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Dearborn mosque hosts open house after threat

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Though only about 42 seconds, the voicemail left at the American Moslem Society last weekend was unforgettable to its longtime members.

An unidentified caller to the Dearborn mosque first disparaged Muhammad, who Muslims believe is Islam’s last prophet, then referred to followers as “agents of Satan” primed “to be eradicated,” according to the recording city police played for media this week. It also referenced new U.S. President Donald Trump — who spoke about the religion and extremism during his campaign — then ended with what attendees interpreted as a threat. “Everything is gonna change and all the children — all the Muslim children that you have now — you should worry about their future,” the man said.

Alarmed, AMS officials soon alerted authorities.

“I’ve been at this mosque maybe 10 years and I haven’t received a message like that,” Board President Mahdi Ali said Friday. “It was a mix of sadness, because we still have people that don’t understand that we are peaceful people part of this country, and of anger because we did not expect to hear threats like this.”

Concern and a desire to end divides, inspired mosque leaders to schedule a “Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors” open house from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the site.

“While Islamophobia is not a surprise in today’s socio-political climate, we are concerned not only for our community but for many who seem to be unnecessarily scared of Muslims,” members wrote in an advisory. “Thus, we invite members of the community, of all faiths and backgrounds, to come join us. ... This will be an opportunity to learn about Islam and Muslims, meet new friends, and renew the bonds of solidarity that have made the local community strong for decades.”

Attendees will have the chance to meet with mosque members, read about Islam and observe midday prayers.

“We want all types of people to come and learn about Muslims and Islam,” Ali said.

His mosque, which welcomes as many as 2,000 visitors during Friday services, was launched in 1938 and is considered the state’s oldest, according to the website.

Members have coordinated open houses before and as recently as last year. The latest was planned before last Sunday’s anonymous call, Ali said, but has become even more relevant in light of recent events affecting Muslims in Metro Detroit and across North America.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported what it calls “an unprecedented spike in hate incidents targeting Muslims and other minority groups” since the Nov. 8 presidential election. The group has found mosques facing targeting — including one in Florida that was burned this week.

This month, Metro Detroiters also commemorated the six worshipers fatally shot at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre during evening prayers in late January.

“We thought we would not leave any chance for that in the future,” Ali said of members reporting the threatening phone message.

During a press conference Thursday, Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad pledged to find and arrest the caller behind the message he decried as “totally unacceptable and malicious.”

Dawud Walid, executive director at CAIR’s Michigan chapter, called on the FBI “to use their full resources to investigate the phone threat against the mosque as a possible federal hate crime.”

The incident has left some AMS congregants nervous, Ali said. But as imams told them this week: “This has prompted us to work harder to outreach to those people who are still ignorant of Muslims and Islam. Hopefully that will change their perceptions.”

American Moslem Society Open House

When: 10-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: 9945 W. Vernor Hwy, Dearborn

For information: (313) 849-2147