"Americanized Islam"? Is that an Islam without the Jew-hatred, Christian-hatred, death penalty for apostates, honor killing, clitoridectormies, and cloth coffins for women? Wouldn't that be a good thing?
Oregon mosque under FBI scrutiny says it's being pushed to adopt Americanized Islam Christian Century June 15 (hat tip David W.)
PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) On a bright April afternoon, hundreds of worshippers spilled into a Portland parking lot, exchanging hugs and handshakes after the weekly sermon. Children scampered around the property, bordered by a white picket fence. The man who has guided the congregation for more than a decade greeted the faithful.
The scene could be from any Sunday in America. Except this one unfolds on a Friday, among a crowd of U.S. and foreign-born Muslims and local converts. The women, in full-length dresses and headscarves, emerge from a side door while the men, in robes or casual wear, exit through the front.
There's one more distinction: At Masjed As-Saber, Oregon's largest mosque, the people sense that God isn't the only one scrutinizing their spirituality.
In the past two years, the FBI has placed at least five men with affiliations to the mosque, including its longtime religious leader, on the nation's no-fly list, a roster of suspected terrorists barred from flying in the United States. None has been charged with a terrorism-related offense, and federal officials haven't told them why they're on the list.
The unexplained actions are aggravating the FBI's already poor relationship with the mosque and fueling fear and frustration among Muslims that their house of worship appears to be once again in the government's cross hairs.
"It's not that we're doing anything wrong," said Jesse Day, who converted to Islam two years ago and regularly attends the Friday services. But like many others at the mosque who flinch at the sight of a camera and suspect an informant moves among them, he worries.
"There's this sense of nervousness. ... No one knows who's secretly the FBI," he said.
The FBI's top official in Portland said the agency doesn't go after people based on their religion, ethnicity or where they pray. "Nobody should be living in fear or concerned about random targeting by the FBI," said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Fowler.
But he wouldn't comment about any of the local men detained by the FBI or respond to their allegations that authorities questioned them about the mosque and the imam and proposed that they become informants.
Mosques across the country are 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, down to the conviction that men and women shouldn't trim their eyebrows. 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.
With little information from the FBI, many at the mosque suspect the government is trying to harass people into a more westernized Islam, said Tugrul Keskin, who attends the mosque and is an assistant professor of international and Middle East studies at Portland State University.
"They are trying to transform them into something that's not Muslim," Keskin said. "As-Saber is a true representation of Islam. .... (The government has) to accept who Muslims are."...
His rise has not gone unnoticed by the FBI. In September 2002, authorities arrested Kariye at Portland International Airport as he and family members prepared to fly to Dubai. He was charged the next day with Social Security fraud, but his arrest by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force signaled a more ominous suspicion.
The arrest was unusual. A federal prosecutor successfully argued to hold Kariye without bail, saying a customs official at the airport had found traces of TNT on his bags. Tests two weeks later concluded the initial findings were wrong and Kariye was released the following month.
Kariye pleaded guilty six months later to understating his income to qualify for Oregon Health Plan benefits and using a Social Security card with a false birth date to obtain the benefits. A judge sentenced him to probation and he paid $6,000 in fines and restitution.
But that didn't end the FBI's interest. An affidavit in August 2003 revealed that agents believed Kariye financially supported a group of Muslims -- known as the Portland Seven -- who had tried to reach Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban in September 2001. Most had regularly prayed at Masjed As-Saber and were turned in by an FBI informant at the mosque who recorded hours of conversations with two primary defendants.
Kariye was never charged. The FBI affidavit stated the informant failed to record a key conversation that allegedly described the imam's support.