning hearings will be required.
The Muslim community in Sterling Heights is still small, estimated at less than 1,000 people out of a total population of 130,000. But more Muslims are moving in each year, coming up from the area to the south, which includes Dearborn, Hamtramck, Madison Heights and Warren, and from Clinton Township to the east.
Some residents have also noticed a change in the city’s Ethnic Community Committee over the last couple of years. The committee’s biggest event is its annual Cultural Exchange, and that event gets a little bit more Islamic every year, says Tom Mitchell, who has lived in Sterling Heights since 1965. The city’s transformation into a multicultural hub sped up under the direction of Mohammed Alomari, an immigration attorney who was named last year as chairman of the Ethnic Committee.
“I understand the original founders of the Ethnic Committee back in 1990 wanted to help new immigrants assimilate into our American culture and become more informed of their new surroundings and new neighbors,” Mitchell said. “Back then the outreach efforts were for Sterling Heights residents only.”
But that’s no longer the case under Alomari’s leadership, Mitchell said. With Alomari’s approval, the Cultural Exchange welcomes not just ethnic-food vendors and musicians but Islamic propaganda outfits such as the Omar Center for Awareness and Understanding, which is a network of grassroots Islamist activists who hand out free copies of the Quran, copies of Islamic sermons and other religious literature under the guise of promoting “freedom” and “equality” for all people, according to its website, OmarCenter.org.
The group takes its name from the 7th-century caliph Omar, who followed Muhammad and is often referred to by Muslims as “the Great Conqueror.” He earned this nickname for his achievements of defeating the two major powers of his time, the Persians and the Christian-led Roman Empire. Omar is also notorious for instructing his lieutenants to never allow a Christian or Jew to have a position of influence over a Muslim, whether in the military or civilian life. So much for equality.
Another group approved for a booth at the Cultural Exchange this year was the IONA Mosque of neighboring Warren. They gave away Qurans and pamphlets published by Sound Vision, a Chicago-based nonprofit that some say presents a whitewashed view of Islam as a religion of peace.
“Mr. Alomari, as chairman of the Ethnic Committee, approves whatever exhibits get set up at the Cultural Exchange, and now I know why we have all these groups like the Omar Center and IONA Mosque being given access in our citizens, with free Qurans, pamphlets and flyers showing how to contact civil-rights attorneys and immigration attorneys, all written in Arabic,” Mitchell said. “This has nothing to do, anymore, with getting to know your neighbor, this is all propaganda for their movement and the average person in our community has no clue this is going on.”
Manasseri says Michiganders can expect more of this type of deceptive outreach, not just in Sterling Heights but in every corner of the state if Dr. Abdul El-Sayed wins this year’s gubernatorial election. He is running in the Aug. 7 Democrat primary and seeks to become America’s first Muslim governor. While currently lagging in the polls behind front-runner Gretchen Whitmer, Dr. El-Sayed says his people are going door to door and will “shock” the political world on Aug. 7. He promises to make Michigan a sanctuary state, abolish ICE, offer universal healthcare and free college educations to all those whose parents earn less than $150,000.
But there is something more going on in Sterling Heights than just sharing cultural delights, says Dr. Mark Christian, a former Muslim imam born in Cairo, Egypt, who immigrated to the U.S. and converted to Christianity. It’s called dawah in Arabic and it’s the Islamic form of proselytizing, inviting the non-Muslim to faith in Allah.
Church conversions are an important aspect of this process.
Dating back to 1453 and its conquest of the majestic Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Islam considers the takeover of a church to be of great significance.
“It’s considered the ultimate victory,” said Christian, founder of the Nebraska-based Global Faith Institute. “Muhammad said whoever does that is going to go to heaven – it’s a big deal to transfer a church to a mosque. You are taking over a church and replacing blasphemy with the real god, so it’s an ultimate act of civilization jihad [also called cultural jihad], and whoever does this is going to be rewarded. It’s also the ultimate act of dawah.” [See Quran 22:2]
There is a hadith that gives instruction on how to convert a church to a mosque.
“You go in and cleanse it with water, you say ‘Allahu Akbar!’ in the corners, you remove any and all signs and symbols of Christianity, then stand in the highest place in the building and make a call to prayer,” Christian said.
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid cited the above hadith in giving detailed instructions on an Islamic message board to a group of Muslims in Atlanta who, in 1999, wanted to know how to convert a church to a mosque.
Dawah is always done in the context of raising Allah above everything else, Christian said. “He is the master of humanity and that includes government and religious institutions, civic institutions, everything. To make Allah supreme on the earth is their calling.”
Thus, the ultimate goal of dawah has always been, since the days of Muhammad and Omar, the crushing of Christianity.