CAIRO - Amid opposition to building Muslim worship places, Muslims in the US city of DeKalb, Illinois, are struggling to get official permission to build a mosque to serve their community, assuring neighbors and officials on the true nature of the Islamic faith.
"Don't look at me just as a Muslim, look at me as an American," Mohammed Labadi, a businessman and Islamic Society board member, told USA Today.
It's time, he says, "to take the unfortunate stereotypes about Muslims out of the picture."
Like hundreds of fellow Muslims in Illinois, Labadi is waiting for a vote by the city council's members on Tuesday, May 29, on the request from the Islamic Society of Northern Illinois University to build a two-story mosque.
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The mosque plan was unanimously approved by the zoning commission.
Yet, a growing animosity against Muslims and their worship places that followed the 9/11 attacks was threatening their dreams.
In the last five years, there has been "anti-mosque activity" in more than half of the US states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The US has enacted a federal law in 2000 that meant to prevent zoning laws from discriminating against religious institutions.
But DuPage County, Illinois, and the city of Lomita, California, were both facing complains for "unlawful conduct and discriminatory practices," said Kevin Vodak, litigation director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.
At least 18 mosque projects from Mississippi to Wisconsin have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.
Muslim leaders see the increasing sentiments against mosques as a direct result of misunderstanding and misinformation about the true nature of Islam.
The level of knowledge about Muslims is pretty abysmal," Othman Atta, the Islamic Society's executive director, said.
"People, if they don't understand something, they tend to fear it."
Ebrahim Moosa, a Duke University professor of religion and Islamic studies, is worried that discrimination against Muslims is growing.
"Opposition to mosques," he says, "is not a misunderstanding, because reasonable people can talk and mutually educate."
Though many mosque opponents raise concerns about traffic and parking, Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's freedom of religion program, says they can be "sham arguments" that mask anti-Muslim sentiment.
"I hope that eventually there will be greater acceptance for all faiths, including Islam," Mach says.
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.
A report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender said that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.A recent Gallup poll had found that 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least a little prejudice against Muslims.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net