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Associated Press
Residents in West Bloomfield, Mich., have pushed back against a school district’s sale of an empty school site for an Islamic Cultural Association.

Detroit-area mosque draws more resistance

– On a prime piece of real estate in suburban Detroit stands a large, vacant elementary school with no vestiges of life – save for a tiny sign that identifies the building as the “future home” of the Islamic Cultural Association.

But the proposal to establish a new mosque and community center has thrust this quiet site into the center of a battle between a prosperous Muslim community and a Christian legal advocacy group that wants to derail the project as part of its goal to confront the “threat of Islam” in the United States.

The effort is “targeting innocent Americans because of their faith and willingness to engage in the community and to contribute,” said the Islamic association’s attorney, Shareef Akeel. “They’re targeting a people simply because of their faith.”

The Islamic association bought the school in West Bloomfield Township last year. Then some residents made a legal bid to have the $1.1 million purchase thrown out over allegations that the deal was somehow corrupt and hidden from the public.

In the process, they gained the support of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. Among other things, the center and residents accuse the school district of negotiating with the association behind closed doors and accepting illegal campaign contributions from an association official.

A judge dismissed the residents’ case, saying the plaintiffs had no standing to file a complaint. They are appealing that decision, and the law center in June called for a grand jury to investigate.

But outside court, the center’s allegations go beyond the purchase of the building. It accuses Islamic organizations in the United States of taking advantage of the American legal system to wage a “stealth jihad” that aims to transform the U.S. into an Islamic nation. The center also alleges that the Islamic association has ties to terrorism because of its links to other Muslim groups.

The confrontation in West Bloomfield and similar clashes have made Detroit “an active front in a kind of culture war,” said Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan anthropologist, author and expert on the city’s Islamic presence.

The Detroit area is home to one of the nation’s largest Islamic communities, with 150,000 to 200,000 Muslims living in the city and its suburbs, many of whom emigrated from the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere.

The Islamic Cultural Association – composed of more than 100 families, including many doctors, lawyers and other professionals – is “threatening to people who see Muslims as alien,” said Shryock, who wrote a book called “Islamophobia/Islamophilia.”

To their critics, the social and economic advancement of Muslims in the Detroit area is seen as “somehow anti-American,” he said.

The clash is another example of the Thomas More center entering a dispute on behalf of Christian groups that attack Islam. The center has also represented Terry Jones, the minister who in 2011 burned a Quran at his Gainesville, Fla., church – an act that led to violent protests in Afghanistan that killed more than a dozen people.

Richard Thompson, the law center’s president and chief counsel, did not return messages left by The Associated Press.