ISNA quits gay-marriage fight
- Islamic society quits alliance to protect goal
Claims of terrorist links seen as distraction from gay-marriage fight.
Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, based in
Plainfield, says the group does not want to detract from the Alliance
for Marriage's mission. -- Steve Matteo / Associated Press file photo
By Tim Evans
February 10, 2004
An Islamic group based in Plainfield that has operated under scrutiny
since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has withdrawn from a
national coalition fighting same-sex marriage, saying it does not
want its involvement to hurt the coalition's efforts.
The group, the Islamic Society of North America, ended its
affiliation with the Alliance for Marriage last month amid
allegations that the Islamic organization had ties to terrorist
General Secretary Sayyid M. Syeed said Monday that the society, an
association of 300 mosques and Muslim organizations, does not have
any ties to terrorists but didn't want the controversy to distract
from the alliance's mission.
"We saw the alliance was under attack because of our involvement," he
said. "If, by us staying outside, it makes the alliance stronger, so
That is a stance that has become increasingly common among Muslim
groups since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said John O. Voll,
acting director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at
"It's a tragedy, really," he said. "We have many Muslims in our
society who could be important contributors in politics and social
activities who have simply pulled back now because of these kinds of
In the case of the Alliance for Marriage, Voll said, most Muslims in
America share the conservative values of the other members.
"To have extremists criticize and force out groups like ISNA, you are
dividing the pro-family values group and weakening the campaign for
supporting those values," he said.
Many of the attacks on Islamic groups "come out of frustration that
nothing can be done about terrorism," said Voll. "The problem is, we
are getting further away from Sept. 11, 2001, but we aren't putting
these attitudes and attacks behind us."
The Islamic Society of North America is the second Muslim group to
withdraw from the alliance.
In 2001, the American Muslim Council, a Los Angeles-based advocacy
group, left the bipartisan coalition after the council's former
director made controversial statements in support of a terrorist
The Virginia-based Alliance for Marriage is made up of more than 50
religious leaders including Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews. At
least one other Islamic representative remained Monday on the list of
advisers posted on the alliance's Web site.
Alliance president Matt Daniels declined to comment on the Plainfield
society's departure from the alliance.
The Islamic Society of North America has faced repeated accusations
of ties to terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks from a small group of
people opposed to Muslim organizations. The accusations intensified
in the last half of 2003 in a series of telephone calls made to
members of the marriage alliance.
In January, the Senate Finance Committee asked the society and nearly
two dozen other groups to provide tax documents as part of an
investigation into charitable organizations and other groups with
suspected terrorist ties.
While that investigation continues, an attorney retained by the
alliance refuted the terrorism allegations in a letter to alliance
members dated Dec. 24.
The Islamic Society of North America "has not been listed or
identified as a terrorist group" by federal authorities, wrote
attorney Charles M. Allen.
Charles E. Butterworth, a professor of political philosophy at the
University of Maryland, helped Allen look into the terrorist
allegations in late 2003 and called them "absolute nonsense."
Butterworth said he was disappointed that Syeed's group withdrew from
the alliance, rather than fight the allegations. He said that is what
people attacking Islamic groups want.
Syeed said the society is working to educate people about moderate
Muslims in America. It has promoted dialogue with local religious and
community groups and invited non-Muslims to attend services at the
Plainfield mosque. He said the society also has invited the Federal
Bureau of Investigation to set up a display at its annual conventions.
"We have nothing to hide," he said.
In Plainfield and Central Indiana, where society members and other
Muslims share neighborhoods with Christians and Jews, the tensions
are not significant, said Syeed.
"We have a dialogue. Our kids are in school together, and we work
together," he said.
"That allows people to differentiate between the stereotypes and the
flesh-and-blood people they know."
The Washington Post contributed to this story.
Call Star reporter Tim Evans at (317) 444-6204.
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