Moments after learning that Muhammad Salah was cleared Thursday afternoon of federal charges of helping to fund terrorism, Abubakr Meah rushed out of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview grinning and waving a thumbs-up to a passing vehicle.
The driver honked his horn and waved in approval. Standing next to Meah, Allaa Daoud sent out text messages to friends and family from his mobile phone.
“Verdict is out: he’s innocent. Alhamdulillah,” read the message, which ended with the Arabic phrase for “thank God.”
“After 9/11, there has been a lot of looking at us Muslims,” Meah said. “This verdict gives us hope. It means our voices can be heard. We can have justice.”
That evening, Salah came to a celebration in the mosque, which was attended by at least 300 people.
“I love you all, honestly. I owe every one of you,” Salah told the audience at the mosque.
People in the Bridgeview community helped him to put food on the table while he was unemployed during the trial, Salah said.
“I have never feared we would lose the case. Ever. … We don’t fear anyone, under Allah,” he said. “We are happy with the verdict. And I’m sure we will have more happiness to come later on.”
Many at the mosque celebrated the news that he was found not guilty of the most serious charges of helping to fund terrorism. The jury, however, found Salah guilty of obstruction of justice for lying under oath when questioned in a suit filed by the family of David Boim, an American student killed in a 1996 Hamas shooting in the West Bank.
Verdict taken personally
The verdict has a special meaning for members of the mosque because many people know the Salah family. They saw Salah on a daily basis, and said he is a family man who has devoted much of his time and energy to the mosque. They do not believe Salah would support any kind of violence, several members of the mosque said.
Some said they have felt that as he was on trial, so, too, were their religious beliefs. And because Salah was closely affiliated with the mosque, some felt that if he were found guilty of supporting terrorism, they would be too.
“Salah is a nice man,” Daoud said. “He is respected and loved here. I am very happy for his family and for us.”
Each day, worshipers gather to pray in the southwest suburban mosque, quietly tucked away in a residential community. Thousands attend on some days, many of them, like Salah, Palestinian-Americans. Some of the youngest have grown up connected to each other because of the mosque.
For years, their mosque has been a center of controversy because, though its leaders denounce terrorism, it was known to have some members who were considered militant. At times, the mosque has been criticized as too political and too connected to people who funnel money between the United States and countries that are engaged in conflict and known for producing terrorists.
But leaders of the mosque insist that the membership is focused on helping Muslims in the Chicago area.
Most recently, the mosque has seen attention because of its connection to Salah. He was accused of using America as a safe haven to transfer funds, coordinate operations and provide aid to Hamas, an organization responsible for many attacks on Israel. The accusations connected Salah to murders and kidnappings abroad.
For months, as he was on trial, Muslims in the mosque offered special prayers that God would show him favor, one worshiper said. They had a special day of prayer for him.
On Thursday, many said they had gotten the answer they were hoping for. Word of the acquittal on terrorism charges spread quickly among worshipers at the mosque. Some whispered their praises and smiled at each other. Others hopped and danced in the parking lot with excitement.
“It’s a great day today for Arab Muslims and Palestinians all over the world,” said Ghassan Abdallah, the vice president of the Mosque Foundation. “We are glad that the jury was able to see through these false facts and forced confessions and render justice. It’s a happy day for us.”
Dancing for joy
When Amira Daoud got the news in a text message from her brother, she hopped slightly and skipped in a modest dance in the parking lot of the mosque. She was headed to afternoon prayer when she got the word.
“For him and his family to be portrayed as traitors or evil people was a tragedy,” she said.
“I’m glad to get this off our shoulder,” Adli Shuaibi said. “We Muslims, we believe in the justice system. We’ve prayed a lot, and our prayers were answered.”
The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Thursday evening in support of the Salah family.
“We hope that the suffering of the Salah family is over. We also hope that the `terrorism’ label be reserved in the future for those found guilty of that charge in an open and fair trail administered in a respected court of law,” the group said.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune