NEWARK, N.J. — The leader of a New Jersey mosque that was listed in a secret NYPD surveillance report is using the incident to try and recruit new members and promote a more positive view of Muslims.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin of Masjid Ibrahim in Newark ran an advertisement Thursday in The Star-Ledger newspaper urging people to read the Quran, denouncing terrorism and emphasizing that his mosque has an "open door" policy.
Under a bold-letter headline that reads: "NYPD Surveillance of Muslim Community," the ad says there's no need for the NYPD or any other agency to conduct secret surveillance of the mosque, because: "We have nothing to hide. Our doors are open."
El-Amin says he came up with the idea after reflecting on a phrase in the Quran – "With every difficulty, there is relief" – and realizing that finding a positive, teachable moment out of a negative experience is a concept deeply rooted in Islam.
"We've heard a lot about the negative effects, but once you get this level of exposure, one of the best things about it is, if you're positive, than the positive will win out," he said.
El-Amin was one of several Muslim leaders who met in March with New Jersey's attorney general following a series of stories by The Associated Press that detailed the monitoring or recommended surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey, including the mapping of mosques in Newark – Masjid Ibrahim among them. NYPD officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The leaders have asked State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa for a formal investigation into whether New Jersey law enforcement officials were involved in the surveillance and whether it was conducted in violation of any state or federal laws. There have been signs the AG is looking into it, El-Amin said, but no formal investigation has been announced. A spokesman for Chiesa said Thursday there was nothing new to report.
Attendance at El-Amin's largely African-American mosque, housed in a converted storefront along a gritty commercial strip in Newark, has not waned in light of the NYPD revelations, he said. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to run the ad for a variety of reasons: to attract new people to the mosque – potential Muslim converts, law enforcement officials or people of any faith wanting to learn more about Islam – to emphasize the mosque's long-running stance against terrorism, and to set non-Muslims at ease, especially those who were once friendly to the mosque but are now wary of visiting Muslim businesses or mosques that were listed in the NYPD report.
"You have to be innovative, when something concerns you or your community," El-Amin said of taking out the ad. "It's not purely advertising; it's to state unequivocally that we have nothing to hide."
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