Mosque takes over former Wheaton church
In late August, the Islamic Center of Wheaton bought and moved into the 26,193-square-foot former First Assembly of God Church at 900 E. Geneva Road, at the southwest corner of Geneva Road and President Street. Records show that, through a bank trust, the Islamic Center of Wheaton paid $3.15 million for the church and its 7.08-acre property.
Mosque spokesman Abraham Antar said he and his fellow congregants are excited about their new home, which he said is Wheaton's first Muslim community.
"Wheaton is a city of faith, and we're very privileged to be able to establish an Islamic community for Wheaton and especially for the western suburbs," he said. "There are a lot of Muslims in Wheaton and the surrounding towns. It's unfortunate for the (First Assembly of God) church that they lost their opportunity to stay there."
Antar also said Islamic Center of Wheaton leaders are looking forward to getting to know other religious institutions in the area.
"This is a beautiful location, and one of the great attractions is that it gives us an opportunity as an Islamic organization to really connect with other churches," he said. "It really presents us with an opportunity to really bridge the relationship with all congregations within the area. We haven't really started yet, but we would like to."
Antar said about 700 to 800 men and women have been worshiping at the mosque each Friday.
"Everybody seems really happy with this place," he said.
In recent years, the one-story Wheaton church building had been on the market as the church had fallen on hard times. The church, at one point, even proposed a dense, multifamily housing development on the property. In 2011, the church's lender, State Bank of Illinois, initiated foreclosure proceedings. The bank then took title to the property in September 2012 at a sheriff's sale, and the bank sold the property to the mosque. The First Assembly of God stopped holding services and moved out of the building in January, local officials said.
Over the past several years, Muslim groups have struggled to win zoning approval for mosques around DuPage County. Two separate groups in 2011 won hard-fought battles before the DuPage County Board to pave the way for mosques near Willowbrook and Lombard. Two other groups resorted to federal lawsuits after DuPage County Board members gave the thumbs-down to plans for mosques near West Chicago and Naperville, prompting board members to reverse course.
The Islamic Center of Wheaton did not require zoning changes because the building is being used for the same purpose — as a religious institution — and had been vacant for only about seven months, city officials said. Under the terms of the special-use permit that the First Assembly of God was granted by the Wheaton City Council in 1990 before constructing the church, the building would only be considered "abandoned" and require new zoning approval it had been vacant for more than 18 months. Mosque leaders needed simply to apply for an occupancy permit with the city.
In Wheaton, Antar said the mosque received its occupancy permit from the city's staff immediately after the group was able to prove the building had been vacant for less than 18 months.
"We want to present a positive image of an Islamic center," Antar said. "We just want to be a good neighbor. The Prophet (Muhammad) said we have to be a good neighbor, and that's what we want to be."