CHICAGO — The Illinois State Police has revoked the appointment of the agency’s first Muslim chaplain, citing only information revealed during a background check. A national Muslim advocacy group Wednesday blamed the move on Islamophobia.
Kifah Mustapha, a Chicago-area imam, was appointed the agency’s first Muslim chaplain in December. Community groups had praised Mustapha’s appointment as a nod to the growing diversity among the agency’s nearly 2,000 officers.
But within days, the appointment came under criticism from the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a Washington-based think tank.
The group alleged that Mustapha was linked to the Palestine Committee of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, a popular movement in the Muslim world that advocates the formation of Islamic governments in the Middle East. It also alleged he raised money for the Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct Islamic charity whose founders were sentenced last year for funneling money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The group cited internal documents and a list of unindicted co-conspirators.
Mustapha hasn’t been charged with any crimes. Messages left Wednesday for Mustapha weren’t immediately returned.
According to a statement from the Illinois State Police, after Mustapha underwent training in December and was issued state identification and a bulletproof vest, it was discovered that he had not undergone background checks required to serve in the volunteer position.
Mustapha’s appointment was rescinded Friday, but that action wasn’t publicly disclosed until late Tuesday after media inquiries.
“Due to information revealed during the background investigation, Sheikh Kifah Mustapha’s appointment as a volunteer ISP Chaplain has been denied,” ISP spokesman Master Sgt. Isaiah Vega said in an e-mail. “Specific details of background investigations are confidential and cannot be discussed.”
Vega declined to say whether there was a connection between the think tank’s allegations and Mustapha’s dismissal.
But the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, which is representing Mustapha, said the imam was told that was why his appointment was put on hold.
Ahmed Rehab, CAIR’s executive director in Chicago, called it discrimination against Muslims, especially since Mustapha hasn’t been formally accused of wrongdoing.
“The ISP is kowtowing to the run-of-the-mill fear-mongering that Islamophobes have devoted their careers in order to avoid a public relations controversy,” he said.
Steve Emerson, executive directr of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, on Wednesday defended the group’s original report, saying it merely published content linking Mustapha to fundraising for terrorists.
He said his group was prompted to investigate after news of the appointment was published on the website of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, one of the Chicago area’s oldest and largest mosques. Mustapha is an imam and director there.
Emerson dismissed charges of Islamophobia as “empty diversions and without merit” in an e-mail.
CAIR planned to file a lawsuit and a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Mustapha’s behalf.
“He knows that he’s a good man and he’s a good leader and that he really wanted to serve in this capacity to help,” Rehab said. “He feels he was unfairly denied.”