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Muslim leaders in Valley express little fear of FBI tally



Published: Sat, February 15, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



It is unclear how many U.S. Muslims there are.

& lt;a href=mailto:wilkinson@vindy.com & gt;By D.A. WILKINSON & lt;/a & gt;

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Local Islamic leaders say they have an open-door policy for the FBI agents who are counting mosques and Muslims nationwide.

Dr. Mustansir Mir, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, and Dawud Abdullah, imam for the Youngstown Islamic Center, said they were unaware of the FBI's plans until contacted by The Vindicator.

The plan came to light as the United States heads toward a showdown with Iraq and as the nation is on heightened security alert because of possible terrorist attacks.

Reasons for count

Terrorists have been linked to some mosques internationally, but the FBI has said its survey is aimed at protecting the Muslim community from hate crimes.

The bureau has issued a statement saying the count is not an effort to determine quotas for terrorist investigations. However, some reports have quoted congressional sources as saying it is.

Neither Congressman Tim Ryan, D-17th, nor John Kane, the special agent in charge of the Youngstown FBI office, returned calls for information.

Not alarmed

Although the count has drawn complaints from some national Muslim organizations and civil libertarians, Mir and Abdullah were not concerned. Representatives of Muhammad Mosque No. 9 in Liberty could not be reached.

"In terms of any information, they [the FBI] have a right to collect it," said Mir.

Abdullah said, "It's no problem. We're not doing anything wrong."

Abdullah suggested that the FBI contact him. He compared sharing such information to the public-information talks he and Mir have done since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Abdullah said after those attacks, he was contacted by an agent from the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, asking him to report any hate crimes. Abdullah said he hadn't talked to the agent since.

Open congregations

Although the FBI can count the number of people coming through a mosque's doors, Muslims traditionally do not. Mir and Abdullah said mosques don't have membership lists and are designed to be open to all.

Abdullah said the Youngstown Islamic Center had about 18 regular participants, although others occasionally attend.

Mir said the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown has about 50 to 60 paid members. He has estimated that there are about 2,000 Muslims in the Youngstown-Warren area.

"Most of the people [who attend prayers] aren't registered," Mir said.

The Islamic Society has existed since 1979 and dedicated its mosque in 1989. Mir noted that the mosque, at 535 Harmon Ave., is both highly visible from nearby U.S. Route 680 and approachable. Mir suggested that people with any questions simply stop by and talk to people, generally on Fridays.

One reason for the count may be that no one knows the number of Muslims in the United States, Mir said. Estimates range from 5 million to 7 million people.

Important distinctions

Elsie Dursi, the director of the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, has been active in interfaith efforts with Mir and Abdullah. Dursi said it was impossible to find two more patriotic people. Mir leads Youngstown State University's department of Islamic studies, and Abdullah is a program coordinator for the Youngstown schools.

Dursi, also unaware of the FBI's count, noted that President Bush has reminded Americans to make a distinction between terrorists and Muslims.

Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Relations Council, was aware of the FBI plan. She said it hadn't found support in the national or local Jewish community.

& lt;a href=mailto:wilkinson@vindy.com & gt;wilkinson@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;

XWire services contributed to this report.




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