Sterling Heights denies it discriminated against mosque

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Sterling Heights — City officials have denied accusations that they discriminated against Muslims when officials rejected a proposal from the American Islamic Community Center to build a mosque.

In a statement released Monday, the city said its planning commission’s decision to deny the center was based on “established land use criteria and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant.”

The American Islamic Community Center filed a lawsuit against Sterling Heights last week alleging the city violated federal laws that protect individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and land-marking law.

Attorney Azzam Elder said in the lawsuit the center’s site plan met all the requirements to build a mosque on 15 Mile between Ryan and Mound but was met with a hostile public and a “racist” member of the planning commission.

City officials argue Sterling Heights is an inclusive community and welcomes diversity through its many programs and events.

The city said this is reflected through two mosques, a Sikh Temple, Buddhist Temple and a BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

“For many years, the city has been known in Metro Detroit as a premier community — in large part because of its diverse population representing a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and race,” the statement said.

Members of the American Islamic Community Center said they were looking to build a larger facility because the mosque had outgrown its building on Dequindre in Madison Heights.

Most of the mosque’s members live in Sterling Heights.

“I feel that we got discriminated against because we are Muslim,” member Khalil Abbass said last week. “We just want a bigger place in a nice community like Sterling Heights.”

Federal officials say the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney's Office are conducting an independent investigation into the matter.

City officials said in Monday’s statement that they continue to be interested in collaborating with the American Islamic Community Center.