The New York-based Alavi Foundation is a high-profile organization that claims to be a non-profit devoted to promoting Islam and the Persian language, and has even reportedly made donations to former President Bill Clinton’s foundation. But it has been under FBI suspicion for years over alleged ties with Iran.
Federal prosecutors say the foundation is merely a front for the Iranian government and transfers rental income from its properties to Iran’s Bank Melli, which was first subject to US sanctions in 2007 for alleged support of Iran’s nuclear program.
This article explores what is known about Iran’s Alavi Foundation, shedding light on why federal authorities seized 4 US mosques—all Alavi property—as part of its investigation of the organization.
The recent seizure of US mosques by federal authorities is raising concern amongst Muslim advocacy groups about the religious freedom and civil liberties of the majority of law-abiding US Muslims.
The mosques, property of the Iranian Alavi Foundation, were seized by authorities as part of an investigation probing financial ties to Iran’s nuclear program. The mosques themselves have been not been accused of any wrongdoing.
“As a civil rights organization we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement.
The move puts average Muslims at the center of the political dispute between Tehran and Washington, said Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation.
“The American Muslim and faith communities must not allow houses of worship to become pawns in geopolitical struggles,” Imam Bray told CNN. “The tension between the United States and Iran must not be played out in the mosques of America.”
The Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation called the actions an “unprecedented encroachment of religious freedom.” The group said “it is an abiding concern among the American Muslim community that this action is just the beginning of a backlash after last week’s Fort Hood shooting tragedy.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is also seeking more information from the federal government on the property seizure.
Federal investigators moved to seize four mosques in the US and a skyscraper in Manhattan yesterday over their alleged financial aid to Iran.
Prosecutors in Manhattan filed a civil complaint in the federal court seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets of the Alavi Foundation, which describes itself as a charitable foundation, and a company, Assa.
Authorities maintain the mosques themselves are being accused of no wrongdoing, and in their seizure are simply being treated as property, not as threatening religious organizations. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York maintains that worshippers are not being targeted and are free to continue using the properties as usual.
The mosques are in New York City, Maryland, California and Texas.
IslamOnline.net has posted a feature piece noting the significance of youth and young people in the changing face of US Muslims in their local Islamic centers and communities. “Islamic centers must include youth on their boards and in their decision-making process,” imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of MAS Freedom.
New generations of Muslims top a long list of tough challenges faced by mosques and Islamic centers across the country, citing a relevance for their perspective and inclusion in decision making processes. Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Michigan Chapter, says reaching out to youths should be in both classical Islamic knowledge and its practical application in America. “In this endeavor, Islamic centers need to develop young leaders and encourage them to study Islam academically,” he believes.