Fears that a mosque would bring religious extremists, and even ties to terrorism, surfaced Tuesday when leaders of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee arrived at an Eagle Forum meeting meant to rally Brookfield residents against the proposal.
After the president and executive director of the society introduced themselves, the meeting at the Brookfield Library turned to debate, focused first on traffic concerns, but soon moving to attacks on the religion of Islam.
"My fear is what is being taught there," said a woman who did not want to give her name.
"Our God is not your God," one man said.
"What is it about your religion that draws so much extremism and hatred?" another asked.
Islamic Society of Milwaukee President Ahmad Quereshi and Executive Director Othman Atta answered their questions, alongside three members of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network.
"You are our brothers and sisters of humanity," Quereshi said. "We are not the people advocating for hatred and violence. We're here as American citizens."
About 40 people showed up for the meeting, which forced the group outside into a standing circle where Janet Spiewak, president of the Eagle Forum of Wisconsin, first addressed them.
She advised the group to leave religion out of their arguments and focus on the construction of the building and traffic it would bring. Aldermen also have warned opponents to stick to non-religious concerns.
"We're not fighting against a religion," Spiewak said. "Concentrate on the traffic and zoning issues."
The Eagle Forum of Wisconsin's website includes as part of its mission: "We must also be vigilant against external threats from rogue nations and radical Islamists."
Spiewak urged those present to voice their concerns to their aldermen.
"Make yourselves heard," she said. "You have 14 aldermen and a mayor who want to slip something past."
The Islamic Society of Milwaukee already owns the land at 16650 and 16730 W. Pheasant Dr., which is northeast of the intersection of Calhoun Road and North Avenue. But they still have several hurdles to pass before moving forward.
After a public hearing tentatively scheduled for May 7, the plans will go before the Plan Commission for discussion and possible action on a required conditional use permit. If approved there, it will go to the full Common Council.
Brookfield resident Carole Wegner said she came to the meeting to learn more about the Islamic Society's proposed mosque, which would be located near her Calhoun Drive home, and especially how much traffic it would bring.
"This is not because it's a mosque," Wegner said. "My concern is that this is already a done deal, and I want to be part of the process."
However, as the debate carried on for more than an hour, concerns about Islam and terrorism dominated the exchanges.
Audrey Hilgendorf, a Brookfield resident, asked about allegations that the Islamic Society of Milwaukee's religious director, Zulifiqar Ali Shah, has been linked to terrorist organizations.
Quereshi said Ali Shah was doing fundraising for Kind Hearts' earthquake relief work in Pakistan, but quit after the organization was accused of having ties to terrorism.
"We are against any kind of extremism," Quereshi said.
Quereshi and Atta encouraged anyone with concerns to tour the Islamic Society in Milwaukee. With requests from those present, Quereshi said they also may drop off copies of the Quran translation they follow to area churches, and hold an open forum for anyone to ask questions about the project and their beliefs.
More information about the Islamic Society and their plans for Brookfield can be found on their website.