Public Should Not Fear a Mosque, SOPHIA Interfaith Members Say
Leaders from a variety of religious faiths came to the proposed mosque site Saturday to pray and offer support for the project. A city public informational meeting will be held Wednesday, with a formal public hearing on May 7.
Do not be afraid.
That was a common theme among speakers from SOPHIA, a Waukesha County interfaith organization, who traveled Saturday to a proposed Brookfield mosque site to pray and offer support for the project.
About two dozen people stood in the cold, misty rain and learned about the mosque from Mushir Hassan, a Brookfield physician and secretary of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee's executive board.
"We're envisioning a place of peace, harmony and some solitude where were able to have some quiet worship time," Hassan told FOX6 and Patch after the gathering. "(The mosque) will be hopefully a source of comfort for our community and a place to gather but also a potential source for education for the rest of the community."
Hassan said the Islamic Society hopes to win city approval of the project at the Common Council meeting May 15, hold a successful fundraising event May 18, start construction as early as June or later this summer and open the mosque in spring 2013. He told Patch fundraising was about one-third complete, with hopes to reach half the cost after the upcoming fundraiser.
Rev. Jim Stein, a member of SOPHIA’s Religious Leaders Caucus and pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Pewaukee, said the community should not be concerned about a mosque in their midst.
"(We're here) to support our Muslim brothers and sisters in their endeavor to build a house of worship here and to express our friendship with them and to assure the community that there is nothing to fear in their plans for a mosque on this site," Stein said.
Jewish letter of support
Stein read a letter from a Jewish leader not present which said:
"The Jewish community looks forward to formally welcoming our Muslim brothers and sisters to the area, and knows that there will be great opportunities to learn, pray and grow together. All of God's children deserve the chance to worship according to their faith and to live in peace. Our prayers and best wishes are with you."
But fear and skepticism have been raised by some area residents who have questioned whether one Islamic Society member had ties to Hamas and whether the mosque would be connected with terrorists.
Amy Becker, another pastor at Church of the Resurrection, said when she formerly was a pastor on the south side of Milwaukee she often gathered with members from the downtown Milwaukee mosque and learned they had much in common.
Becker said she became friends with Bushra Zaibak of Brookfield, who Becker invited to speak about her Muslim experience to religious confirmation students in Pewaukee.
"One of the things that (the confirmation students) kept saying is that we realized how alike we are," Becker said. "So we need this mosque to be built here so we can have this dialog and this conversation, so we can continue to see how we are a part of the same family."
Rev. Gary Liedtke, pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Waukesha and member of SOPHIA’s Religious Leaders Caucus, said, "We are here because we live in a country which values many expressions of faith. Our government will not only refrain from establishing any expression of faith, but our government will also refrain from limiting the breadth of those expressions.
'Do not be afraid. God is here.'
"Do not be afraid," he urged residents. "God is here. God is at work and God is doing great things. God is blessing those who gather together in worship and in praise. God is blessing those who attempt to order their lives by the law of love."
Hussan said about 100 Muslim families live within five miles of mosque site; about 150 within eight miles. He said the mosque was being built not to attract more Muslims from other states or countries, as some fear, but to meet current demand for a closer worship space.
About 60 to 70 Muslims have been meeting for the past four to five years at Waukesha Memorial Hospital for Friday services. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan 125 to 150 members meet, which Hassan likened to Christmas or Easter Masses drawing higher than usual attendance.
He pointed out the approximately three acres at 16650 and 16730 W. Pheasant Dr. that the Islamic Society of Milwaukee purchased in 2009 and 2010. Pheasant Drive extends east off Calhoun Road, north of North Avenue, between two sets of railroad tracks. The industrially zoned area formerly housed a welding company. Nearby properties include a school bus company and storage unit business.
Traffic concerns addressed
Addressing neighborhood concerns that the 114-maximum mosque worship capacity would cause traffic problems on two-lane Calhoun Road, Hassan said Friday afternoon services would let out about 1:30 p.m., before the school buses on that road head out at 2:05 p.m.
Hassan argued Calhoun Road should be widened. The city says widening won't happen for 10 or more years.
The proposed nearly 13,000-square-foot mosque will be large enough to serve the current 60 to 70 current worshippers, Hassan said. "Should we grow before Calhoun expands, we certainly are open to a right turn out (only) at the end of the street for our services the way they do at Wisconsin Hills Middle School. So we have other options to potentially alleviate any traffic issue," he said.
He noted there was a bike path running along Pheasant Drive that connects to Wirth Park.
"So we hopefully will have a green mosque," Hassan said. "We're pretty excited about that.... We have the early morning prayer is Fajr. So we've already talking about Fajr fitness, coming over here to pray and then getting a bike ride going."
The building would be on the northwest quadrant of the site, he said, with parking in front. The site could hold about 130 parking spaces.
The city will hold a public informational meeting on the mosque request at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Courtroom of the Public Safety Building at 2100 N. Calhoun Rd. Residents can comment on the proposal at a public hearing at 6 p.m. May 7 in the Common Council chambers at City Hall, 2000 N. Calhoun Rd.
- For more on the mosque, see Patch's past stories.