Boycott urged for Muslim imam's prayer in Virginia House

 Abdul-Malik says critics are wrong about him.
Abdul-Malik says critics are wrong about him. (Jahi Chikwendiu - Washington Post)
By Anita Kumar and William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 11, 2010

RICHMOND -- Hundreds of people are urging legislators to boycott the House of Delegates' floor session on Thursday, when a Falls Church imam whom they accuse of condoning violence and defending terrorism is set to deliver the opening prayer.

The imam, Johari Abdul-Malik, and many other leaders in the Muslim and interfaith communities say the accusations are false.

Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly worshiped at his mosque, the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, and one of its former imams, Anwar al-Aulaqi, has been linked to accused terrorists and subsequently denounced by the mosque, one of the largest in the United States.

But Abdul-Malik was not affiliated with the mosque in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. In recent years, he has made statements following the arrest of Muslims on terrorism charges, arguing for due process, civil rights and fair sentencing.

"To try to cast me as someone who's a terrorist and closed-minded -- they picked the wrong guy,'' he said.

Soon after Sept. 11, Abdul-Malik was featured in paid ads produced by a group of national Muslim organizations, which denounced terrorism and the attacks. He has condemned terrorism and Osama bin Laden on "The O'Reilly Factor" and other television programs.

Still, letters and calls have poured into legislative offices since Friday, when a handful of concerned delegates let community activists know that Abdul-Malik was coming to Richmond.

"He's an apologist for people who commit criminal acts,'' said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force. The group, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Act for America, will hold a rally outside the state Capitol on Thursday morning.

Abdul-Malik said he was warned recently that similar negative comments were made about another imam -- Mohamed Magid, head of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling -- when he gave the prayer at the General Assembly two years ago.

"All they're doing is showing that racism still lives in the Old Dominion," he said. "But at the same time, there's a new Dominion. That's what we're going to show people."

Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said he has no regrets about asking Abdul-Malik to give the prayer in the House. "The imam is a peace-loving man,'' he said.

Many of the letters have asked House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) to revoke Abdul-Malik's invitation, but Howell's chief of staff, G. Paul Nardo, said no such action is planned. The House's practice is generally to allow delegates to invite religious leaders of differing faiths, he said.

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