Mosque members denounce FBI raid as desecration
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The congregation of the Light of the Age mosque yesterday denounced the June 30 FBI raid on the site as "unjust, unethical and unnecessary."
Darrell Sapp, Post-GazetteLuqman Abdus-Salaam, director of Light of the Age Mosque on the North Side, stands along its exterior wall before addressing a news conference yesterday.
Tahir Abdullah, assistant director of the congregation, read a statement from the Muslim Alliance in North America, a coalition of primarily African-American Muslim organizations from across the United States, saying that the raid on the North Side mosque violated a house of worship during services.
The FBI arrested Larry M. Williams of Lincoln-Lemington, who has felony convictions in Washington state and other outstanding warrants, including one for failing to register as a sex offender.
The arrest took place during prayer hours, and some members of the largely African-American congregation were detained and questioned on the street, group members said. The facility was searched and streets blocked off for several hours during the FBI action.
The group and supporters who joined members at a news conference yesterday accused the FBI of harassing citizens of African-American descent and of religious insensitivity in conducting the raid during worship hours.
"We're concerned with the kind of terrorist label that is being attached to Muslims," said Yusef Ali, president of the Islamic Council of Greater Pittsburgh. "We're concerned the raid will lead the public to believe the stereotype and that more Muslims will be profiled."
Jeff Killeen, a spokesman for the FBI, could not confirm if the bureau knew the facility was a mosque. He said the agency tries to respect the civil and constitutional rights of everyone.
"But we had a warrant for the arrest of a convicted felon in possession of a weapon -- a semi-automatic pistol. We can't take that lightly."
Federal officials detailed the reasons for the arrest in a statement yesterday and have not linked the group to terrorism.
"Under federal law, it is illegal for any person who has been convicted of a crime which carries a punishment of more than one year in prison to possess a firearm or ammunition," said the statement from U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. "Larry M. Williams is such a person."
He has also been convicted of robbery in Washington, and there are warrants issued in Pennsylvania and Washington for his failure to register as a sex offender following a rape conviction.
Yesterday's news conference was held to show the mosque and study center to the public as well as to condemn the FBI action.
The Light of the Age mosque has been at 1320 Boyle St. for about three months and before that was based on Concord Street in Spring Garden for three years.
It is a provisional member of the Islamic Council of Greater Pittsburgh. It participates in council debate and observes meetings but is not allowed to vote. The group must sit on council for a year before getting voting privileges.
Unlike Christian churches or synagogues, Muslim worship centers are not identified by symbols such as a cross or Star of David. Several in Pittsburgh have no signs indicating that they are houses of worship.
In fact, said Ibrahim Hopper, a spokesman for the national Council on American-Islamic Relations, it is not unusual for a mosque to share space with a dwelling where there are apartments on the upper level and a prayer room below.
Khari Mosley, Democratic committee chair for the 22nd Ward, where the home is located, said it was no secret that the congregation was a worship and outreach center.
Light of Age is in a three-story 100-year-old building. On the first level is a library full of Islamic texts, a kitchen and a lounge. On the second level are two jummah, or prayer rooms. The women worship on one side of the stairs and the men on the other. On the third level are computer rooms and bedrooms.
The dozen congregation members and supporters who assembled yesterday said they considered the raid a desecration and many said they believe it would not have taken place at a church or synagogue.
"Our place of worship was ransacked," said Luqman abdus-Salaam, a spokesman for the North Side mosque. "Doors were kicked in and a storage closet turned upside down. The FBI left no list of what was taken."
First Published July 8, 2006 12:00 am