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American Muslim Group to Help US Police in War on Terrorism - 2004-05-29

An American Muslim organization has launched a campaign to help law enforcement officials in the war against terrorism. American Muslim leaders say they want their neighbors to know that security is an issue affecting people of all faiths.

There are an estimated four to seven million Muslims in the United States, and many assemble for prayer Fridays at mosques like this one in Los Angeles.

Leaders of several American Muslim groups and law enforcement officials gathered at the Islamic Center of Southern California just before mid-day prayers. They came to announce an educational campaign, aimed at all U.S. mosques, undertaken amid new concerns over a possible attack against Americans by al-Qaida. Maher Hathout, a spokesman for the center, says the step is partly being taken to correct a misconception.

"We, like all Americans, are quite concerned and we would like to end a notion, a false notion, that Muslims are a specimen to be studied or a community to be investigated," he said.

He says Muslim organizations have been partners in homeland security, denouncing terrorism while insisting on their right to express dissenting opinions on other issues. Many American Muslims are harsh critics of U.S. policy toward Israel, for example, but the spokesman says there is near-universal agreement in condemning terrorism.

Mr. Hathout helped launch the national campaign sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. The group will distribute flyers to American mosques asking Muslims to watch for seven people who are thought to have terrorist links, and are sought by U.S. officials.

The organization is also urging Muslims to re-emphasize that terrorism is not a valid means of struggle in Islam.

John Miller, chief of counter-terrorism for the Los Angeles Police Department, says the campaign will promote several additional steps.

"Knowing who is meeting in your mosque, developing skills to detect criminal activity, establishing an inter-mosque communications network. All of this is a giant step, and not necessarily an easy step to take, given the world situation, and given the diverse opinions about it," he said.

African American Muslim leader Imam Saadiq Saafir says no religion should be demonized because of the acts of a few criminals. "And so for Muslims here in Southern California, we try to work more and more together, and even in critical times such as these, our concern is the interest of all Americans to keep America safe, because America has offered us an opportunity to live and practice our religion as well here as any place in the world," he said.

Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times newspaper with a double message. It said "No to terrorism. No to bigotry." Omar Zaki, the group's political director, said "I hope through these types of campaigns that we can build a better cooperation, a better effort, and join with all of our citizens in America, whether they're Christian or Jewish or Buddhist, or whatever their beliefs might be. We're all here together, all under one nation, and we're going to be part of this society."

Police official John Miller says there is discomfort within the American Muslim community in dealing with law enforcement, and the campaign provides a challenge, both for Muslim leaders and for law enforcement officials like him.