The Debate in Boston about Two Pakistani Imams

Arrests of local imams divides community on law enforcement
Dueling petitions spark debate over immigration
By Kristin Erekson :Jewish Advocate - Thursday November 30 2006

Two Bostonians expanded the debate on immigration rights to the Web last week as they created an online petition in support of the recent arrests of local Muslim leaders.

Imams Hafiz Muhammed Masood of the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon and Hafiz Abdul Hannan of the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell in Chelmsford, along with Masood’s 24-year-old son, Hassan, were released on bail from the Plymouth County House of Correction last Tuesday.

The Pakistan natives were among 33 individuals taken into custody around the country as part of an ongoing investigation into a visa fraud scheme. The plan allegedly helped large numbers of illegal aliens fraudulently obtain religious worker visas to enter or remain in the states, according to a statement released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Local bloggers “Miss Kelly,” who asked to be identified only by her online moniker, and Martin “Sol” Solomon, teamed up to write a petition that applauds ICE’s efforts. The document, which had 145 signatures as of press time, was produced after the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society crafted its own petition last Thursday in support of Masood and Hannan. If the number of signatures breaks the 1,000 mark, “Miss Kelly” and Solomon plan on sending their paperwork to the ICE and other state officials, including Gov. Mitt Romney and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

“People talk about the need for immigration laws to be enforced, but when [these officials] try to enforce them, they get in a lot of trouble,” said Solomon, who is well known for his political blog, “We are not anti-Muslim, but we are supportive of the authorities.”

“Miss Kelly’s” Web site focuses on issues surrounding Christianity and the rise in Islamic fundamentalism, while Solomon’s blog closely monitors local and national anti-Israel actions.

Boston political humorist and WTTK 96.9 FM radio host Michael Graham said he signed the petition for pro-immigration laws because he is “an outspoken critic of illegal immigration.” Graham invited “Miss Kelly” to his Monday show to discuss the arrest of the imams.

“The law is being enforced, and it’s nonsensical to say that because of someone’s religion they are above the law,” Graham added. “If America’s immigrations officers aren’t going to enforce laws in this case, when are they?”

An area Muslim, who is a member of the Islamic Centers of New England, contacted “Miss Kelly” earlier this week, saying that many Muslims – including himself – wanted to sign the pro-immigration law petition but were afraid to.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is crazy,’” “Miss Kelly” said. “People are coming here illegally and circumventing the system. Who cares how nice they are? Why should they get blanket support?”

Yet Barry D. Hoffman, Consulate General of Pakistan in Boston for New England, said these bloggers are just adding to the “tremendous amount of hysteria” against Muslims.

“If people are so interested in upholding immigration laws, then why don’t they arrest the ... Brazilians in Framingham,” Hoffman asked. “As far as these bloggers go, where do they think their grandparents came from?”
The seizure of the imams also sent ripples of shock throughout the local religious community, especially since the men come from prestigious backgrounds. For instance, 48-year-old Masood’s résumé on the Islamic Center of New England’s Web site states that he has advanced degrees from Boston University and Islamic University in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

But MAS has been working hard to boost Masood and Hannan’s images by arranging rallies and encouraging individuals to fast and pray for their support. MAS also formed a petition that garnered more than 1,400 signatures and was passed on to Judge Paul Gagnon during the bail hearing last Tuesday, according to Bilal Kaleem, associate director of the Boston chapter of the MAS. The imams were released on $7,500 bail, and Hassan was given $2,500 bail.

“We wanted to show the judge that there is a deep well of support in the community for these two imams,” Kaleem said. “We wanted to highlight the work they’ve done and what they stand for.”

In the next couple of months, Masood, Hannan and Hassan will likely attend a pre-trial hearing before an immigration judge to determine what relief may be available, according to the Masood’s attorney, William Joyce of the Boston law firm Joyce and Associates.

Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple Israel in Sharon said that while the facts of the case have not been revealed to him, he does view the trio as “kind, compassionate and outgoing” religious leaders.

Also See Muslims Embraced their Freed Leader in Boston Globe by clicking here


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