SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Fueling fear and frustration among Oregon Muslims, the tactics of US Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI), including deploying secret informants and putting imams on no-fly list, are aggravating the poor relationship with the religious minority.
“It’s not that we’re doing anything wrong,” Jesse Day, who converted to Islam two years ago and regularly attends the Friday services, told the Washington Post.
“There’s this sense of nervousness. ... No one knows who’s secretly the FBI,” he said.
Over the past two years, the FBI has placed at least five men with affiliations to Masjed As-Saber, Oregon’s largest mosque, including its longtime religious leader, on the nation’s no-fly list.
The unexplained actions are aggravating the FBI’s already poor relationship with the mosque and fueling fear and frustration among Muslims.
Though the FBI’s top official in Portland said the agency doesn’t go after people based on their religion, ethnicity or where they pray, Muslims have noticed a growing trend of placing mosques across the country under close watch by local and federal authorities.
In New York, police have conducted widespread surveillance of Muslim communities, even recording license plates of cars at mosques.
In Southern California, the FBI is dealing with fallout from a claim by a former informant who says the FBI coached him to talk of violence to incite other Muslims at his mosque into terrorism-related conversations.
In Oregon, Masjed As-Saber stands out for its traditional focus and charismatic imam, who urges worshippers to stay true to strict Islamic teachings.
The imam himself, Sheikh Mohamed Kariye, has been at the center of an FBI investigation. He also is one of 15 men suing the FBI over the constitutionality of the no-fly list.
The mosque also takes a leadership role in the larger community, helping organize metrowide events such as picnics and the annual `Eid al-Fitr celebration to mark the end of Ramadan.
The mosque’s president, Imtiaz Khan, has served as a representative to the Portland’s Arab-Muslim Police Advisory Committee.
Portland police Assistant Chief Eric Hendricks said the two developed a good relationship and that he doesn’t know of any reason to be suspicious of the mosque.
Feeling betrayed the tactics of the FBI, American Muslims who attend Masjed As-Saber do not see any justification for those actions.
“Why the big secrecy? Why all these years?” said Laila Hajoo, president of Islamic Social Services of Oregon State.
If anyone is suspected of wrongdoing, people at the mosque want to know, she said.
“That’s the hardship that we’re facing,” Hajoo said. “We don’t know why.”
The mosque imam suspect the government is trying to harass people into a more westernized Islam.
The government “has the full right to make sure there is no criminal act taking place inside the mosque,” Kariye said.
But instead, he said, their actions feel like religious harassment.
“Always (the FBI) will say, ‘We are not against Islam — we are against radical interpretations of religion,’” he said.
“A Muslim who is trying to practice the religion — to them — is a radical.”
Since 9/11, Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Mosques have been facing fierce opposition across the United States recently.
At least 35 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America. — www.shafaqna.com