Menino's mosque

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 24, 2008

The mosque dropped its defamation lawsuit against the David Project, local media outlets, and other critics in 2007, marking the occasion with a large Intercommunity Solidarity Day at the mosque. The group also responded to criticism by accepting the resignation of mosque board of trustees member Walid Fitaihi, whose anti-Semitic comments had caused a stir, as well as calls for his removal — from, among others, the Globe in an editorial.

But at the same time, the ISB elevated the community's fears by handing over the project to MAS-Boston. The Muslim American Society is controversial among some terrorist experts. When MAS was established in 1992, its three founders had links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928, and is thought by some to be the spark that ignited the anti-West jihad.

The ISB leaders initially handed off some of the mosque project's operational functions, and then the fundraising, and finally the entire project — with MAS-Boston officially taking over in June 2007. By that time, Aljabri was MAS-Boston's president.

And one of the first things MAS-Boston did was put Fitaihi back on the mosque board of trustees.

This spring, Fitaihi donated $250,000 to the mosque, for a matching-fund drive. Kaleem confirms that Fitaihi was the donor, and that he remains active in the mosque development. "It's not like we're hiding that," says Kaleem.

This all came on the heels of a 2005 coup at the Islamic Center of New England (ICNE) in Quincy. Long-time religious leader Eid was forced out; Khalid Nasr of Egypt was hired as imam.

Many saw it as a victory of conservatives over moderates; some also saw it as part of a MAS-Boston takeover of area Islam. The ICNE leadership now consists primarily of MAS-Boston leaders — the same handful of whom also have moved into positions at ICNE's academy, Al-Noor Academy, and other area Islamic institutions.

They will be in charge of the new Roxbury mosque — which again begs the question of how inclusive it really will be.

"The people who will be running the daily affairs [of the Roxbury mosque] are conservative — there is no hiding that fact," says Eid. "We need to see whether they will be open to other practices."

The guiding Islamic thinkers who the ISB's leaders recommend and whose theories they teach in classes at their Cambridge mosque include fundamentalists like Sayyid Qutb and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Ikhwani, the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, and Jamaat-e-Islaami, fundamentalist Pakistani ideology, are the prominent belief systems. The popular Web sites used by members, and recommended by mosque leaders, are mostly fundamentalist, and rabidly homophobic.

Kaleem says that those will not be the predominant teachings at the new mosque, and argues that any use of Qutb or al-Qaradawi's teachings at ISB is restricted to their more progressive work. "Qaradawi is controversial, and rightly so, for his reprehensible views justifying suicide attacks in Israel," says Kaleem. But "he's on a very progressive side of things" with his teachings on gender relations, dietary law, and other aspects of modern life in the West. "That's what people use and teach." (Visit Shell Shocked to learn more about the mosque's relationship with the media.)

Cautious optimism
There are encouraging signs that the MAS-Boston leaders are making a more concerted effort to be inclusive and progressive than the ISB leaders.

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