Judge Rules in Favor of Iran-Linked Mosque in IL

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The Irshad Islamic Center (ILC), established in 2000 in greater Chicago, has finished a three-year struggle where the DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals twice voted against approving the tranformation of a private house into a mosque in Naperville. A judge reversed the decision, approving the use of a building purchased by the organization. Clarion Project has learned that the ILC has received funding from the Alavi Foundation, which has been accused of being an Iranian government front.

In 2009, federal prosecutors accused the Iranian government of using the Alavi Foundation to channel funds to its Bank Melli, an institution subject to international sanctions because of its links to Iran’s nuclear program.  Its president, Farshid Jahedi, was indicted for destroying evidence needed by a grand jury. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office investigations chief, Adam Kaufmann, said, “We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation.”

The Alavi Foundation’s website lists the ILC as a recipient of its financial aid program. The ILC is Shiite, the branch of Islam practiced in Iran, and has a Saturday school for grades one through eight. The center describes itself as a non-profit Islamic learning center geared toward youth and the community, that has the intention of holding cultural events and services for special occasions, Islamic teachings and programsand the promoting of respect and tolerance in the community. 

IRS documents show that it was given $450,000 in 2007 and the chairman, Mahmood Ghassemi, said it is paying back another $300,000 loan. Although Ghassemi says the ILC received the contribution when the Alavi Foundation wasn’t under investigation, the probe began in 2003 at the latest.

Hamid Azimi, communications director for the Iranian-American Community of Northern California, described the Alavi Foundation as part of the Iranian regime’s “propaganda machine.” Indeed, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials believe the Foundation is used to obtain sensitive technology, information on Iranian-Americans and “promotes Tehran’s views on world affairs.”

The Foundation has financed sympathetic professors and its website shows it supported at least three other pro-Iran mosques: The Shia Association of Bay Area, Masjid al-Islam in Washington, D.C., and the Hejrat Foundation in California.

Ghassemi said the Alavi Foundation investigation has “nothing to do with us” and accused the ILC’s opponents of having an anti-Muslim agenda.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the ILC. CAIR was designated by the federal government in 2007 as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood front whose leaders were found guilty of financing Hamas. The government included CAIR on a list of U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities that made up its secret Palestine Committee.

The Irshad Learning Center purchased a single-family home on the outskirts of Vaperville, Illinois, near Chicago, and wanted to use it to serve as its center and as a private school. However, in a 10-7 decision, the DuPage county board denied the application after some neighbours complained that the center would cause their property values would go down.

The founders of ILC went to court and sued the county board on grounds of religious discrimination. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled against the DuPage County board’s decision and said that the board wrongfully denied Irshad its application. She called the board’s denial of the application "arbitrary and capricious."

Though Judge  Pallmeyer did not find that the board deliberately discriminated against Irshad, she did reverse the board’s decision largely because the county did not even set up conditions under which the learning center could be opened, and also because it based the denial mainly on speculation about reduced property values and other complaints from citizens’ groups.

Even though Judge Pallmeyer said there had been no obvious discrimination, she pointed to the records showing that some citizens' groups had remarked in a discriminatory fashion on the issue, and one had asked if there would be animal sacrifices at the location. Pallmeyer also said she found no evidence to support concerns aired by neighbors of the site that the center, formerly home to a preschool, would reduce their property values and create problems with congestion and traffic.

Irshad board member, Mahmood Ghassemi, said he was "delighted to hear" of the judge's ruling. "Hopefully, this is the end of our struggle in terms of having our own permanent place," he said.

The DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office, which defended the case, did not comment on Pallmeyer’s ruling. Spokesman Paul Darrah, who noted that the decision was "lengthy," said officials would have something to say about it later on, after they have had an opportunity to look it over.

Irshad was represented by a team of lawyers headed by Kevin Vodak, litigation director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). One of the lawyers in the group said that he is delighted with a ruling by the federal judge, who sided with the suburban Islamic religious center’s right to open, and ruled against DuPage County.

"In other words, we couldn’t necessarily prove that Irshad was treated differently because it’s a Muslim institution. But at the same time, federal laws require that the government properly justify its denial," said Vodak. "And here, the records show that there really was not a proper justification."

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org