Boston Muslim Cleric Hate
Abdullah Faarruq: the Islamic Extremist at Northeastern University
September 07, 2012 05:50 PM EDT
Jailing of clerics angers Muslims
Imams treated unfairly, they say
SHARON -- Muslim leaders in the Boston area expressed outrage yesterday over the arrest and jailing of two senior clerics in an alleged scheme that provided religious-worker visas to immigrants who used them for secular jobs .
Federal immigration agents on Wednesday arrested Hafiz Abdul Hannan , the leader of the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell in Chelmsford, and Muhammed Masood , the leader of the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon, along with 31 other people nationwide.
Muslims who know the two imams said they were troubled that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released few details of the allegations against the men, both of whom are revered for their work counseling families, leading prayer services, teaching the Koran, and performing weddings and funerals.
"It's just so flabbergasting the way they would do this," said Bilal Kaleem , associate director of the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society. "It hurts civil liberties, it polarizes the community from society, and it's just not helpful in the long run."
Yesterday, the Islamic Center of New England posted a statement on its website decrying Masood's arrest.
"This seems to be a direct attack at our religion and community," the statement said. "It is especially disturbing that the government has chosen to handle the matter the way it has, namely by taking Mr. Masood and his son to a detention center to be held without bond, while refusing to allow his family to speak to him. . . . Additionally it is deeply humiliating when a man of such high religious status in our community is treated as a criminal in front of the world."
Paula Grenier , spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to detail the cases against Hannan and Masood, saying they remained under investigation. But she said that some of the 33 arrested were not performing religious work but had entered the country illegally to work as gas station attendants, truck drivers, and factory workers. Others were religious workers who had used fraudulent documents to obtain the visas.
William P. Joyce , the lawyer representing Hannan and Masood, said yesterday the government alleges that Hannan fraudulently obtained a religious-worker visa in 1997 from a New York man, Muhammad Khalil , who was convicted in 2004 of conspiracy and visa fraud. The allegation states that Hannan's visa violated the law because it was "not supported by a legitimate job offer," Joyce said. Hannan has been the imam of the mosque in Chelmsford for at least two years, Kaleem said.
Joyce said he had not seen the charges against Masood, who has been the imam of the mosque in Sharon since 1998. But he said that Masood had been charged in 2003 with overstaying his visa, and that the government had not pursued the charge because Masood then applied for a green card. That application was still pending when Masood was arrested, Joyce said.
Both imams, who are Pakistani nationals, were being held yesterday at the Plymouth House of Corrections and are expected to appear in federal immigration court in Boston on Tuesday, Joyce said.
"Why do you just arrest some respected members of the community and haul them away?" Joyce asked. "The criteria for holding people are danger to the community and being a likelihood to flee. But these gentlemen have been around here for years and none of them have any criminal records. It's just extremely troubling."
Barry D. Hoffman , Pakistan's honorary consul-general in Boston, said he was angry that the government had not notified him of the arrests, which he said is customary.
Saeed Shahzad , a member of the board of the Islamic Center of New England, said his phone had been ringing off the hook. "There are so many students in tears, there are community members who have called crying, 'Are those allegations true?' "
Masood's brother, Hafiz Hamid Mahmood , the imam at Worcester Islamic Center, said he thought it was possible that his sibling had been unfairly targeted by the government because of his prominence.
"I know he is a known figure in the Muslim community in the whole New England area," he said. "People are attached to the imam. They will be very upset. Everyone loves him."
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