Three S. Florida mosques vandalized as Iraq events fuel backlash on Muslims

By Tanya Weinberg
Staff Writer

May 14, 2004

Three South Florida Islamic institutions have reported vandalism and threats in recent days as Muslims nationwide are experiencing a backlash to recent events in Iraq.

In the two days after the public revelation of Nicholas Berg's beheading by masked men, dozens of calls have poured into the Council on American-Islamic Relations, national spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed said.

"Centers and mosques are saying they have been threatened that if they don't condemn these terrorist attacks, that we will face the kind of fate that Nick Berg did," she said.

Not two hours after he condemned the brutal murder in a television news interview Wednesday, the religious leader of the Darul Uloom Institute said he returned to the Pembroke Pines school and mosque to learn of a letter left posted on the mailbox there.

"It said `Kill them all in the name of Allah,'" Maulana Shafayat Mohamed said.

Mohamed said he already had planned to focus his weekly sermon today on condemning both Berg's murder and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces, for which Berg's captors said they were retaliating.

"I'm not going to talk about this because of backlash, but because it was wrong," he said.

"They may be soldiers, but what they did is not the voice of America. Similarly, the guys who beheaded Berg, they may be Muslims, but they do not represent Islam and the voice of all Muslims."

Pembroke Pines Police Department spokesman Captain David Golt said detectives are trying to find out who left the letter at the mosque.

"If we determine there are any crimes, we'll take appropriate action," he said, and encouraged anyone with information to call the department.

Monday morning, a worker discovered a break-in and vandalism at the Al-Ihasan mosque in Perrine. Nothing was stolen, a mosque leader said.

Then, Wednesday afternoon, the caretaker of the Islamic School of Miami discovered an expletive and a reverse swastika spray-painted on the school's sign in Kendall.

"People are angry, and they're also scared, like, what's coming next," said Tasnim Uddin, chairman of the school board.

He recalled a similar incident after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a board member saw a man pull down the school's sign with a tow truck. Police tracked down the man, who called the school to apologize.

"He was very emotional about this whole thing," Uddin said. "We kind of let it go."

The Miami-Dade Police Department is investigating the latest incident.

Spokesman Joey Giordano said he did not know if it was being classified as a hate crime. That angered Altaf Ali, Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"In the past, what we noticed is that many times there is some kind of incident happening in the Middle East, there is a certain level of repercussions in our community," Ali said.

Wednesday, Ali called together local Islamic leaders to speak out publicly against both Berg's murder and the Iraqi prisoner abuse.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and an outspoken critic of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim leaders have not done enough.

"The repeated pattern, and we've seen it in the last few days, is to condemn the violence, but not the groups, the ideology or the movements behind it," he said. "So Americans are left with a very uneasy feeling about where American Muslim sentiments lie."

Council spokeswoman Ahmed said the group fully rejects the ideology that purports to draw inspiration for terrorism from Islam.

She said the council has encouraged American Muslims to cooperate with terrorism investigations and has mounted an Internet petition asking all Muslims to condemn acts of retaliation and terrorism in the name of Islam.

She said people such as Pipes brand a large portion of society with the acts of a few, and "we just won't fall into that trap."

Tanya Weinberg can be reached at or 305-810-5029.

Copyright (c) 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel