Jeff Chehab, the chairman of the board of the American Islamic  Community Center, gives remarks at the groundbreaking of its  upcoming building in Sterling Heights.

Jeff Chehab, the chairman of the board of the American Islamic Community Center, gives remarks at the groundbreaking of its upcoming building in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Muslims celebrate groundbreaking of Islamic community center

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 21, 2020

 Imam Syed Najah Mousa Alhussaini talks about the new mosque.

Imam Syed Najah Mousa Alhussaini talks about the new mosque.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

STERLING HEIGHTS — Years after the idea was first proposed, the groundbreaking has finally started at the site of the American Islamic Community Center’s upcoming facility in Sterling Heights.

AICC members celebrated the groundbreaking Aug. 19 with a ribbon-cutting and ceremony. The new building site, which will eventually contain a mosque and community center, is located at 5005 15 Mile Road, between Ryan and Mound roads in Sterling Heights.

AICC member Sam Sobh said the building will offer youth and sports programming, as well as a school.

“Namely, our cause is to build bridges with other communities, other faiths, and be an asset to the neighborhood,” he said.

Currently, the AICC is still headquartered on Dequindre Road, near 11 Mile Road, in Madison Heights.

“It’s an old, old building,” Sobh explained. “We need something bigger and more modern. The building we have now used to be a wedding hall.”

The path toward moving the group to Sterling Heights has been a long one, with some controversy.

In 2015, the AICC appeared before the Sterling Heights Planning Commission in order to get the building’s special approval land use proposal approved. In response, residents debated the issue at city meetings that August and September.

Supporters said the AICC had the right to practice their faith, and some critics said the building would increase traffic, lower property values and not conform to the residential area due to the height of the proposed building’s dome and spires.

Around that same period, there also were outdoor protests, where hundreds of people gathered at the site. Then the Planning Commission rejected the AICC’s proposal, citing concerns over its size and ability to conform to the surrounding residential area.

The AICC sued the city in 2016, citing the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons — or RLUIPA — Act. The U.S. Justice Department also made its own separate lawsuit against the city later that year on the issue.

The AICC settled its suit with Sterling Heights in 2017, and the city agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money and let the Islamic organization build its house of worship.

Sobh said the AICC forgives its critics, adding that “that chapter is closed,” and it is trying to extend a helping hand. He said he hopes to make the AICC site a welcoming place and a place for interfaith dialogue when its new location opens. He said Islam is an Abrahamic religion, and “we all come from Adam and Eve — one father, one mother.”

“We’d like to invite other faiths to come in and see what we offer,” he said.

AICC Chairman Jeff Chehab said the building will eventually be around 20,000 square feet, or around twice as big as the current one in Madison Heights. Although it’s been years since the AICC’s settlement with the city, he said the civil engineering and architecture work took time.

“It’s a big process,” he said. “We got the permit from the city a couple of weeks ago, and we’re good to go.”

Chehab said the AICC has around 200 members, adding that most of them live in Sterling Heights. As the COVID-19 pandemic has constrained religious communities’ ability to meet in person, Chehab said AICC members have been meeting and keeping in touch on Facebook and Zoom.

He added that the pandemic has been a difficult time not only for his group, but also for every organization.

He said the groundbreaking ceremony was just a small celebration for whoever wanted to come.

“Obviously, we’re excited that we’re being able to build a new facility to represent a lot of our members who live in the city of Sterling Heights,” he said. “It’s just the beginning of the process; hopefully, one to two years.”

Find out more about the American Islamic Community Center by visiting www.aiccmi.com.