Muslim American leaders -- calling it a "critical time for our community and country" -- met at a Los Angeles mosque Sunday to kick off a national series of town hall meetings intended to provide the Muslim community with tools to fight terrorist activity, as well as a forum for voicing concerns and fears.
Officials from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Los Angeles-based Arab American advocacy group, instructed mosque leaders to keep detailed and "transparent" financial records, to scrutinize bags on Fridays when large audiences are present and to be aware of the background of guest speakers and the content of their remarks. Religious leaders also were reminded that most mosques do not have the permits to allow overnight lodging.
The guidelines are part of planned education efforts that include teaching in Muslim and non-Muslim communities that Islam does not condone terrorism. Officials also offered guidelines for better controlling and monitoring activities inside mosques, as well as on how to detect criminal activity.
Muslim Public Affairs Council leaders said they hoped the planned outreach will help make their community a partner in the fight against terrorism, a role they say is key in light of recent warnings by top government officials about heightened danger leading up to the national elections this fall.
Maher Hathout, coordinator of the "mosque to mosque" campaign, said that after Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft held a press conference to announce that an Al Qaeda plot against America in the summer was 90% complete, he believed the average American reacted by thinking, "Oh my God. What are those Muslims going to do to us?"
But Hathout said the majority of Muslim Americans want "to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
Los Angeles-based FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin told about 40 people gathered at the Islamic Center of Southern California "these are frightening times, but it's important to understand who the enemy is.... We collectively are in a struggle to fight against other people of the same ilk."
Irvine resident Amal Alkalla said she was pleased that moderate Muslim Americans were getting a chance to speak up.
"Some people have hijacked our religion and our voices," said the 36-year-old. "What I want to say is that we don't support terrorism. At the same time, if you want to have a dialogue, we have opened our arms."