When Wade Page stepped into the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Aug. 5 and opened fire on unsuspecting worshippers, area Sikhs weren't the only ones who felt their security shattered.
The shooting also struck close to home for local Muslims, especially with the Islamic Society of Milwaukee preparing to build a new mosque in Brookfield, said Brookfield resident Mushir Hassan, secretary on the society's board of directors.
"We were definitely shaken as a community," Hassan said. "We are friends with Sikhs and first of all, we cry for what they are going through.
"Secondly, the xenophobia and harsh rhetoric we've seen makes us concerned from a security standpoint."
Organizers of the mosque project, located at 16650 and 16730 W. Pheasant Dr., faced opposition from some Brookfield and area residents on religious grounds. Although city officials continually said religion was a non-issue for approving the mosque and many residents stuck to concerns like traffic and noise, others plainly said they feared the presence of Islam in their community.
Hassan, who has represented the Islamic Society of Milwaukee on the mosque development, said those kinds of remarks make him question the safety of the project.
"Yes, we're concerned about our security," Hassan said. "Yes, we're concerned during the construction about the security of the mosque. The day after the Sikh shooting, a mosque in Missouri was burned to the ground. We have to take steps to say this is not right."
At a local anti-Islam rally in April, residents voiced concerns that the mosque would be a step toward establishing sharia law, or even breeding terrorism.
Hassan has tried to assuage these concerns with public talks explaining the role of sharia law and the tenets of Islam, but he acknowledges that he can't reach everyone — especially someone who might turn to violence.
"Unfortunately, that degree of hatred is very difficult to overcome," he said. "Our job as Americans is to put down people espousing fear. We have to balance concerns of freedom of speech and not spreading hatred."
Project Continues with Community Support
Despite the occasional opponent, Hassan said Brookfield residents have been overwhelmingly supportive of the project.
"The vast majority have just been so happy and proud that our community is able to approve this because it reflects so well on the community and its appreciation for diversity," Hassan said.
In one fundraising dinner, Hassan said the Islamic Society of Milwaukee raised $700,000 for the mosque project, with some money coming from non-Muslims. Planning to fundraise the entire cost of the project, Hassan said they hope to raise about $1 million more in donations over the next 18 months.
"People were very happy to see that the city had approved the process," Hassan said. "Once we had Common Council approval people were very excited and very generous."
The group is finalizing its building permit and bidding contractors, looking to break ground in September and open in late spring or early summer of 2013.
- For more information on the mosque, see Patch's previous stories