Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

July 19, 2000

Source: National Public Radio

On July 19, 2000, National Public Radio aired a story entitled "Chicago Suburb Wrestles with Racist Overtones of City Council." The mayor of Palos Heights vetoed the $200,000 offer by the city council, calling it "an insult to Muslims and fiscally irresponsible for the city." Yet the Al Salam Mosque Foundation unexpectedly accepted the city's buyout. Speaking at a press conference, the foundation's attorney, Rouhy Shalabi, said "deciding to accept the money and walk away was a tough decision, but his clients did not want to be in a place where they were unwanted." Shalabi thinks that it is impossible for the mosque to be comfortable in Palos Heights after the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment expressed both by the city and by their possible neighbors. In fact, he says, "the mosque foundation has received written threats telling them to go away or else." Not everyone in the Palos Heights Muslim community supported the cash offer. Omar Najeeb, president of the Arab Antidiscrimination League, said, "Shame on you. You should never accept that offer. You have to hold your dignity, and you have to tell the people here that either you let us in--we have a contract, we have to be here--or walk out with dignity, with honor. We are not for sale."