Friends Defend Arrested Islam Leader
Friends Defend Arrested Islam Leader
ALEXANDRA R. MOSES
May. 17, 2002
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ To the rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth, Rabih Haddad was the one he turned to when he wanted to bring Muslims and Jews together.
To students at a local Islamic school, Haddad was the ``cool'' guy they approached with their questions and problems.
But to the U.S. government, Haddad and the Islamic charity he co-founded might have a link to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Haddad, 41, was arrested Dec. 14 on a visa violation and is still jailed. Neither he nor the charity, Global Relief Foundation, has been charged with terrorist activity and his detention has perplexed and outraged friends, family and activists nationwide.
Friends say Haddad was a beloved local leader and teacher whose passion for his Islam and knowledge about the religion amazed them.
``He really has a quiet dignity when he talks,'' says Nazih Hassan. ``He doesn't raise his voice. ... But at the same time it is passionate. It is very effective.''
Rabbi Robert Levy, of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, said he and Haddad had discussed getting the Islamic and Jewish communities together.
``He struck me as being a gentle soul who was seriously moved by his religiousness,'' said Levy, who also spoke as a character witness during one of Haddad's hearings.
Haddad was raised a Christian in Lebanon in the 1970s _ a time of political unrest. His younger brother Mazen Haddad says their parents didn't want the boys to stay in Lebanon when they got older because militias were recruiting people.
When it came time for college, Rabih Haddad came to America, attending the University of Nebraska, where he received a master's degree in engineering. In the mid-1980s, he converted to Islam, his brother said. Mazen Haddad said his parents were understanding of his brother's choice.
``Just like all parents _ they don't like all of the things that Islam imposes on you. ... But that's something he chose,'' he said.
Haddad also became involved in charity work. In 1992, he helped found Global Relief. The nonprofit, based in Bridgeview, Ill., provides food, emergency relief, medical aid and education training in more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Iraq and Chechnya.
Haddad traveled frequently as part of charity work, before and after he started Global Relief. From 1988 to 1992, he lived in Pakistan. His attorney said that was part of efforts by Muslim humanitarian organizations.
Haddad last came to the United States in 1998 on a tourist visa that has since expired.
In court, Haddad said he became involved in charity work because he ``was looking for the best way to please my God and I thought this would be one of the best ways.''
But Haddad's travels have come under scrutiny. According to court documents, the FBI describes ``how sources place (Haddad) in the company of leaders and members of al-Qaeda related terrorist organizations.''
Federal officials say Global Relief maintained contacts with Wadih el Hage, Osama bin Laden's former personal secretary. El Hage was convicted last year in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies.
Officials said in a memorandum that ``some materials distributed by GRF glorify `martyrdom through jihad' and state that donations will be used to buy ammunition, equip `the raiders' and support the Mujahedin.''
Haddad's attorneys say he has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before a federal grand jury investigating terrorist funding. Global Relief denies having anything to do with terrorism.
Much of the government's case against Haddad came to light after a federal judge last month ordered the government to open Haddad's immigration hearings and release transcripts.
The government is appealing the ruling, but has released some documents. The picture painted by federal officials is quite different from the one portrayed by those who knew him in Ann Arbor.
Kristine Abouzahr met Haddad nearly three years ago when she was looking for ways to get money to earthquake-devastated Turkey. Her middle school students at the Michigan Islamic Academy said they knew just the guy to help.
One of the students told her, ```He's a really cool guy, sister, you would like him,''' Abouzahr said. ``Any teacher of middle school knows that's like the highest recommendation you can get from a middle school student.''
Haddad also gave frequent lectures on Islamic history and the role of Muslims. His knack for public speaking made him the point man for the community following the Sept. 11 attacks, called on for talks at town hall meetings and other events.
``We couldn't ask for a better representative to really express how our community felt and ... the grief that many have felt about the death and suffering of all the people in New York,'' Hassan said.
Haddad's message was always the same.
``He's always condemned violence in any form. He consistently teaches tolerance and dialogue between the various religions and cultures _ even from before Sept. 11,'' Hassan said.
Mazen Haddad said their parents, who live in Beirut, can't believe this is happening.
``And of all places in the U.S.,'' said Mazen Haddad, who lives in Toronto. ``This is where they sent their children to protect them from what was happening in Lebanon.''