Muslims Plan Friday Prayer at Capitol

Posted September 23, 2009 at 6:26pm

Correction Appended

Staffers might hear something more than the usual buzzing and ringing as Members are called to votes Friday; they’ll also hear the call to midday prayer as a large group of Muslims gathers to pray on the West Front of the Capitol.

Hassen Abdellah, a criminal lawyer who has served as president of the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., since 1997, organized Muslims from around the country to pray peacefully outside the Capitol.

Organizers are planning for as many as 50,000 Muslims to gather on the West Front.

Abdellah said President Barack Obama inspired the event when he said in his inauguration speech in January that he wanted to extend a hand to Muslims around the world. This event, he said, will represent American Muslims reaching out to shake that hand.

Yet the gathering has stirred up some controversy. Abdellah has come under suspicion from conservative bloggers, including Michelle Malkin, for his role as the defense lawyer for the bombers accused in the 1993 World Trade Center attack as well as other Muslims accused of crimes. The lawyer, however, said those roles were not relevant and added that no one would associate him with bank robbers or drug dealers because he defends them as part of his job.

“I’m a Muslim and I’m an American and I love the country, so people can say whatever they want to,— he said. “I only do what lawyers do.—

Another kind of opposition will come up in the form of a press conference being held by the not-yet-incorporated group Stop the Islamization of America in the Rayburn House Office Building on Friday morning. District resident Daniel Adams, who co-founded the group with his wife, Kendra, in the past few weeks, said they scheduled the event to coincide with the Islam on Capitol Hill event, as well as the anniversary of the passage of the Bill of Rights.

Adams added, however, that they have no plan to face off with the Muslim group outside the Capitol. Adams, who declined to disclose his own religious affiliation or his place of employment, said his group has attracted more than 1,000 members in its first three weeks.

Adams’ group organized a panel discussion of experts who will hold a press conference to assert that Islam’s sharia law is incompatible with the Bill of Rights. Afterward, the group will lobby Members to support bills that would protect American journalists from foreign libel and protect first responders who report a suspected terrorist attack from being sued. Adams emphasized that his group isn’t concerned about the Islamic religion specifically but wants to educate Americans about the effects of becoming an Islamic civilization.

“We believe there’s an ideological war being fought against us, and we’re totally unprepared to respond,— he said.

Though Adams’ group and the Muslims say they plan to gather peacefully, Capitol Police may beef up its presence, according to Sgt. Kimberly Schneider.

“Our staffing and response plans are flexible so that we can adapt to any situation at any time,— she said via e-mail. “While we don’t discuss our security procedures, our planning allows us to appropriately manage groups of varying sizes during any demonstration activity.—

No streets around the Hill will be closed because of the event.

This isn’t the first Muslim-led event in the nation’s capital recently. On Sept. 11, for example, a group of Muslims held a vigil in Lafayette Square to remember victims of the 2001 attacks. A more politically minded group of Muslims, the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, held a “citizens’ hearing— on health care reform in the Rayburn Building on Sept. 15.

This Muslim gathering, on the other hand, has no political agenda, Abdellah said. The group got a permit from Capitol Police that allows them to congregate near the Capitol between 4 a.m. and 7 p.m., and Abdellah said he expects to participate in at least three of Muslims’ five required daily prayers at the site. The main Jummah prayer will be conducted at 1 p.m. and is expected to draw larger numbers.

Abdellah said he does not expect any politicians to participate: Rick Jauert, communications director for a Muslim Member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), said Ellison will be in the District on Friday for the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative conference but has no plans to attend prayers outside the Capitol. Nor has Abdellah gone out of his way to get big-name religious figures involved: He said Wednesday morning that no one had decided yet which imam will lead the prayer since any imam in attendance could do it.

Ultimately, Abdellah said that even if only three people show up to pray, he will feel the event was successful.

“I think if people walk away and we have made at least some impression that perhaps at least they know that not every Muslim is anti-America, then I think that to some degree we’ve accomplished something,— he said. “Whatever heart Allah touches, we’re satisfied with that.—

Emily Yehle contributed to this report.

Correction: Sept. 25, 2009

The article misstated the number of Muslim Members of Congress. There are two.