Freed imam returns to his Margate mosque


A Margate mosque welcomed back its leader Friday after the man, Izhar Khan, was acquitted of charges that he aided the Pakistani Taliban.

The sermon to celebrate Izhar Khan’s acquittal on federal charges of aiding the Pakistani Taliban urged the Muslim faithful gathered in a Margate mosque for Friday prayers to do right, care for others, and lead a life for all to see that Islam teaches brotherhood and peace.

“Let the world see what Islam is about,’’ exhorted Maulana Roshan, who led the service. “The opportunities we have here, we don’t have them in the countries we come from. ... Set an example. Do the right thing.’’

Kneeling on the floor among the faithful inside the mosque was Khan, 26, who returned to the Broward mosque he led for nearly three years on Friday for the first time since his arrest in May 2011. Worshippers filled the floor of the mosque and two additional, elevated platforms.

Dressed in black prayer clothes and a black-and-white smagh headdress, Khan stepped to the front following the sermon. He smiled broadly, spoke softly, and expressed gratitude to his spiritual community for their support during the 20 months he spent in a Miami federal detention center on charges of funneling money to terrorists.

Then he tried to explain the circumstances that led to his arrest — and the loss of his home and his savings — and ultimately his acquittal Thursday by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who cited a lack of evidence in the U.S. government’s material-support case against Khan and his father, Miami imam Hafiz Khan.

The case, which drew national media attention, will continue against Khan’s father, who is the lead defendant in the trial. But the judge found that the prosecution, which rested its case Wednesday, failed to prove any wrongdoing by the younger Khan, imam of Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen Mosque off Sample Road in Margate.

As he stood before his followers Friday, Khan expressed bewilderment over the substance of the government’s charges.

“I know you are thinking there must have been something I’ve done to make them suspicious,’’ he said. “I don’t even know. ... I’m more interested in sports than politics. I don’t even know who the prime minister of Pakistan is.

“I just want to let you be assured,’’ he said, “it was all based on speculation. Basically, because I wear a robe and a scary beard, it was all based on that.’’

Khan’s defense lawyer, Joseph Rosenbaum, also was at the Margate mosque on Friday, where he thanked members for their support — and urged them to help Khan readjust to life as a free man.

“You all have come through big time in your support,’’ he said. “Your prayers, your emotional support, whatever you did, it helped. ... We’d like you to welcome him back, to help him adjust, and to put him back on the road he was on when he left here.’’

Members of the mosque, which was founded a decade ago, said the path the younger Khan followed was one of peace and tolerance — and not what prosecutors alleged when they said Izhar Khan knew that two suspicious fund transfers of $300 and $900 were intended for the Pakistani Taliban, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Fazal Deen, secretary of the Margate mosque, said the transfers were remittances to Khan’s family in Pakistan.

“He was sending it to his sister to help the poor and the needy,’’ Deen said. “He’s been doing it for years.’’

Despite the government’s charges, Deen said, members of the mosque remained convinced that the younger Khan was a man of peace. Deen and others interviewed at the Margate mosque Friday said they did not know the elder Khan, and that the two mosques did not interact.

The younger Khan, a U.S. citizen, left Pakistan for South Florida with his family in the 1990s and developed into a beloved Muslim scholar with an interest in American culture and sports.

Deen said Khan built a volleyball court next to the mosque, and frequently played basketball with the children.

“He was a fun-loving person,’’ he said. “He always had a smile on his face. ... We never heard him say anything political or anything against the government or about terrorism. That’s not in his vocabulary.’’

Azan Badrudeen, 51, of North Lauderdale nodded in agreement.

“Since he came here, he’s been a very peaceful guy,’’ he said. “All his speeches are about peace — the way a Muslim should live his life, peacefully and mannerly.’’

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