An American imam has filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department for spying on Muslims.
Imam Hamid Hassan Raza of Masjid al-Ansar, Brooklyn, is one of the plaintiffs who have filed a legal case against the NYPD in an attempt to stop the police from spying on Muslims, deeming their surveillance programs as unconstitutional.
Civil rights lawyers in the US plan to take the NYPD to court to urge the police to stop its covert spying methods on Muslims of New York. They also demanded the federal court in Manhattan order the department to erase all records on police files.
Masjid al-Ansar opened in 2008 and from the outset there had been suspicion from the imam and worshipers about spying and police surveillance. Imam Raza told 5 Pillarz: “Throughout the years we have been visited by NYPD plain clothed officers. The visits were based on pretexts and they had no evidences on anything that was going on.
“There have been at least three of these ‘visits’ and we suspected something was going on. I was even asked for my identification records once by officers but they didn’t say what for.”
Imam Raza described how he would tape his khutbahs at the mosque out of fear that the NYPD would take his words out of context while he was being monitored.
He said: “Our mosque should be an open, religious, a spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship.”
The lawsuit explained how an NYPD informant, Shamiur Rahman spied on a 20 year-old college student, Asad Dandia, who ran an Islamic charity called “Muslims Giving Back.”
Imam Raza says his fear of police scrutiny has diverted his time and attention from ministry and counselling while limiting his ability to speak on topics of religious and community importance. He described how the NYPD’s surveillance prevented him from fulfilling his duty as a religious minister, educator and scholar in the Masjid Al-Ansar community.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union and City University of New York’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility have filed the case on Imam Raza’s behalf and are guiding and advising him during the legal battle.
A similar legal case was also filed against the NYPD earlier this year by the Muslim community of New Jersey. This included local businessman, shopkeepers and the mosque committee who felt their constitutional rights were being breached as a result of police surveillance.
The first revelations of police spying on Muslims of New York came in 2011. Since then, this is the third legal action taken against the NYPD’s surveillance programs which started after the 9/11 attacks.
California based civil rights organization, “Muslim Advocates” also sued the NYPD over its counterterrorism programs in 2012.
When asked about what kind of atmosphere and relationships the NYPD’s surveillance has created, Imam Raza said: “Muslims are being singled out and the community is very afraid and distrustful towards the NYPD.
“The Muslim community and its numerous organizations are doing as much they can in terms of assisting the authorities but we are very sad that these illegal and unconstitutional tactics are being used against us.
“Our freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination is being attacked. By taking legal action we are raising awareness throughout the country.”
The US has also seen an unprecedented increase of Islamophobic attacks after the Boston bombings. When 5 Pillarz described the events of the Woolwich murder and its consequent backlash of Islamophobia in Britain, Imam Raza also confirmed that Islamophobia has increased in New York and in the US in general.
He said: “We as Muslims have to do our best by dealing with misconceptions the general public have about Islam and Muslims via the media and discourse in a passive way.
“We should let Americans know that we Muslims are also citizens of this country who want to live peacefully whilst having our rights protected.”
New York City’s law department have defended the spying programs. A top city lawyer, Celeste Koeleveld, said on Tuesday that NYPD operations have helped “thwart several terrorist plots in recent years.”
Since the 9/11 attacks the US authorities have launched several undercover operations aimed at infiltrating and disrupting Muslim communities. They have justified this as part of the fight against domestic terrorism in order to keep innocent people safe.