But having defended Dar Al-Hijrah for so long, Abdul-Malik knows what they’re really asking: What exactly is going on at this mosque? Is this a breeding ground for terrorists?
It is a suspicion that nearly all Muslim institutions have faced to some degree since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But none more so than Dar Al-Hijrah.
As its critics often point out, almost no other mosque in the country has been linked to so many cases of alleged terrorism. The notoriety has gotten to the point where after each attack or arrest of a Muslim suspect, the mosque often finds TV crews camped outside its doors.
They are usually met by Abdul-Malik, who was hired to be Dar Al-Hijrah’s public face. Charged with rehabilitating its image, he has become ubiquitous in the media, appearing on the major networks and holding countless news conferences.
His answers, honed by repetition, are always confident and unequivocal: Aulaqi led their mosque for only one year, and there were no signs then of any radical, anti-American theology. As for Hasan, Abdul-Malik said, he was simply a man who snapped mentally.
“There is nothing at Dar Al-Hijrah, no ideology or preaching, that somehow leads people to violent extremism,” Abdul-Malik declared. “We condemn terrorism.”
But there is also much he doesn’t say.
He doesn’t always express the outrage within his mosque over the indignities suffered by Muslims throughout America’s war on terror. He doesn’t linger on the distrust harbored by many worshipers toward the government. He doesn’t lay out the divisions among the mosque’s leaders on how to handle such issues.
And when it comes to Aulaqi, Abdul-Malik only rarely mentions the ties that once connected the two of them. How before Aulaqi became an operative for al-Qaeda, before he became a target on the CIA’s kill list, he and Abdul-Malik had been companions for one of Islam’s most sacred rites. How in those early days he and others had considered Aulaqi a respected colleague, an admirable leader, perhaps even a friend.
He says none of this because in this new battlefield of perception that has emerged since Sept. 11 — where ammunition consists of past associations, loaded words and fear — there is seldom space for nuance.
‘A lot of anger’
The mosque’s name means “land of migration,” and every Friday more than 3,000 worshipers from more than 35 countries pack into Dar Al-Hijrah’s prayer hall. Doctors from Pakistan kneel next to hotel workers from Sudan. Refugees from Somalia pray alongside naturalized citizens from Egypt.