Statement of Alaa Abunijem, President of The Islamic Center of Portland, Masjed As-Saber
Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor et al. v. John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller: The First Challenge to The USA PATRIOT Act
PORTLAND, OR – I became a citizen of the United States in 1996. Since that time, I have traveled the world for my job and have received the tremendous respect that is given to a person carrying a U.S. passport.
Yet in recent months, I have been treated as a suspicious person — in my adopted country — because of my religion and my ethnicity. Sadly, this has been the experience of many Muslims in Portland. But in America, the Bill of Rights does not allow the police and FBI to investigate me or other Muslim immigrants when we have done nothing wrong. This is why the Islamic Center of Portland, Masjed As-Saber has decided to join the ACLU lawsuit filed today in Detroit, Michigan.
I was born in Saudi Arabia and came to the United States in 1989. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Engineering and Technology Management from Portland State University. I am a senior Technical Marketing Engineer for a Fortune 100 company and have lived and worked in the Portland area since 1999. My wife and our four children are also U.S. citizens.
I have served as president of the Islamic Center of Portland, Masjed As-Saber since 2000. All of us who attend ICPMA were shocked and disturbed to learn that an informant for the FBI had attended our mosque in June 2002, for the purpose of secretly recording conversations with individuals in search of information regarding the “”Portland Seven”” defendants. Then in March of this year, ICPMA was served with a subpoena seeking financial records related to the Portland Seven defendants and their spouses. We attempted to protect the privacy rights of our community but we were required to turn over records from our mosque.
The FBI has interviewed many Muslims in the Portland area and has asked questions about other worshipers and their political and religious views. As a result of these actions and other incidents of harassment, many people who worship at ICPMA and other local mosques are now afraid to donate to their organizations because they fear their donations will provoke FBI investigation and harassment.
I believe the FBI has investigated me – and may still be investigating me -because of my religious beliefs and my country of origin. But under the USA PATRIOT Act, I do not have the right to know if the government is looking at the list of books I’ve borrowed from the library, examining my medical records or seeking information about me from my employer. And my employer, doctors and local librarian are all prohibited from even telling me if the FBI has asked for records relating to my family or me. That is wrong.
For many of us who attend ICPMA and who are immigrants, the United States government’s secrecy and intrusive questioning are unsettling. Many of us left countries where people were guilty until proven innocent. America is a place where – even if we are members of a religious minority – we are equal to all other Americans in the eyes of the law. We have joined this lawsuit to remind the government that we should be treated fairly, like the Bill of Rights requires.
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