Muslims Embrace their Freed Leader

November 30, 2006

Author: Erin Conroy

Source: The Boston Globe

A crayon-drawn banner reading "Welcome Back Imam Masood" hangs above the entrance of the Islamic Academy of New England, a private elementary school in Sharon situated in the shadows of the adjacent Islamic Center of New England mosque. The banner represents the celebration that ensued last week when leader Muhammed Masood -- arrested earlier this month on visa fraud charges -- was released on bail and returned to his congregation and students.

When Masood, who teaches religion at the school, appeared during afternoon prayer last week after posting bond, the children nearly knocked him over in their excitement, said Hossam AlJabri of Randolph, the father of fourth-grader Ali AlJabri. "They all ran to him and hugged him," he said. "There is a sense of relief, I guess, but a sense also of questioning."

The arrest of the community's imam, or leader, has unsettled many in the area Muslim community -- especially the children.

"We were really sad when he went to jail," said Ali AlJabri. "When he went to jail, some of us cried. Me and my other friend were crying very much." Said Ali's sister, Eman, who is in the first grade, "We all love him very much."

The Pakistan-born Masood and his 24-year-old son, Hassan, were arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Nov. 15, along with 31 others in a nationwide sweep of an alleged scheme to provide religious-worker visas to immigrants for secular jobs. During a rally outside the courthouse in Boston after a bond hearing Nov. 21, supporters -- including representatives of churches and temples in the Sharon area -- criticized governmental agencies for targeting Masood.