Miami-Dade County

South Florida Muslim leaders, federal authorities meet to discuss terrorism

PRAYERS FOR PEACE: Zackaria Badat, Imam at the Islamic School of Miami, and other faithful pray before the start of a meeting with federal law-enforcement agents.
PRAYERS FOR PEACE: Zackaria Badat, Imam at the Islamic School of Miami, and other faithful pray before the start of a meeting with federal law-enforcement agents. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

They do not support terrorism or any acts of violence done in the name of their faith, and these South Florida Muslim leaders are willing to take a stand against those who commit such acts.

This past week, the leaders met with representatives from federal agencies to discuss terrorism, safety and hate crimes. The conversation took place as religious leaders were preparing for Eid al-Adha — the holiday that marks the end of Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, and recognizes the Biblical/Quranic story of Ibrahim (Abraham) attempting to sacrifice his son for his faith in God.

Eid al-Adha begins Saturday at sunset.

“I thought it was an excellent meeting,” Imam Nasir Ahmad said of Thursday’s meeting at Masjid Al-Ansar in Liberty City. He said he was impressed with the group’s sincerity and professionalism.

Thursday’s meeting and an earlier one on Tuesday, at the FBI’s North Miami headquarters, were designed, in part, to strengthen bonds between law enforcement and the Islamic community.

One of the topics brought up was the recruitment of young Muslims into terrorist organizations such as ISIS — something imams in South Florida’s Islamic community do not condone.

“These people are just a gang looking out for their self interests,” Imam Abdul Hamid Samra of Miami Gardens’ Islamic Center of Greater Miami, said in a phone interview. “They are after money, drugs and women. That’s what they are known for.”

Several imams, including Samra, say they have spoken out against the actions of these groups during services.

Ahmad said he told those gathered for a service Friday that, as Muslims, “We don’t raise a gun, we raise the Quran.”

Although the FBI stresses that there is not any imminent threats from overseas, they are asking individuals to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities.

In addition to terrorism, hate crimes against Muslims also was a topic of discussion both Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, emphasized that point Thursday at Masjid Al-Ansar. Representatives from other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service and Broward Sheriff’s Office attended the meeting.

“It is an incredible pleasure to be here,” said Ferrer, who pointed out how celebrations such as Eid are a part of the American cultural fabric. “We’re here today for many reasons, one is to celebrate with you.”

The other reason was to talk to the group about hate crimes and what resources are available if they ever become a victim.

Ferrer encouraged the Islamic community to report any crimes, saying the department is committed to bringing justice.

“If you do ever detect a hate crime, we need it reported,” he said.

The meeting was “an excellent dialogue,” said Xanthie Mangum a special agent with the FBI. “We would very much like to engage in a narrative series, and perhaps to meet at different venues.”

There is a concern among law enforcement that anti-Islamic behavior may spike in response to recent headlines concerning Muslims in Middle East. Because of this fear, some Islamic houses of worship are taking security precautions, as they get ready for Eid al-Adha.

Imam Zakaria Badat, of Masjid An-Noor in Kendall, said he typically has law enforcement present for services, and will have two or three officers on site during the Eid al-Adha celebrations. His mosque has been the target of hate crimes in the past.

“We need to show that hate crimes of any kind will not be tolerated by anybody regardless of race, religion or ethnicity,” said Badat. “[Hate crimes] are not only a safety issue for Muslims but also for people of all faiths.”