Des Plaines, IL (SABAH)



A documented account of Case No. IL_15, occurring in Des Plaines, IL, 60018 from September 2013 to February 2017.


Runze Zhou

Proposed Project

Conversion of a property originally zoned for manufacturing in Des Plaines to mosque and community center with parking spaces. The property included two buildings with a total area inside of 15,477 square feet . There were two parking lots on the property as well.


Due to denial of their rezoning application, SABAH lost their option to purchase the property on Birchwood Avenue. SABAH sued the city (and where joined by the Department of Justice) in 2015 and received &580,000 when the case was settled in June 2017.


The American Islamic Center (AIC) is a Muslim community observing a Sufi approach to Islam. It is a small group made up of about 160 members living in suburban Chicago. They had rented places of worship in the past but desired to build a mosque for themselves.

Timeline of Key Events

  • 2013: SABAH planned to buy the Birchwood Avenue property and convert it to a mosque. They submitted the rezoning request, but the request was denied by the city council of Des Plaines.
  • March 4, 2014: AIC sued the city of Des Plaines and five members of its city council. AIC failed in this case.
  • September, 2015: The building was sold to a developer. The Department of Justice sued the city of Des Plaines.
  • March, 2017: The case headed to trial. DOJ set a hearing for the trial.
  • June 9, 2017: The case settled. The city of Des Plaines paid the community $580,000 as compensation for their loss.
The community found a vacant former office building. Considering it a suitable place for a mosque in the manufacturing district, they submitted a rezoning request from industrial to institutional use for the property. The structure had two buildings, and the total area inside was 15,477 square feet. The plan called for converting the buildings to a mosque which could accommodate 180 members. The actual building style was left unclear.  They group bought the property, waiting for city council’s approval of their rezoning application. However, “the Des Plaines City Council (…) rejected a Bosnian Muslim group's request to allow a religious center in a part of town zoned for manufacturing” (Madhu Krishnamurthy, 2013) The Aldermen’s decision was due to two factors: minimal income loss from taking the property off the tax rolls and potential parking, traffic and other safety concerns due to the size of the congregation (Koop, 2017).

Following the denial of the rezoning, on March 4, 2014, AIC sued the city of Des Plaines and five members of its city council. AIC claimed that city of Des Plaines violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) in addition to the U.S. Constitution's Free Exercise Clause and the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. In count 6 and 7, AIC contends that Des Plaines violated the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (IRFRA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the Illinois Constitution. The result of this case (Am. Islamic Ctr. v. City of Des Plaines, 32 F. Supp. 3d 910) was that all claims against the defendant were denied.

One year and a half after the failure of AIC’s suit against Des Plaines, the U.S. Justice Department sued against the city of Des Plaines, claiming that the city council’s decision violated related federal laws, especially the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA),“arguing that officials imposed parking standards and other zoning criteria not used for non-Islamic groups”. At that point, AIC had been without a place of  worship. “The Justice Department's lawsuit called for the city to grant approval of the worship center. But the building was sold to a developer in September 2015, and the city later approved property tax incentives for the new owner” (Koop, 2017).

Following the intervention of the Justice Department, the Des Plaines city council sought to resolve the case out of court. “City Manager Mike Bartholomew said while it's possible the litigation could drag out for a while, officials believe it's likely to be resolved in 2016 … City officials have said the justice department has taken an ‘unnecessary stance’ and the city is welcoming to all religious faiths” (Placek, 2016). At the same time, the Department of Justice was trying to move the case to a trial. After three months, the Des Plaines city council voted on an agreement with AIC that quickly passed. On June 9, 2017, the City of Des Plaines announced a settlement in the dispute with the Society of American Bosnians and Herzegovinians over the use of the property at 1645 Birchwood Avenue in Des Plaines and agreed to pay the organization $580,000 as compensation.  Around the same time, SABAH found a place to worship: a former Lutheran church they converted to a mosque in Franklin Park.



Runze Zhou, “Des Plaines, IL (SABAH),” U.S. Mosque Controversies, accessed May 20, 2022,

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