The sale of the former Eagle Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township continues to be a contentious issue following a Tuesday meeting of the West Bloomfield Planning Commission.
Citing “inappropriate questioning” by a West Bloomfield Trustee during the meeting, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan contacted the Department of Justice on Wednesday.
Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI, said the sentiment at the meeting matched the sentiment displayed when the school was initially sold to the Islamic Cultural Association.
“I witnessed the tension in the air and the amount of Islamophobic comments that were made (when the school was sold by Farmington Public Schools in November),” Walid said.
“(Tuesday’s) meeting in West Bloomfield basically rehashed a lot of the sentiment I saw in Farmington.”
Walid referenced a specific quote, which he read in a Farmington Patch story about the meeting.
Trustee Jim Manna was quoted as saying: “With all due respect, when we look at the world, we’ve got every right to ask these questions. It’s an emotional issue, where the money is coming from.”
Walid, who was not in attendance at the meeting, said others who were in attendance informed him of what happened. ICA members were also questioned about possible terrorism connections and whether their funding was legal, Walid said.
“(The ICA was asked) not just about their religious services, but also if they get money in particular from Saudi Arabia, which they don’t. That’s none of the zoning board’s business about their religious practice and beliefs or even if they get legal money from overseas.”
Manna said Wednesday that his questions were not inappropriate.
“It’s my job and duty to protect the citizens of West Bloomfield Township, to do whatever we feel is reasonable, and I think the questions were reasonable,” he said Wednesday.
“The wonderful part of our country is we come here and have religious freedom and are able to live together, whether we’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim,” said Manna, who is Chaldean and was born in Iraq.
“We also have to be prudent and protect our citizens.”
Manna said the commission asks the same financing questions of anyone developing in the township.
“CAIR probably didn’t do their homework to realize I was born in Iraq,” he said.
“It’s not a loaded question. However, we do make sure that organizations or developers are able to start and finish a development.”
As for the questions about Saudi Arabia, Manna said the country is “pushing and funding mosques throughout the world.”
“It is a mosque,” he said of the cultural center. “It is partly a mosque. We have every right to question what’s going to happen there, what’s going to go on there.”
Walid said no official action was taken Wednesday, but a lawsuit could be forthcoming, depending on the vote. The issue was tabled by the commission during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We will be watching this case closely,” he said.
“The ICA is not being legally represented by CAIR Michigan. However, we view the Michigan Muslim community as our constituents in general. Any time we see anti-Muslim defamation rearing its ugly head, we are obligated to challenge it.”
Shereef Akeel does represent ICA. He said diversity is the “fabric of America.”
“The face of America is so diverse, and that’s what makes our nation the greatest nation, because we’re tolerant of one another, and the Constitution is there to ensure this tolerance where other faiths can be practiced.”
The sale will benefit the community in multiple ways, Akeel said.
“Let’s not forget the big picture,” he said.
“(ICA) bought a building that was designated for demolition and are going to give taxpayers over $1.1 million. It enhances the community and increases diversity. They’re doctors and professional people that simply want to enrich the county, and it’s unfortunate that they’re facing this.
“If it wasn’t Muslim Americans behind the purchase, I don’t think you would get this type of scrutiny and reaction, and that’s the concern here.”
He said fearful rhetoric can lead to disaster, such as the recent Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin.
“People should be mindful that their conduct could encourage behavior like this,” Akeel said.
“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t forget our values as Americans and what makes us the country we are.”
Contact staff writer Dave Phillips at 248-745-4631 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dave_phillips1.