Jailing of clerics angers Muslims
Imams treated unfairly, they say
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
November 17, 2006


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.

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Because these men were Muslim leaders, they think that they shouldn't have to follow the law. I can hear the ACLU screaming "lawsuit" anytime now.