Islam in America: As American Muslims Face New Raids, Muslim Charities Fight Back

By Z, Riad; Z, Basil | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Islam in America: As American Muslims Face New Raids, Muslim Charities Fight Back


Z, Riad, Z, Basil, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Riad Z. Abdelkarim, MD, is Western Region Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Basil Abdelkarim, MD is a columnist with the Independent Writers Syndicate.

In a move that has alarmed American Muslims and sparked intense criticism from civil rights advocates, scores of law enforcement officers from several federal agencies converged on Muslim homes and businesses in Virginia on March 20, reportedly investigating "links" to international terrorist organizations. Among the sites raided were the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Virginia office of the Muslim World League. The raids were orchestrated by the U.S. Customs Service. Although no arrests were made, agents hauled away documents, computers, files, and other information after detaining and questioning a number of employees and residents present.

At a press conference held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations the following day, Aysha Unus, 62, of Herndon, Virginia, whose husband works for the IIIT, described in stark detail the raid on her home. At 9:30 a.m., she said, she heard banging on her door. Initially able to see only the barrel of a gun against the glass door held by a man in a black jacket, she explained, "I was afraid to go out." When her 19-year-old daughter attempted to call the police, the agents broke open the door, even pointing a gun at her daughter and ordering her to put down the telephone. According to Mrs. Unus, the agents failed to present a warrant or identification badge and handcuffed both her and her daughter for six hours while conducting their search.

Laura Jaghlit, a high school English teacher, described the raid on her home as "the most un-American thing I have ever seen." Jaghlit, whose father is a WWII veteran and whose brother was killed in Vietnam, said officials threw the contents of her drawers and her childrens' school pictures on the bed and took passports, bank statements and personal papers, including her daughter's wedding party invitations.

The organizations targeted in the raid are among the more widely respected American Muslim institutions. The Leesburg, Virginia-based Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, for example, trains Muslim clerics, including for service in the U.S. military. The Fiqh Council is a body of prominent Islamic scholars who provide advice and information for Muslims in North America aspiring to live their lives according to Islamic precepts. Another of the organizations raided, the IIIT, publishes Islamic texts and sponsors major national seminars. In the words of Louai Safi, IIIT director of research, "Here we have a raid by the Treasury Department trying to destroy a moderate voice in this country...We promote democracy, human rights, civil exchange and dialogue."

At the CAIR press conference prominent Muslim organizations and leaders immediately denounced the raids as a "fishing expedition" and "McCarthy-like witch hunt." Representatives of CAIR, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Institute, the Islamic Circle of North America, American Muslim Council, the Muslim American Society, and Muslim Alliance of North America told reporters that American Muslims are disturbed by the perception created by such government actions that all American Muslim institutions are "guilty until proven innocent." In the current environment, they argued, such raids will serve only to intimidate law-abiding Muslims from exercising their constitutional rights and unfairly arouse the suspicions of the community at large--without providing the affected organizations and individuals the opportunity to refute the allegations against them.

"Unfortunately," stated one CAIR representative, "investigators are well aware that in the current climate of fear and prejudice, few people will ask the tough questions about why these respected individuals and groups were targeted. …

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