The director of Washington's Islamic Center has been accused of marrying three foreign-born couples in Virginia last year without the authorization of state officials. The charges are a result of a federal probe into aliens' activities at the religious center.
Arlington assistant prosecutor William A. Nunn III said summonses have been issued for Muzammil H. Siddiqi alleging that the 38-year-old, Harvard-educated head of the center conducted the ceremonies without the license required by Virginia law.
Both Arlington and federal Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said that the charges grew out of information developed by federal investigators that was passed on to local prosecutors.
"We are investigating the Islamic Center operation to determine if it is in violation of any law that would circumvent the Immigration and Nationality Act with respect to nationals from various countries who attend the center," said Kellogg Whittick, the INS's Washington regional director.
Whittick declined to say if investigators are probing whether the marriages involved aliens who were seeking to win American citizenship by marrying U.S. citizens, a charge frequently investigated by the federal agency.
Siddiqi was unavailable for comment. His lawyer, Fairfax attorney Richard Shadyac, who has been active in Islamic affairs in the area and whose clients include the government of Libya, called the charges "absolutely ridiculous. If you meet Siddiqi, you know he's a man of the cloth."
Arlington authorities contend the allegedly unauthorized marriages were performed by Siddiqi on Nov. 7 and Dec. 21 and 25 of last year. Court documents recording the ceremonies that supposedly were signed by Siddiqi indicate the director was bonded, or legally authorized, to perform weddings in Virginia.
The documents list Siddiqi as bonded in Arlington in 1977, 1976 and 1973 respectively. But Nunn said in an interview that officials had found no such record of Siddiqi's authorization.
Virginia law requires that clergymen obtain a circuit court order permitting them to perform wedding ceremonies anywhere in the state. A requirement for a $500 bond was dropped by the state legislature earlier this year.
Shadyac, calling the charges against Siddiqi a "tempest in a teapot," said the documents showing Siddiqi as legally authorized were prepared by secretaries at the Islamic Center. They thought the center was bonded in Virginia and "assumed the bonding was still good," Shadyac said.
"He Siddiqi is licensed to perform marriages in the District," Shadyac added. "He didn't know he needed to be registered in Virginia."
The places of birth of the six persons married by Siddiqi are listed in court records as Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bolivia, Lebanon and Pakistan. Current citizenship is not included in the form.
The marriages apparently are still valid, lawyers familiar with the case said. "There's a 'saving statute' that says the ceremonies are not void if the couples didn't know" the clergyman lacked authorization, Nunn said.
An Alexandria circuit court clerk said INS agents also combed marriage records in that city recently and found two marriage ceremonies -- involving persons born in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Colombia -- performed by Siddiqi.
One ceremony was held in December 1980 and the other in January of this year, according to court records. Assistant clerk Norma Cunningham said Siddiqi received court authorization last month to marry couples in Virginia.
Siddiqi, who Shadyac said holds a doctoral degree from Harvard, has been director of the center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW since last August. If convicted of the Arlington misdemeanor charges, he could face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $500 fine.