The Chicago chapter of a national Islamic civil rights group filed a federal discrimination lawsuit Monday against Illinois State Police on behalf of a local Muslim cleric whose appointment as chaplain was revoked last month.
After making the historic first appointment of an imam to serve as police chaplain in Illinois, the state police rescinded the offer to Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, associate director of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, when questions arose about his connection to a charity with ties to the militant Palestinian group Hamas.
The lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ Chicago chapter alleges discrimination based on race, religion and national origin. The suit also says Mustapha was denied his First Amendment right to freedom of association, which bars the government from imposing guilt by association. It calls for Mustapha’s immediate reinstatement.
“From what we can gather, the reasons given for not accepting Imam Kifah as a chaplain didn’t make any sense,” said Kevin Vodak, staff attorney for CAIR-Chicago. “There was no specific reason given other than that he failed the background check. … All of the other chaplains that went through the same program were accepted.”
Shortly after Mustapha’s appointment, Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, criticized Illinois law enforcement, calling Mustapha one of more than 300 “unindicted co-conspirators” in the federal government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Dallas-based group that was once the nation’s largest Muslim charity.
“He is on record raising money for terrorists,” Emerson said. “We have a significant problem of radicalization developing in America. It makes no sense to place someone with a documented record of jihad support in a consultative position.”
Mustapha, who was never charged with a crime, solicited donations on behalf of the Holy Land Foundation. His lawyer said he believed the money went to support American Muslim causes in the U.S.
“As we learned in the McCarthy era, just being part of an organization doesn’t mean you’re engaged in wrongdoing whatsoever,” Vodak said. “He was truly engaged in an effort that was support for the Muslim community.”
Master Sgt. Isaiah D. Vega, a spokesman for the state police, said the agency has no intention of reinstating Mustapha. In an earlier statement, Vega said the department would continue to contact community groups in hopes of having someone Muslim whom officers can rely on for spiritual support.
Ossama Jammal, vice president of the Mosque Foundation, said that as long as the state police call for nominations, the Muslim community will submit Mustapha’s name.
“When you want someone to serve with police in the line of duty … you want the best,” Jammal said. “When they ask us to recommend, we have to give them the best we’ve got. He is our candidate. He will be nominated again and again and again.”