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Facing New Realities as Islamic Americans

Aulaqi later admitted to FBI agents that he had met Hazmi several times, but he claimed not to remember the specifics of their discussions and he denied having had any contact with Hazmi or Hanjour in Virginia, the report said.

Aulaqi returned to Yemen in March 2002, and the commission's report said he could not be located for an interview. Abdul-Malik said Aulaqi resigned from Dar because he felt that the post-9/11 news media attention was distracting him from his duties.

About 3,000 people pray at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center each Friday. Congregants are from around the world; about 60 percent are Arab. (Photos Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)

About This Series

Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has undertaken extensive efforts to root out Islamic terrorists around the world and to defend the U.S. homeland. Articles today and tomorrow are part of a series looking at the elusive nature of the threat and the problems authorities confront in battling it. Today's story examines a worldwide Islamic movement that has been linked to terrorist groups but also has produced some of the most influential and moderate Islamic institutions in the United States. Tomorrow's report looks at how a mosque that grew out of that movement fares in the world after Sept. 11. Previous parts of this series can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/nation.

_____From This Series_____
Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities (The Washington Post, Aug 19, 2004)
In Search Of Friends Among The Foes (The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2004)

Omeish, one of the mosque officials who hired Aulaqi, said he is convinced that Aulaqi "has no inclination or active involvement in any events or circumstances that have to do with terrorism."

Mosque officials said sermons at Dar condemn terrorism. Sheikh, the current imam, said that suicide bombings are never legitimate in the United States, and Omeish agreed that "it's as clear as day that within the American context, it is absolutely contradictory to Islamic principles and belief."

But Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel elicit more ambivalent attitudes. Mosque spokesman Abdul-Malik said that he has condemned Palestinian suicide bombers in his own sermons and that no one criticized him for it afterward. But judging by conversations with members, the tactic generally is neither encouraged nor condemned from Dar's pulpit.

Sheikh said he tells his congregation that Islamic law does not allow suicide bombings in most instances. However, he said, "if certain Muslims are to be cornered where they cannot defend themselves, except through these kinds of means, and their local religious leaders issued fatwas to permit that, then it becomes acceptable as an exceptional rule, but should not be taken as a principle."

Omeish added that while there is "condemnation of indiscriminate killing of civilians" among mosque members, there is also "sympathy for the Palestinian cause. . . . It's a core issue in the community."

That sympathy extends to the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which has been responsible for most suicide bombings in Israel and was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in 1995.

Last month, a former member of Dar's executive committee, Annandale resident Abelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, was indicted with two other men by a Chicago grand jury on racketeering conspiracy charges in connection with alleged efforts to raise money for Hamas beginning in 1988.

And a law enforcement document filed in federal court in Alexandria says Ashqar and two other longtime Dar members -- Mohamad al Hanooti, a former Dar imam, and Ismael Selim Elbarasse, a founding member of the mosque -- attended a 1993 meeting of senior Hamas leaders in Philadelphia.

Elbarasse was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Chicago case. He and Ashqar served time in jail for refusing to answer questions about Hamas before a grand jury that was probing the group before September 2001.

Talking Points

On a recent Friday, hundreds of men filled Dar's main prayer hall. Standing in the wooden minbar, or pulpit, mosque member Osama Abu Irshaid delivered a sermon.

He spoke of Iraq, where "almost 20,000 Iraqis and 1,000 Americans were killed" even though Iraq's leader "never had weapons of mass destruction." He mentioned recent Palestinian deaths and how "unfortunately, the administration of our country supports Israel." And he blasted the "discrimination" that American Muslims face.

Such problems, the 30-year-old Palestinian immigrant said, require Muslims to support each other. "It is a blessing," he added, "that we live in this country, where we can stand up for our rights."

The subjects of sermons -- two of which are given mostly in English and one in Arabic -- can be almost anything, Omeish said. "The key thing is . . . the principles of Islam must be respected at all times," he said. "And [the sermon] has to speak to the American context. We're American Muslims."

Since September 2001, he added, Dar's sermons have increasingly emphasized that it is no contradiction "to feel as patriotic Americans and as strong, faithful Muslims."

"We need to reach out and be part of the melting pot of America," he said. "If there is any concern . . . if anything is not clear, I want nothing less than you showing up at the doors of Dar Al Hijrah asking us those questions."

Staff researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.

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