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Posted on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

American-Islamic council: Pittsfield Township's blocking of Islamic school is 'neo-Jim Crow'

By Danielle Arndt

The Michigan Islamic Academy hopes a lawsuit filed in federal district court Wednesday will result in a judge dismissing the decision of the Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees to deny rezoning for a new school.

Lena Masri, attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a partner in the lawsuit, said the court could rule in favor of the school and allow construction to go forward.

MIA would like to build a 360-student school on about 26.7 acres of land at the intersection of Golfside Drive and Ellsworth Road.


Tarek Nahlawi

Tom Perkins | For

According to school officials, MIA purchased the land in September 2010 for $260,000 at a foreclosure auction.

Tarek Nahlawi, a board member for the private school, said Pittsfield’s actions have imposed a substantial burden on the school community and that the new school is necessary to provide proper instruction to its students.

He said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon that MIA, which houses students in preschool through 12th grade, is in dire need. He said the school has an inadequate library and no gym or lunchroom at its current location at 2301 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor.

The lawsuit further states trailers parked behind the school are being used to help ease the problem of overcrowded classrooms.

Nahlawi also noted MIA looked at the geographical locations of eight schools around that location. He said the schools are built in residential areas, among communities.

“Our students, our children are the ones losing in all of this,” Nahlawi said. “They have a dream of a school with more room. … MIA once had a dream … but the township has made it a nightmare.”

The lawsuit claims MIA representatives met with Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal prior to purchasing the land to express their intent to build a school and an Islamic community center at the site.

It says, “During the meeting with Ms. Grewal, Ms. Grewal gave assurances that so long as MIA follows the proper procedures to rezone the subject property, MIA should not have any problems gaining approval to rezone the subject property.”

The lawsuit also alleges the township violated the federal Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act (RILUPA) as well as the first and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.

It says Pittsfield “has not identified any compelling government interest for denying MIA’s application” and has unlawfully “implemented a land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden upon the rights of MIA and its students to the free exercise of religion by means that township officials themselves recognize are not the least restrictive means available.” It claims these actions are “religious discrimination.”

Grewal and other township officials did not return messages left by Wednesday seeking comment. In the past, township officials said their opposition was based on safety and traffic concerns and had nothing to do with the request being for an Islamic school.

The lawsuit further claims MIA tried to address every concern the township brought before them — including traffic, visual screening, parking lot lights and noise — but was still met with opposition.

Nahlawi said MIA offered to construct one building instead of two on the property, attempted to work with the township on a landscape plan to block the campus from view and even offered to build a row of homes to provide further visual screening from neighbors.

Masri added MIA also went above and beyond to provide proof that the school would not cause traffic issues in the area. She said MIA conducted traffic studies at four intersections and two miles of road on Ellsworth. It also did a traffic study at its current location in Ann Arbor, all of which were accepted by the Washtenaw County Road Commission, she said.

She said the township’s reasons for denying the rezoning request have been “fabricated.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR, said the arguments that the school will cause neighboring property values to drop and traffic issues to increase are the “same old, tired, bigoted arguments that have been made in the past.” He said CAIR has a compelling interest to stand up against what it sees as a growing trend to block zoning for Islamic institutions.

“This will set a dangerous precedent if the community is allowed to block the construction of this school. … It is neo-Jim Crow in a sense,” Walid said. “We hope and pray to God we are successful in this lawsuit because for us to fall short would set a very bad precedent for this area.”

The township will have 21 days from the day it is served to respond to the lawsuit by filing an answer in federal district court.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Go on with you.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:51 a.m.

Seems to me that if I paid $260,000 for some property that I would have done my homework to see what I could build on it in stead of trying to force a township to change the zoning. I can't buy a piece of commercial property and build a house on it, Nor would I want to. It also seems to me that the zoning denial doesn't have anything to do with religion. Ask the people over in Silverleaf and the surrounding residential areas would they want a Walmart, strip mall, a church or any other type of school built in their backyard. A lot of people use these establishments but wouldn't want them right next door. I would think that most residence would have a problem with that. It would be one thing if the school was there first and the residence decided to build houses around it but it's another thing to build commercial property in a residential area. Sale the property (for a profit maybe) and find some commercial property in another area where it would be better for everyone.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

Sorryk they should have known the zoning before they bought the land at a forclosure auction. They probably did and planned a lawsuit from the beginning. Play the race/religion card.I hope they lose and we can stop the old "woe is me " lawsuits.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

NIMBY! I guess if the school was being built somewhere else people wouldn't care. "Just don't build it where I live". Anytime you have a group of minorities get organized, ANY MINORITY, people become uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if it is a school, a social club, a hair salon, a restaurant, whatever. The common denominator is MINORITY. Get over yourselves. You are uncomfortable because this is a group minorities coming to your area. Makes you scared! Your kids might actually have to interact with them, and may end up liking them and GOD FORBID they end up........ Yeah, thats right. Your kids may end up respecting them.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

what a closed-minded, knee jerk ( and pollyanna-ish) reply, given recent history.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

i hope pittsfield twp does take this to court. then when they win it will all die down. i am hearing the race card all the time. this is zoning problem. making it sound like something else. if you are not wanted due to laws find some place else.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

Read Muslim Mafia to find out what CAIR is all about


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

religion and education are like oil and water.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

My comment is in regard to traffic issues. I understand where the neighborhoods concerns come from. My daughter went to a charter school. Hello! folks, there is no bussing for most of these schools. There is some carpooling, but for the most part each child (360) will be driven to school and picked up from school. Unless these school could come to some kind of agreement about starting and ending of the school day, which I doubt either will, please consider another location. So yes this area will be a nightmare with two charter school within sight of each other. This statememt is not about race or religon. Plesase don't read between the line because there is nothing there.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:30 a.m.

Why do the Ann Arbor Muslims want to make the same mistakes they made when they built the Mosque on North Campus? They were told not to build THAT there either. They need a large piece of land that drains well and will still drain well with a large building on it. Then there has to be adequate traffic flow, especially just before and after school, with the existing roads and the expectation that the present traffic will increase. Thank the glaciers for this but you can't just put more road anywhere you want. Also the vicinity has to be safe for walking and probably biking. It might be necessary to buy land that is already developed and do a teardown to get what is needed. The land I saw on television had cattails on it. Makes me think the zoning people know what they are talking about.

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:02 a.m.

"Besides, has anyone looked at the make-up of this township board?" The board is an ethnically diverse group, I give them credit for that. But there no hot debate or diversity of opinion. Ever. You might think this would be an issue that would have generated some support from at least one member of the administration, board of trustees, planning commission, or zoning board of appeals.

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 6:47 a.m.

Split votes on the BOT are less common than 16-minute meetings.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 4:31 a.m.

Do you actually believe the items you espouse? Ever attended a board meeting or planning commission meeting to see the debates? Clearly not in last few years if you make statements like that. Hint: look at the planning comm minutes to see the split vote on this item. But you already knew that, right? At least this board sides with residents after listening to their concerns. We residents respect that and will remember it.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:52 a.m.

I will simply repeat another post on a related thread , so no moderation issue should be involved: The homebase of this school ( on Plymouth road) employs a charter member of the local longtime synagogue stalking group ( who happens to be a convert to islam ) and is pictured in his harassment in the Washtenaw Jewish news , Feb 2010, p9. More recently he appeared there on a Jewish holiday dressed as santa claus, with the usual defamatory signage of that group. That "roadman"--- a regular ally of the harassers ( in various iterations on various sites)--- is so forcefully defending this lawsuit is to me another reason Pittsfield, for whatever reason, ultimately is better served by the schools absence . And i say this as a one time "islamophile" ( and one quite well schooled in related matters) whose current views were arrived at reluctantly and are not held happily.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:18 a.m.

Sorry but I'm not buying it. These guys seem too quick to create whatever angle they want to make it fit. Running to every newspaper and TV station to file a lawsuit tells me they need more help than just the facts. This township board has approved TWO mosques already and there is another Islamic school on Platt Road. No way that jives with a "Jim Crow" board. Besides, has anyone looked at the make-up of this township board? Please. Using Jim Crow as a media pitch is VERY DISRESPECTFUL to all other minorities. MIA needs to issue an apology pronto. They've lost my respect already.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

A couple years ago Ave Maria University was denied zoning approval by Ann Arbor Township to build a larger campus. But of course, that was not anti-Catholic. Ann Arbor City Council denies a sausage company zoning approval to expand. Hmmm...what's a major ingredient in sausage? That's right...pork. And what religion cannot eat pork? That's right...Islam. So a sausage factory that produces a food that Muslims are not allowed to eat is not allowed to expand but Muslims are trying to get a zoning change in Pittsfield Township to build a school. Citizens should send their complaints over perceived Jim Crow practices by phone, letter, or e-mail correspondence to the Ann Arbor City Council. <a href=""></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

Citizens should send their complaints over perceived Jim Crow practices by phone, letter, or e-mail correspondence to the township board. Hopefully, this will be an impetus toward resolution in lieu of hundreds of thousands in projected attorney fees. By the way, here is a link to an answer to the never-ending question &quot;Who was Jim Crow?&quot;: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

I wonder why the &quot;Religion&quot; is so important to this case as oppose to the law? It sounds like the Pittsfield Township people hate Muslims as opposed to maybe trying to stick with their Master Zoning Plan. Anyways, its sure makes good press to have the poor down trotten Muslims battle the evil Government of Pittsfield Township!


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

Pretty obvious to me whats going on here. The Michigan Islamic Academy has my support.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

so why dont you build it in downtown Ypsilanti. They will welcome you with open arms


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

If the facts of the case are as the plaintiffs allege (and I understand that is a big IF), then I hope they win. American principles are bigger than the discriminatory practices alleged and should prevail.


Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 11 p.m.

I salute Lena Masri and Dawud Walid for bringing this important action. The First Amendment is implicated under the Free Exercise Clause since Pittsfield Township is alleged to have abridged the right of these Islamic adherents to operate a religious school. The Fourteenth Amendment is also implicated due to the fact that the rezoning denial decision was claimed to be arbitrary and capricious and offensively unfair. The Equal Protection Clause is further relevant as the adherents are claimed to ahve been dnied equal protection of the laws due to religious discrimination. Jim Crow is a perfect analogy here. Remember the seminal case of Yick Wo versus Hopkins where the City of San Francisco licensed laundries and all white applicants were accepted and all Oriental appplicants were denied? Unfair application of a regulatory scheme had been used as a pretext to engage in discrimination. My sympathies go out to the operators and the students of this school as I believe they are being victimized by an unfair process.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

ignatz: get him to opine on the supposed gallup poll %ages on american knowledge of obscure incidents in the Russo - japanese war. This guy pulls irrelevant -to- bogus factoids out of the air ( or from elsewhere) the way other people breathe.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

You're citing Yick Wo vs. Hopkins? I think San Franciscio has changed since 1886 when the decision was made. Maybe something more recent would be more relevant. The Boxer Rebellion, perhaps?


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

ypsicat, You did not get up on the wrong side of the bed. In England it is perfectly acceptable to call people from East and Southeast Asia Orientals. Additionally, people from South Asia are called Asian. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

Ypsicat, The term African american is far different. There are black people who are not american at all, so to call them African American is not necessarily accurate. If you went around calling people Negros or the N word THAT would be the proper comparison. As for roadman, you did not pay attention to the WORD is offensive when describing PEOPLE. The term is ASIAN. I always love how white people want to decide what terms are offensive when they call it to other people. I wonder how happy you would be if somebody called your wife or mother the B word and then the person saying it could just say, well I call it to my wife and she is fine with it, so YOU need to be fine with it.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 3:52 a.m.

I know East Asian people who refer to themselves as Oriental. Why are people so hung up on these things. I don't use the term &quot;African-American,&quot; even though I've had people try and correct me when I say &quot;black.&quot; I'm white, and I don't go calling myself &quot;Scots-Irish-German-American.&quot; A rose is a rose is a rose, get over it. Sorry, must have got up on the wrong side of the bed.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 2:20 a.m.

&quot;... all white applicants were accepted and all Oriental appplicants were denied...&quot; A few years ago a predominantly white school, Ave Marie University, was denied zoning approval. My, the times they are a changin'.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

@johnnya2: Technically, &quot;Asian&quot; will include Turks, Iranians, Armenians, Yemenis and a host of others who are Caucasians. I have had Arab-Americans question whether or not they should check the &quot;Asian&quot; box on a questionnaire. The term &quot;Oriental&quot; is less inclusive than &quot;Asian&quot; but would encompass both the substantial Chinese and Japanese ancestry populations in that region.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

&quot; white applicants were accepted and all Oriental appplicants&quot; Ok Mr 1970, the term used today is ASIAN. Oriental is used to describe furniture an things. Asian is used to describe PEOPLE. If you want to make an argument about racism, it helps to not use what is considered a racist term. Do you still call black people Negros?