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Boca Raton Muslims Attend Services

Muslims attend services amid tension

By Clay Lambert, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 15, 2001

BOCA RATON -- South Palm Beach County Muslims held their weekly jumah -- Arabic for a gathering -- amid unusual media attention, stepped up security and heightened tension.

The door to the mosque, at 141 N.W. 20th St., was locked and the curtains pulled leading up to the regularly scheduled Friday afternoon services. Anxious members peered out of the window before letting reporters into the vestibule.

And women, who members say usually turn out by the dozens, were scarce. Only four women joined about 125 men in praying toward the northeast and the ancient city of Mecca on Friday. Leaders said they told the women to stay away for fear of violence following Tuesday's terrorist attacks that have since been tied to hijackers from the Middle East.

Balil Malik, a visiting spiritual leader, or imam, from Orlando, told the gathering that he changed his topic for the day.

"I was prepared to talk about repentance to Allah," he said. "But what happened last Tuesday changed that."

Instead, Malik spoke of jihad -- an Arabic word meaning "struggle."

"Struggle for what?" he asked. "To kill those who are not Muslim? Is that what Islam teaches us?"

Malik answered his own question. He noted that Islam itself translates to "peace." He cited these tenets of their holy book, the Koran:

"Do not kill any child. Do not kill any women. Do not kill any older person. Do not cut any tree or plant. Do not kill any person in his place of worship."

"These people who did this are not Muslims," he said.

On that score not all Muslims agree, admitted Hassan Shareef, a member who has handled media relations for the mosque.

"It's complicated," he said. "There are tenets of the religion that suggest Muslims should stick together. There are some people who say we should not speak against what happened."

Shareef was quick to point out that he hadn't heard anyone in the local mosque expressing support for the hijackers.

Leaders of the mosque said they haven't been threatened as a result of their religious affiliation. Some, however, have been contacted by federal agents.

Khalid H. Qureshi, a leader of the mosque, is president of a travel agency. He said the FBI had spoken with him, but he declined to discuss those conversations.

At least two Boca Raton police cruisers were stationed at the mosque during services. One man, driving a pickup painted with vulgarities and an American flag, parked out front as well. He didn't appear to cause any trouble and police left him alone.

Copyright © 2001, The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.

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