After spending four hours last month and an hour this month watching the Rolling Meadows Planning Commission wrestle with the question of allowing the local mosque – the Islamic Society of the Northwest Suburbs (ISNS) — to expand and then watching them vote against recommending it to the City Council, I’m frustrated.
The mosque is relatively small. 500 cars go in and out at maximum occupancy. They have occupied the same space for 30 years in an M1 — that’s manufacturing — zone. They’ve had their exemption for being there reaffirmed periodically through this time. And they are growing a little. So they want a larger space. And they are not yet ready to look for real estate somewhere else. So they found another empty spot in the same M1 complex. One that would expand their parking and give them some room to grow. Last month there were some questions left — or so it appeared. During the month the ISNS did their homework and returned with the answers to all the questions. They have jumped through every hoop that the planning commission asked. There were a few sticking points — whether to add another driveway right away or wait for an department of transportation recommendation.
What troubled me was that the ISNS responded to every concern and the Commission voted not to recommend the project. N \ow that doesn’t mean that it stops there. It is the City Council that really decides. So all hope is not lost. I understand the City’s desire to preserve their manufacturing zone. But ISNS has been there for 30 years. And there is nothing to prevent them from turning other land into M1 if needed.
I have served on enough committees and boards and councils to know when people are getting lost in the weeds. And they were all lost there last night. To be fair — I believe that there are legitimate fiscal concerns. I may not agree with them — but they are respectable and legitimate. Still they must have known how they would vote. Could they have shared that with the ISNS earlier? Given fair warning? Really made their case? I hope that, today, the community of the ISNS knows that hope is not lost — the real dialogue can happen at the City Council and may yield very different results.
I just wonder if the Planning Commission had any understanding — and I am sure that I have only the vaguest — of how challenging it is to be a Muslim or Muslim American in the USA right now. Overwhelmingly, the Muslim community is like every other mainstream faith community in the USA right now. Quiet, patriotic to this country, practicing a faith that asks for all to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Muslims are particularly humble — as they pray five times a day. And, meantime, because there are acts of overt violence committed by Muslims somewhere — here in this country so seldom — but in conflicts in other nations… the Muslim community here is treated with anxiety, fear, anger, and disrespect.
As someone who grew up Jewish I know how that felt — though, frankly, this is tougher. The children who attend school, the adults taking the train to work, life at home or even in their houses of worship — they must each feel the anger that is directed toward them. Unjustified, undeserved, and unanswerable — because you cannot defend yourself for something you did not do and cannot even imagine doing.
For 30 years this small Muslim community has found a place and made a space in Rolling Meadows where they have demonstrated over and over that they are here for good — and by that I mean they are here to do, to will, and to be good. I wanted the planning commission to affirm their request simply because it is the morally, spiritually, and lovingly right thing to do at this moment in history. I wonder if the Planning Commission, while the final answer does not rest with them, had any understanding that a religious, spiritual, moral moment — a divine invitation — was offered to them. In a society where the common ground is eroding — the ground every one of us needs — they had an invitation to lead with vision and they missed it. They were given a rare opportunity to lead and not to manage –to show kindness, to lead with compassion, and to care for those qualities of life which are intangible — and they missed it.
And, at the same time, I know these members of the commission are only human. I want to be both generous and as kind with them as I wish they would be with others. They know the final answer is not with them. Their primary job is to point up issues that may arise as the City Council votes and they did that. I know that the ISNS can prepare for those issues.
And I know that, going forward, the right path is a path of patience and love. Of listening and understanding. And of retrieving hope every time it seems to be missing. Hope is lost when we give up on it. Inshallah.