WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. — On a prime piece of real estate in suburban Detroit stands a large, vacant elementary school with no vestiges of life — save for a tiny sign that identifies the building as the "future home" of the Islamic Cultural Association.
But the proposal to establish a new mosque and community center has thrust this quiet site into the center of a battle between a prosperous Muslim community and a Christian legal advocacy group that wants to derail the project as part of its goal to confront the "threat of Islam" in the United States.
The effort is "targeting innocent Americans because of their faith and willingness to engage in the community and to contribute," said the Islamic association's attorney, Shareef Akeel. "They're targeting a people simply because of their faith."
The Islamic association bought the school in upscale West Bloomfield Township last year. Then some residents made a legal bid to have the $1.1 million purchase thrown out over allegations that the deal was somehow corrupt and hidden from the public.
In the process, they gained the support of the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center. Among other things, the center and residents accuse the school district of negotiating with the association behind closed doors and accepting illegal campaign contributions from an association official.
A judge dismissed the residents' case, saying the plaintiffs had no standing to file a complaint. But they are appealing that decision, and the law center in June called for a grand jury to investigate.
Michigan Attorney Bill Schuette has yet to decide on the request, but the law center says it's confident he will empanel a grand jury because he made corruption a priority of his administration.
Outside court, the center's allegations go beyond the purchase of the building. It accuses Islamic organizations in the United States of taking advantage of the American legal system to wage a "stealth jihad" that aims to transform the U.S. into an Islamic nation. The center also alleges that the Islamic association has ties to terrorism because of its links to other Muslim groups.
The confrontation in West Bloomfield and similar clashes have made Detroit "an active front in a kind of culture war," said Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan anthropologist, author and expert on the city's Islamic presence.
The Detroit area is home to one of the nation's largest Islamic communities, with 150,000 to 200,000 Muslims living in the city and its suburbs.