NJ mosque explains "terrorists used to pray here-nothing else" - jihad means "to be a better person"
May 20, 2007
Islamic Center of South Jersey holds public meeting
By: TODD MCHALE (Sat, May/19/2007)
PALMYRA — In an attempt to quell suspicion surrounding their religious teachings and connection to the alleged Fort Dix terrorists, members of the Islamic Center of South Jersey opened their doors to the public for an emergency town hall meeting last night.
"I want to make it clear we don't condone any acts of violence," Ismail Badat, a trustee at the center on Garfield Avenue, told the standing-room only crowd gathered for the meeting.
"We, the Islamic Center of South Jersey of Palmyra and the members of the Muslim American Community Association of Voorhees, condemn in the strongest of terms the alleged plot that was to be carried out at Fort Dix," he said.
The mosque was thrust into the spotlight last week after it was learned that four of the six men charged with conspiring to attack and kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix worshipped at the center.
Suspects Dritan "Anthony" Duka, 28, and his brothers, Shain, 26, and Eljvir, 23, and Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, all had worshipped at the mosque but were not considered to be members.
"Let me make it clear we do not condone any acts of violence," Badat said. "Some of the people who are incarcerated for this alleged plot used to pray here... They used to pray here — nothing else."
Rafey Habib, also a trustee at the center, said the focus of the meeting was to explain the basic principles of Islam, its relation to Judaism and Christianity, Islam in America and what is taught at the center.
"There is nothing in Islam which condones terrorism," Habib said.
He said the concept of jihad means to strive and struggle to be a better person.
"The greatest struggle is against oneself — to be a good person," Habib said. "The taking of innocent life for political reasons does not constitute jihad."
Several local, state and federal legislators and officials were on hand for the meeting.
Congressman Rob Andrews, D-1st of Haddon Heights, said he was proud this sort of discourse could happen in Palmyra.
"There are so many places in our world we could not have a gathering like this," Andrews said. "I'm proud to be here. I'm proud this facility is in our community."
State Assemblyman Jack Conners, D-7th of Pennsauken, said he'd like to see more of these types of meetings.
"I want to see more of this. I want to see more of this across the state. I want to see more of this across the country," Conners said. "I think it's important as we go forward in America that we must get along."
Mayor John Gural said he doesn't have any Muslim friends, but was happy to be given a chance to visit the mosque.
He also said that just because the alleged plotters prayed at the mosque doesn't mean the members had any other association with the suspects.
Palmyra resident Ron Blackeby said the leaders of the mosque answered any concerns he may have had about the center.
"They answered my question...," Blackeby said of the condemnation of terrorism.