Revered New Jersey imam, facing deportation, has interfaith support

PATERSON, N.J. — For a dozen years, Mohammad Qatanani has supported the members of the Islamic Center of Passaic County by speaking at funerals, hashing out ethical dilemmas and sometimes opening his home to domestic-violence victims at a moment’s notice.

But now Dr. Qatanani, 44, the imam of the mosque here, requires the support of the members: he has been barred by federal immigration authorities from renewing his driver’s license, and must call on friends to ferry him to hospitals for visits with the sick among his flock. There are fund-raisers for him at the mosque. And after Friday prayers, the hugs the men give him seem to last extra long.

The imam, who is Palestinian, and most of his family face deportation because of his detention in Israel decades ago and questions about whether he lied about it on his application for permanent residency, which he made in 1999 and which was recently denied.

Immigrant advocate groups said that other imams, in Pittsburgh, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and Dearborn, Mich., are also facing possible deportation, which Kareem W. Shora, executive director of the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called a major concern. “We don’t know if it’s policy-driven or not,” he said. “Is there a pattern? Is it very prevalent? Yes.”

Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, an advocacy group based in Denville, N.J., said of Imam Qatanani: “If you want to deport him, what sort of person do you want to keep in this country?”

Rabbi David Senter of Congregation Beth Shalom in Pompton Lakes called the imam “the most moderate individual you could imagine.” Rabbi Senter, who has publicly praised Imam Qatanani’s work on behalf of interfaith understanding, said he deserves due process. “My fear is, because of Sept. 11 and the wide brush we’ve been willing to paint Muslims with, he will not get that.”

New York Times, 24 April 2008