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Jackson Heights imam fights Muslim radicalism

Ever since he lost someone he knew in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, Mohd Qayyoom has worked on his own and through his Muhammadi Community Center of Jackson Heights to spread his message of how despite popular perceptions Islam is against terrorism.

“Islam has no room for the terrorism,” Qayyoom said.

A Muslim priest from Bangladesh, Qayyoom moved to America in 1991. Beginning in 1996, he worked as a paid imam in Elmhurst, but after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Qayyoom used many of his Friday night sermons to speak against terrorism, which met with some resistance from the congregation.

“I decided an imam from Islam should stand up and say, ‘Don’t do that,’” Qayyoom said.

Qayyoom left the mosque in Elmhurst in 2004 to open his community center, on 37-46 72nd St. in Jackson Heights, in 2005. As of now, he has about 100 people coming to the traditional Juma prayers, but says he has not gotten support from Islamic groups.

Nevertheless, he has many plans for the center.

“I want to work with all of the community, all of the issues,” Qayyoom said.

Qayyoom said his current plan is to build a $10 million new Islamic community center in Jackson Heights by 2020. He hopes to buy the house he currently rents for the mosque and four other houses adjacent to it for this to happen.

His center also houses the Al-Azhar Academy, an Islamic after-school program which teaches children both the teachings of the religion and how to avoid falling into terrorist organizations or mosques directly or indirectly aligned with terrorist organizations.

“I want to save all the children from the hands of terrorists, from the hands of brainwashing,” said Qayyoom, who has three children.

Some of Qayyoom’s goals and opinions are unpopular with other Muslims. Having lost his immigration lawyer, along with many of his own important papers, in the World Trade Center attacks, he is against the Park51 Islamic center planned to be built two blocks from the site. He compared the proposed Manhattan center to the Masjid-e-Zirar in the Quran, a mosque said to be built by hypocrites against Islam.

He is in favor of the state of Israel and believes the American government should put pressure on Saudi Arabia not to fund terrorists. He also said he believes all Muslim immigrants who come to America should have training so that they do not fall into radical groups, and mosques and religious schools should have background checks to ensure they are not teaching radical or terrorist philosophies.

Qayyoom has participated in many interfaith programs, including an interfaith breakfast with Mayor Mike Bloomberg and state Sen. Jose Peralta’s (D-East Elmhurst), anti-domestic violence initiatives, and is a frequent speaker at the Jewish Center in Jackson Heights. He said he hopes his center will be a place where people of all faiths can visit.

“Quran is the book for all human beings,” Qayyoom said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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