Provisions help feed his family
Jewish charity bolsters imam
By Kristin Erekson
Tuesday April 10 2007
Religious leaders on the South Shore are helping to ease the financial
burden of an imam who was arrested last year as part of an ongoing
investigation into a visa fraud scheme.Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple
Israel in Sharon, the Rev. Deborah Cayer of the Unitarian Church of
Sharon and Janet Penn, executive director of Interfaith Action Inc.,
teamed up three weeks ago to form a campaign to raise money for
humanitarian assistance for Imam Muhammad Masood.
Masood, the former spiritual director at the Islamic Center of New
England in Sharon, and his son, Hassan, were detained by U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Nov. 15. The
Pakistan natives were two out of 33 individuals who were questioned
about the immigration ploy, which allegedly helped large numbers of
illegal aliens fraudulently obtain religious worker visas to enter or
remain in the states, according to a statement released by ICE.
"We have known [Masood] to be a very good man who cares about the
community and his family," said Starr, who would not reveal how much
money has been raised so far for the imam. "It became clear that he
was not going to be able to work and earn money, and that was an
issue. This is the kind of thing we would do for any clergy person."
Starr and Cayer distributed information throughout their congregations
in late March, asking individuals to make tax-deductible contributions
to the rabbi's discretionary fund at Temple Israel. The religious
leaders said they are not making a statement about Masood's legal
case, but rather they are raising money to be used to cover basic
provisions for the imam and his family.
"I've known the imam for almost 10 years and I think he's just a
wonderful human being," Cayer added. "I am very concerned about him
and his family and the spiritual community. I am also concerned about
what is going on with civil and human rights not only in our country
but also throughout the world."
Waiting for his preliminary hearing at the John F. Kennedy Federal
Office Building on April 10, Masood told the Advocate that times are
tough for his wife and eight children. His inability to lead spiritual
services, Masood said, is "killing" him and his community. But, he
added, the support from the public has been a much-needed boost to his
morale. He noted that he recently used the donations to buy groceries
and clothing for his children - three of which are American citizens.
"It is very touching that people are offering to help me," said
Masood, 49. "It is a positive example of promoting interfaith
cooperation and understanding and a peaceful existence. I really value
this so much."
William Joyce of the Boston law firm Joyce & Associates, the attorney
for the Masoods, said the imam and members of his family are facing
possible deportation. The hearing next week, he added, is a
preliminary proceeding that will determine what avenues of relief are
available. The case will review the denial of the imam's 2001
application for a religious-worker visa, Joyce said, and his alleged
failure to return to Pakistan in 1991 - a stipulation by a student
visa he used to enroll at Boston University in 1998.
While some within the community have been rallying around the imam,
two local bloggers are looking at the case through a more critical
eye. Martin "Sol" Solomon, well known for his political blog,
Solomonia.com, and "Miss Kelly," who asked to only be identified by
her online moniker, created a petition in November applauding the
"People are coming here illegally and circumventing the system," "Miss
Kelly" previously told the Advocate. "Who cares how nice they are? Why
should they get blanket support?"
Yet, Janet Penn, who has organized many interfaith initiatives in
Sharon, said it's important to create a culture of pluralism within
Added Penn: "[Masood] is a man that I know to be a kind human being
and - as a Jewish person, I feel it's important to help someone in need."
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