CAIRO - Finding no space for growing numbers of worshippers, the Muslim community in the industrial city of Hamtramck, Michigan, is facing a strong opposition to expand their Islamic centers to fulfil their religious needs.
"Have you seen a can of sardines?" Masud Khan, secretary of Al-Islah's board, told The Detroit News, describing the mosque during the weekly Friday prayers."This is what we look like here, sardines. That's why we need this new building."
Two Muslim organizations have applied to relocate and remodel Islamic centers in the city to help accommodate the growing numbers of worshippers.
The first application was presented by Al-Islah Islamic Center to relocate a remodeled two-story, 20,000-square-foot building some 20 meters away for their current 3,000-square-foot space.
Muslims say the center needs to expand as its current capacity is only 350 worshippers, giving no room for women to attend prayers.
However, a Muslim application for expansion was rejected by the zoning board, which voted 4-2 last week to deny three variance requests from Al-Islah.
Officials cited the amount of windows in the building's storefront and the location of parking spaces.
But supporters defended the building's proposed design as fitting in with the aesthetic tastes of the city's burgeoning Muslim community.
A second Muslim request by the Abu Bakr Al-Siddique Islamic Center is expected to face the city's planning commission on Wednesday to seek approval to convert a building in the city's industrial zone on the northeast corner of St. Aubin and Faber into a mosque.
Opponents argue that the relocation would cause traffic problems.
"I am so afraid because it is going to be bigger," resident Jolanta Cieslawska, who owns Stan's Market, said.
"For me it is dangerous because if I can't pay the taxes and make money, I'll be done."
Councilman Tom Jankowski said there is an understanding within city government that adjustments would be needed to better accommodate the growing Muslim community.
"I personally am not opposed to a mosque being there," he said.
"The city's population is now nearly 40 percent Muslim. We should be evolving our zoning ordinances to reflect that."
Supporters cite anti-Muslim sentiments as a reason behind the rejection of the mosque expansion.
"This is more than glass and parking spaces, this is Islamaphobia," activist and resident Bill Meyer said.
Khan, Al-Islah secretary, argues that the city officials seem to be driven by the old guard of predominantly Polish constituents.
"This town is mostly Polish people; they feel like this is threatening their comfort zone," Khan said.
The city has been hosting Polish-Americans who settled in this working-class enclave a century ago to work in the area's automotive plants.
Now, they've been replaced by an influx of Muslim immigrants from countries like Bangladesh, Yemen and Bosnia.
The controversy in Hamtramck comes as Muslims in the city are making strides to gain political influence.
In 2004, Al-Islah won a debate over broadcasting Adhan (Islamic call to prayer).
This year, Councilman Mohammed Hassan plans to run for mayor.
"I think next election, if everybody (in the Muslim community) votes, we will see some real changes in City Hall," said Hassan, who estimates there are as many as 3,000 Muslims who would be eligible to vote.
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.
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.
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.