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Islam teaches peace, visitors told at mosque near West Palm

The constant message from a series of Muslim speakers: Don³©t associate all followers of Islam with the terrorists who toppled the World Trade Center towers and rammed the Pentagon with hijacked airliners. Islam promotes peace, not violence and killing.

³™They are not Muslims,³Ā said Zulfiquar Ali Shah, the featured speaker and president of the Islamic Circle of North America.

Some of the killers who turned commercial jets into suicide bombs may have expected they would become martyrs afterward, but, ³™from the Islamic perspective, [the victims] are the martyrs,³Ā he said.

The interfaith meeting, intended as an open house at the Purdy Lane Mosque in Palm Beach County, was supposed to set people at ease. But it also sounded a warning. Muslims were told they are still being harassed by those who associate Islam with the attacks in New York and the Pentagon. They were urged to report ¼² any incidents to authorities.

³™Children are being spit on in schools,³Ā said Javed Qureshi, who introduced the speakers. ³™They are called terrorists,³Ā and told, ³™Why don³©t you go back home?³Ā

Qureshi, a U.S. resident for 30 years, has had a recent taste of such hatred: Four teen-agers in a car yelled insults and profanities at his family.

South Florida³©s Muslims were initially shocked by that treatment.

³™You could call it terrified even,³Ā said Murtaza Kakli, president of the county³©s 5,000-member Muslim organization.

Some women were afraid to shop at local grocery stores because of their identifying Muslim head cover, he said. Compounding the concern were reports of people being forced from airliners because of their skin color, accent or clothing that projected a Middle Eastern image.

³™The fear is kind of subsiding now,³Ā said Kakli, an aerospace engineer for 30 years at Pratt & Whitney.

Along with dispelling notions that Islam fosters a terrorist mentality, he said Sunday³©s open house also aimed to boost the $5,000 that mosque leaders raised for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attack victims and their families.

The money will be given to Red Cross relief efforts. Also, a bloodmobile is scheduled to visit the mosque on an upcoming Friday, when worshipers stop by to say their required prayers.

The open house began with a passage from the Quran, Islam³©s holy book, and ended with a moment of silence for the dead and a question-and-answer session. Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout, which appeared to be one-third to one-half non-Muslim.

Mosque member Kazi Ahmed said it was important to throw open the doors to outsiders. People unfamiliar with Islam ³™have gotten the wrong impression³Ā from the terrorists, he said. ³™Islam is not what we have seen in New York.³Ā

Visitors to the mosque were told they could sign a petition being sent President Bush and U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson saying Muslims are ³™deeply shocked and hurt by the attacks.³Ā Signed by 200 people so far, it also urges the federal government to ³™use all caution when seeking retribution.³Ā Target wrongdoers specifically, the petition says, and ³™refrain from attacking entire nations.³Ā

Near the end, a man who stood up and identified himself as a Protestant minister thanked organizers for the gathering.

Virgil Maybray, a former United Methodist Church pastor, drove to the mosque from Tequesta. He clutched one of the free copies of the Quran being passed out. He welcomed the chance to visit the mosque and hear Muslims, saying he doesn³©t hold its followers responsible for the attacks.

³™Unfortunately, every religion has its radicals that are not representative of the basic truths³Ā of that religion, he said.

Burton Schwartz, a retired belt manufacturer from Lake Worth, came away disappointed. Schwartz said he expected ³™more of a memorial service. Instead, organizers ³™presented their side³Ā that Islamic beliefs should not be tied to the terrorist acts, he said.

His wife, Marilyn, said they came in search of a feeling of community with the Muslims but didn't find it at the mosque.

Neil Santaniello can be reached at or 561-243-6625.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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