First Skokie mosque proposed at old Holocaust Museum site
Vacant for the last five years, the former home of the Holocaust Museum on Main Street in Skokie could become the new home to the first mosque in the village.
The Skokie Plan Commission on Aug. 1 unanimously recommended a special use permit to the Kaleemiah Foundation, which would use the building at 4255 Main St. as a mosque – a Muslim place of worship – and not as a community center.
The Skokie Village Board has final say at a future meeting.
Syed Hussaini created Kaleemiah Foundation to build a place of worship in Skokie for the Muslim community.
“He said he wanted to spend all of his money that he earned in his life on his foundation for the benefit of the people in the community,” said Syed Quadri, a board member of the Kaleemiah Foundation.
According to the foundation’s mission statement, its primary goal is “to provide a nurturing place of worship.”
“I as a father of five children have had a hard time raising my kids since there was no (mosque),” Quadri said.
He doesn’t live in Skokie, but he said he understands the difficulty raising Muslim children when there is no mosque – when the only convenient place to pray is at home.
The Kaleemiah Foundation has fewer than 15 members and they are mostly elderly people, Quadri said.
“Right now, we are in a fasting month,” Quadri said about the Muslim holiday, Ramadan. “We cannot eat or even drink a drop of water from 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. We don’t have a place for the community to gather and break our fast and establish our prayers.”
Under the Foundation’s proposal, the building will be open every day for prayer. Most sessions will last 10 or 15 minutes with one 45-minute session on Friday.
While there may be four or five prayer sessions every day, Quadri said the turnout is expected to be sparse for several of them. The lunchtime session and the after-work session are likely to draw the most people, he said, but only about 15 are expected.
The proposed mosque includes two prayer rooms, a library, a meeting-refreshment room and a prep kitchen with a microwave. The second floor would include a conference room and office space.
Potential parking and traffic problems concern some. The site is a former storefront with 15 available spaces, which meets village code, but some area residents worry too many people would park in their already-dense neighborhood.
Rene Roy of nearby Tripp Avenue said he fully expects people visiting the mosque to park on his street despite the designated parking spaces.
“As a neighbor who lives very close to this proposed mosque, I don’t feel this is very residential friendly,” he said.
The several neighbors who opposed the mosque, such as Roy, said they celebrate diversity and a mosque for Skokie even if they believe it’s wrong for this location.
The Skokie Planning Department reported that a public hearing can be held to revoke the special use permit if there are significant parking issues that can’t be resolved.
There were as many people who supported the mosque as those who opposed it.
“This building has been vacant since 2008,” said David Hartmann. “A vacant building adds nothing to a neighborhood and, in fact, detracts from a neighborhood. The longer it is vacant, the longer there is wear and tear on the building.”
“I believe that the diversity of Skokie warrants an exchange between a Muslim institution and a Jewish institution,” said resident Brad Sugar. “To the extent that we can facilitate that in this community is a good thing.”
Temple Judea Mizpah Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler, a member of the Niles Township Clergy Association, and later Asaf Bar-Tura, representing the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, also spoke in support of the mosque and its positive impact on diversity in Skokie.
The Chicago area has 32 mosques including 11 in Chicago, two in Evanston, one in Morton Grove, one in Des Plaines and one in Northbrook.
This site takes on special meaning for many because it was the home to Skokie’s original Holocaust Museum, the forerunner to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center on the northwest end of town.
“Thousands of schoolchildren learned about the Holocaust until we moved into the much larger facility on Woods Drive,” said Howard Swibel, Holocaust Museum board member.
In 1985, the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois was granted a special use permit to occupy the retail storefront. The facility closed in 2008 in anticipation of the new museum.
Illinois Holocaust Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut said the museum’s Board of Directors confirmed the financial viability of the Kaleemiah Foundation and found it to be operating in good faith before entering into a contract in June.
“The mission of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is to teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, indifference and intolerance to help put an end to genocide around the world, ensuring that ‘never again’ becomes a reality for all people,” Hirschhaut said.
“As such, the museum is committed to operating in a manner that reflects that teaching and honors the right of all people to practice their faith.”
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