Jon Tevlin
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He is a staunch Republican, a conservative, a small-business owner. He was a Republican delegate to the state convention, is vice chair of a district, was appointed to a state board by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He has participated in demonstrations against gay marriage and he's running for mayor of Apple Valley.

But he also thinks the debate over a mosque near the site of the former Twin Towers is dumb, and downright un-American.

Maybe that's because Ikram ul-Huq has a unique perspective. He is also an imam at a Bloomington mosque, reads the Qur'an every day and likes to say "I came to the United States because of the freedom."

Ul-Huq was born in India, lived in Pakistan and worked for United Nations Children's Fund in West Africa before coming to the United States in 1985. He has worked for Ceridian and Wells Fargo. Ul-Huq was a founding member of the Muslim Community Center in Bloomington. The center provides family and children's services and health care to Muslims and non-Muslims, and its members frequently reach out to teach others about Islam. The center is hosting a dinner this Thursday that will include people of every denomination. Every year, they host students from St. Thomas for a seminar on Islam.

Ul-Huq owns a meat market and will be opening a restaurant that soon will serve American and ethnic food -- "things we've never seen in Minnesota."

When the issue of the mosque first came up, "It put people like me in hot water," said ul-Huq. "I am a little concerned that by opposing the mosque we are talking against the Constitution. This is what America is all about. I'm not happy with some Republicans because it's not what our party is about, either, and I think in the long run we will ultimately fall on our face."

Ul-Huq has been active in Republican politics for years. In 2006, Pawlenty appointed ul-Huq to the state Board of Pharmacy. Yet he disagrees with the governor on the mosque issue and wishes it would not be politicized.

"We have far more serious issues than the mosque," said ul-Huq. "We have to deal with immigration, jobs, the economy. These are the issues we should be talking about. But a small faction of people are making this an issue, some far right-wing Christians and people like (radio and television host) Glenn Beck."

I asked ul-Huq whether Muslims wouldn't be better off if they made a public relations move and decided to locate the mosque somewhere else.

"Then people would just come up with another reason to discriminate," he said. "Then they'd decide there shouldn't be a mosque [anywhere] in New York because it is too close [to the 9/11 site].

"Trying to keep the mosque out is un-American," said ul-Huq. "There are 7 million Muslims in the country, 200,000 in Minnesota. For people like me, who has paid taxes for 25 years, this is very difficult. Some of my Muslim friends have been in the Marines and fought to protect the Constitution."

Ul-Huq has no tolerance for radical Islam. "If somebody is doing something radical against America, they should be jailed," he said. "Or even killed. It's treason, that's how we feel."

But there is no reason to tarnish all Muslims because of a bad element, as Newt Gingrich did when he said we wouldn't let Nazis put up a sign by the Holocaust Museum, to appeal to a certain element of the electorate.

"I really admire Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg," said ul-Huq. Bloomberg, a former Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, has repeatedly supported the location of the mosque. As a party and individuals, "We should say the right thing, not the most popular thing. We need more people to stand up and do the right thing."