NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The New York Post on July 21 ran a front page headline claiming that a popular Brooklyn imam was a supporter of terrorism.
The story was related to an ad campaign which is slated to begin in September to coincide with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
However, the newspaper ran a photo of Imam Siraj Wahhaj on its cover claiming that he had connections to a “plot to blow up city landmarks.”
Imam Siraj, as he is known, and fellow Islamic religious leaders held a July 24 press conference to show their displeasure with the NY Post. “We called this press conference to object to yet another media attack. By now we are all aware that the New York Post printed a vicious story on July 21,” said Imam al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood and second vice president of the Islamic Council of New York.
“They ran a frontpage headline ‘Jihad Train — ‘Terror’ imam behind ads on subway,’ ” he noted. Inside on another page, the Post said that Imam Siraj “is a former member of the Nation of Islam and was the first Muslim to give an invocation at the House of Representatives.”
“We consider what the NY Post did to be offensive not only to us as Muslims but to all New Yorkers,” Imam Talib told reporters.
“The New York Post is upset because Muslims have the audacity to step up and take the lead on something the media should be involved in, which is telling the public the truth about Islam,” Imam Siraj told reporters.
The ads that have caused the newspaper to react so negatively are sponsored by the New York Chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America. In a press release, the organization explained the thinking behind the ads.
“Ramadan is a month when Islam receives more attention, because Muslims are fasting at the workplace. The mission of the project is to encourage people to search unbiased information on Islam and to promote understanding and dialogue between people of different faiths,” the group said.
Supporters of the ads that are to appear in 1,000 of the MTA’s over 6,000 cars say the idea is to inspire curiosity in the minds people who ride the trains. The ads display questions people may have about Islam. Keywords associated with common stereotypes about Islam, such as head scarf, are displayed. Interested passengers can then visit www.whyislam.org or call 1-877-WHY-ISLAM to receive answers to their questions.
“For the record, I have nothing to do with the ad campaign. I cannot take credit for it,” Imam Siraj told the press. In fact his only involvement was to appear on YouTube promoting the ad campaign. “The Post and their supporters are really angry about the ads; and have chosen to use me to try to discredit it,” Imam Siraj added.
Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, told CNN he had “no problem with the ad itself, but with those behind it.” He called Imam Siraj “a known Islamic extremist.” The congressman also called on the city transit authority to pull the ads. Rep. King is a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
During the press conference, speaker after speaker referred to Imam Siraj as a man of integrity.
“Imam Siraj has spent his adult life as a fighter against the social ills that plague our society. He is a source of pride in this country,” said Aliya Latif, civil rights director for the N.Y. chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The NY Post article is a “very serious issue,” Councilman John Liu, of Queens, told reporters. “We are living in a time where there is a lot of misinformation being spread by the media. News reporting is meant to be a service to the public,” he said.
The Post’s ire over Imam Siraj stems from the federal government saying back in 1993 that the imam was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the World Trade Center bombing.
“The government by its own admission has said I had nothing to do with the WTC; and all I ever did was to appear in court as a character witness for Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman in the context of what we knew about him before the incident, citing him as a scholar in Islam and a great reciter of the Quran,” Imam Siraj said.
“People try to make the connection as if I’m endorsing some bad deeds that were committed by Sheik Abdel-Rahman,” he added.
The best way to fight back is to purchase another 1,000 ads for the campaign, Imam Siraj said. According to press reports 1,000 ads cost $48,000.
Kevin Muhammad, student minister at Muhammad Mosque No. 7, was unable to attend the press conference but sent words of encouragement to Imam Siraj. “As the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan has warned us on many an occasion; there is not a war on terror, but a war on Islam,” he said.