Kennedy defends Illinois Muslims in opening mosque

Kennedy defends Illinois Muslims in opening mosque
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Kennedy defends Illinois Muslims in opening mosque

Christopher Kennedy, the candidate for Illinois Governor in the March 2018 Democratic primary and the son of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, this week denounced plans to block the opening of a mosque in a suburb of Chicago.

By Ray Hanania

Christopher Kennedy is someone who puts principle ahead of popularity.

A candidate for governor in the Illinois Democratic Primary contest in March 20, 2018, Kennedy has issued a statement calling on citizens to support a group of Muslims who are seeking to open a mosque in Plainfield, a west suburb of Chicago.

The letter was sent on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, an important day for Muslims, the Eid al Adha, or the celebration of the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” one of Islam’s most important religious holidays.

The Islamic Foundation, a Muslim group based in Plainfield, Illinois, has been refused a zoning permit from Plainfield to open a mosque there.

Last May, the Islamic Foundation of the Southwest Suburbs purchased for $580,000 the Montessori school. They were planning to move their existing religious center to the new property, but last week the Plainfield Village Board refused to approve the zoning request.

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Christopher Kennedy addresses the Arab American Democratic Club brunch March 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Steve Neuhaus

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Christopher Kennedy addresses the Arab American Democratic Club brunch March 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Steve Neuhaus

Plainfield’s Mayor Michael Collins has said he supports the mosque but has questions about traffic it might cause. Traditionally, because there are so few mosques in the Chicagoland area and more than 600,000 Muslims, mosques attract large congregations during prayer services on Friday afternoons and on Islamic holidays.

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The Plainfield board voted 3 to 3, a tie that prevented the zoning’s approval.

It’s hard not to believe the zoning vote was not driven by bigotry and racism against Muslims considering that before the building was used as a Montessori school, the property was used as a Christian church.

Kennedy called on Plainfield to reconsider its opposition and approve the mosque plan. The Chicagoland area has hundreds if no thousands of Christian churches and many synagogues, but there only a few dozen mosques to serve the growing Muslim community.

Prayer Center of Orland Park, Mosque

In urging the zoning approval, Kennedy noted the struggle of Muslims to open a mosque in Palos Heights. In 2000, the City of Palos Heights voted to block the opening of a mosque at a former church that had been closed for several years. The property had been abandoned, until the Muslims sought to buy it an open a Mosque.

At the time, Palos Heights Mayor Dean Koldenhoven urged the approval of the mosque. In his first election on April 1, 1997, Koldenhoven had won election with more than 2,600 votes, a large number for a Chicago suburban city with a population of under 13,000 people.

But after the mosque controversy in which hundreds of Palos Heights residents came out to demand a rejection of the mosque, Koldenhoven was defeated in the 2001 election by a landslide margin and the mosque was the primary campaign issue. Combined, his two challengers, Julie Corsi and Robert Straz received more than 4,000 votes with Straz winning with 2,803 votes (60.4 percent of the votes cast). Koldenhoven received 590 votes, or 12.7 percent.

I remember covering the mosque controversy and the election. It was ugly. The racist complaints from residents prompted many pundits to label Palos Heights as “Palos Hates.”

Several years later in 2004, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a mosque plan in nearby Orland Park received the same level of community anger with more than 600 residents and regional leaders denouncing the plan and urging the Orland Park Village Board to intervene and block the mosque.

I videotaped and produced a documentary on the Orland Park mosque controversy called “Eyes of the Beholder.” You can view Part 1 by clicking here and Part 2 by clicking here.

Click here to watch an interview with Koldenhoven or use the widget below to watch the interview.

I am not Muslim. I am a Christian Arab. I covered Chicago City Hall for nearly 18 years, from “Daley until Daley.”

Through the 1980s, the Chicago City Council repeatedly blocked zoning applications to open mosques inside the city of Chicago’s city limits. Mosques were built first in Bridgeview, Illinois and later in Northbrook. Several other mosques have opened since, all int he suburbs.

Muslims were forced to pray inside banquet halls and storefronts. There was a small 2nd floor mosque in a trading company on Ashland Avenue that I covered in 1976.

Things changed under Mayor Richard M. Daley and under Mayor Harold Washington. Both mayors helped support the empowerment of Arabs in Chicago giving them roles in their governments and creating an Arab Advisory Commission.

Only Mayor Rahm Emanuel has blocked Arab American empowerment, scuttling the Arabesque Festival in his first act as Mayor after his election, and dissolving the Arab Advisory Commission, all at the behest of pro-Israel activists in Chicago.

Emanuel has refused repeated requests by this writer to discuss the issues, although he has worked with Muslims — mostly non-Arab Muslims — to give them jobs and access to his government.

Emanuel declined to appear at the forum hosted by the Arab Democratic Club of Chicago led by American Arab activist Samir Khalil. But Kennedy and other candidates appeared and spoke strongly about supporting not only Muslims but Arab rights, too.

As a veteran who served during the Vietnam War, I am proud to see Kennedy do the same. Kennedy spoke at the forum and has shown that principle means more than politics.

Here is the letter Kennedy sent out Friday:

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was once awarded to an Illinois politician. That may shock people who have followed Illinois politics for the last few years but it’s true.

In 2000, Muslim community leaders wanted to build a mosque in Palos Heights, Illinois. The town would not give them permission. But Palos Heights Mayor, Dean Koldenhoven, went out on a limb and he worked to make sure that they were able to build their mosque.

He lost his next election. He knew he would. Yet, he did the right thing. He was awarded the Profile in Courage Award and he was recognized internationally because he sacrificed his own career as a politician for what he believed was the right thing to do under the United States Constitution.

Many of us say that we would do the right thing in the face of a difficult circumstance, but few of us ever get the chance to prove ourselves. This is our opportunity to prove ourselves.

Seventeen years later, we are seeing this same situation unfold.

This is our opportunity to prove ourselves.

The Islamic Foundation of Southwest Suburbs wants to open a mosque in Plainfield. They were denied a zoning permit for their place of worship.

Today, on the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, more commonly known as the “Feast of the Sacrifice”, it’s important that we remember that religious freedom is a constitutional right and elected officials are responsible for protecting it – not oppressing it.

This is our moment to stand together for religious freedom, and stand up for our Muslim neighbors. Stand in solidarity with the Islamic Foundation of Southwest Suburbs.

We need to emulate leaders like Mayor Koldenhoven, who stood up for what is right.

Thank you,
Chris

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rayhanania

rayhanania

Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com

Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com www.arabnews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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