A lawyer with a history of representing Islamic terrorists, including men connected to the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, is one of the chief organizers of a large Muslim prayer service intended as a show of American patriotism Friday at the Capitol.
Hassen Abdellah is president of Dar-ul-Islam, the mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., that is organizing the event. He said the mosque began organizing the gathering, called “Jummah Prayer on Capitol Hill: A Day of Islamic Unity,” several months ago to convey to Muslims around the world the freedoms enjoyed by their American confreres.
The event has inspired enough rumors to warrant an entry on factcheck.org and a competing event on Friday at the Rayburn House Office Building sponsored by a group called Stop Islamization of America.
Several Islamic groups have distanced themselves from the event. The Islamic Society of America (ISNA) and the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) say they will not be participating. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church, the area’s largest mosque, said he is attending but there will be no representatives from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, one of the region’s largest mosques.
Mr. Abdellah, as a lawyer, represented several terrorists. He was part of a legal team that represented Mahmoud Abouhalima, who was charged in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and also represented Faruq Brent, a Baltimore cabdriver who pleaded guilty in April 2007 to providing material support for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group.
He was briefly the attorney for Mohamed el-Atriss, who was convicted of selling fake IDs to two Sept. 11 hijackers, and represented Numan Maflahi, a New Jersey gas station owner who was convicted in 2004 of making false statements to federal agents.
Mr. Abdellah defended his record, saying his detractors have not mentioned that he was a prosecutor for Union County, N.J., from 1983 to 1989, just after graduating from Seton Hall University School of Law in New Jersey.
“I represent all kinds of people; that is what lawyers do,” he said. “We protect the Constitution by representing the rights of people who no one else wants to deal with.”
“We want to show the rest of the world that as Muslims, we don’t have restrictions in terms of our religious practice,” Mr. Abdellah said. “And Americans have been asking for the Muslims - who love this country - to step up and step forward and renounce the conflict that has taken place.”
The stated goal on the event’s Web site is to “manifest Islam’s majestic spiritual principles” in chants that will “echo off the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and other great edifices that surround Capitol Hill.”
“Our Time Has Come,” it says on islamoncapitolhill.com.
Mr. Abdellah’s group points out that CAIR had a link to its event on its Web site and that ISNA allowed pamphlets publicizing the Sept. 25 rally to be distributed at its annual convention on July 4.
He acknowledged that it has been tough to get sponsorships for the event, estimated to cost about $200,000.
He and fellow rally organizer Imam Ali Jaaber were welcomed by a small group of evangelical Christians at a Tuesday morning press conference at the National Clergy Council office on the Hill.
“I felt it was important for us to have a reception and continue relationship building with the Islamic community,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, who presented copies of the Ten Commandments.
Mr. Mahoney, who is best known for his pro-life activism, said he’s been quietly reaching out to Muslim leaders for several years.
He was part of a six-member team of Christians who “laid hands” in prayer on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a July 2007 visit to Baghdad.
“Our whole purpose,” he said of Tuesday’s reception, “was to say Christians are not the enemies of Muslims and that the heart of Christ reaches out to all groups. We also want to celebrate the wonderful traditions of America that say no one - regardless of their faith - should be persecuted and harassed by the government.”
Mr. Mahoney, the Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council and Kristopher Keating of the Richmond-based Hillside Missions, joined the organizers of the Muslim prayer event as a way to counteract Christian opposition on the Internet.
Some groups, such as Advancing Native Missions, a Charlottesville group, are asking Christians to show up at the Mall and pray.
“While we do not question the constitutional right of these Muslim Americans to rally together at the Capitol, we do have concerns regarding the spiritual nature of this event,” said a statement on the group’s Web site, www.adnamis.org.
Mr. Mahoney said he has received far more vociferous reactions.
“I was embarrassed by all the hate calls they say they’ve gotten from people who profess to be Christians,” he said of the organizers. “Even I’ve gotten about six,” he added, stopping to read a message on his cell phone.
“It says, ‘Please in the name of Jesus do not make any covenant with the Muslim world’ with 14 exclamation points,” he repeated.
“The American public and the church has lumped regular American Muslims and jihadists together, and that is a mistake,” he said.
Friday’s event will draw Muslims who want to show America and the world a different facet of their religion, Mr. Abdellah said.
“My phone is ringing every eight minutes from people calling from all over the country,” he said. “People are asking for directions, organizing buses. I’ve been told it will be much more than 50,000 people there.”