NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa quietly visited a Newark mosque Friday that had been listed in a secret report by the New York Police Department, and he reassured worshippers that New Jersey officials do not believe certain groups of citizens have lesser rights than others.
Chiesa attended prayer services at Masjid Ibrahim, a modest, single-story mosque set up inside a ramshackle former commercial space in Newark. The mosque was among several in the report by the NYPD, which conducted surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey and elsewhere.
"It is not tolerable here in New Jersey for us to have people treated differently in this state – period," Chiesa said.
The attorney general's visit was part of an ongoing effort by his office to repair relations between Muslims and New Jersey law enforcement after The Associated Press uncovered the NYPD spying. The NYPD has said its actions were legal and it has the right to travel to other cities in carrying out its duties.
Explaining to mosque-goers that he had only been in office about a month when the NYPD spying came to light, Chiesa said he was there to listen and answer questions from the community. He said he understood how badly he and his family would feel if they had been subjected to spying at their church or made to feel they could not freely practice their religion.
The mosque's imam, Mustafa El-Amin, is a member of the Muslim outreach committee formed by Chiesa's office in the wake of the NYPD revelations. He has gained a following for oratory that translates the teachings of the Quran into modern-day parables, relevant to his largely poor and working-class African-American congregants.
El-Amin's sermon on Friday was somewhat tailored to his visitors. He emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace and explained the significance of Friday prayers.
"It's not a conspiracy session. It's not a session where we plot anything bad," El-Amin said of Friday prayers. "All are welcome. Our doors are always open. We have nothing to hide."
Chiesa conducted a fact-finding review in the wake of the spying scandal, and concluded the NYPD had not violated any New Jersey laws. The findings angered many New Jersey Muslims, who felt they had no state recourse to end the spying. Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit in New Jersey against the NYPD in June.
Chiesa has said that New York police now meet regularly with New Jersey law enforcement to discuss counterterrorism intelligence and operations. He has also issued a directive requiring New Jersey law enforcement agencies to notify the New Jersey State Police Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness if they hear of outside departments working in New Jersey. Assemblyman Charles Mainor also has introduced legislation that would give such guidelines the weight of law.