Priest’s Arrest Stirs Controversy
April 17, 1996 | By Stephen Franklin, Tribune Staff Writer.
Khalifah Islam is a tall, rather hefty man with a strong handshake and a convert’s fiery passion for his religion, Islam.
He also believes in corporal punishment for unruly students, and that got him in trouble recently with police, who arrested him at the small storefront mosque and unlicensed free school he runs on the North Side.
Alerted on March 22 by a youngster who ran from the mosque into the street shouting that children were being hit, police rushed into the building at 1114 W. Foster Ave. and began rounding up suspects.
After a brief scuffle, Khalifah Islam–the 49-year-old priest or imam–and another member of the mosque were led away in handcuffs. Both were charged with resisting arrest, and Islam also was charged with battery for hitting three children, ages 9, 13 and 16.
According to police, the officers’ response was perfectly appropriate for the situation. But Islam and some of his followers contend that it was disrespectful to the Muslims, who had assembled for the Friday afternoon worship–the week’s most important prayer service.
They also have two other complaints: The officers, they say, should have removed their shoes before entering the mosque and Islam should have been allowed to lead the prayers before he was led away.
Indeed, for some Muslims, the incident touched a deep nerve.
“We want to let the people know that we are Americans, and freedom of religion is for us just as it is for Judeo-Christians,” said Junaid M. Afeef, a Schaumburg attorney who volunteered to represent Islam.
Police, however, said officers are bound by a different set of rules–rules that apply to all citizens and that protect children from beatings. An arrest was under way, so it would have been a violation of police department guidelines for the officers to take off their shoes or wait for the services to end.
“If it were a Catholic Church, and there was a man with a gun, they would not have taken off their hats,” said police spokesman Paul Jenkins.
Jenkins said that if the officers had been at the mosque under different, more pleasant circumstances, they would have responded differently.
So, was it the police who overreacted? Or have some local Muslims overreacted to an arrest that may very well have been by the book?
Here are some of the facts:
Police said that when officers arrived at the school, which has about 30 students, a girl was crying and several youngsters indicated that Islam had hit some children with a yardstick. Islam said he had slapped a child mildly and held a ruler up to other children who were fighting.
Islam, who was arraigned on the charges Friday, denies that he resisted arrest, but police said he knelt down and refused to leave the mosque. Islam also claims that four or five officers forced him to the ground as they handcuffed him.
Several of the men in the small prayer room tried to intervene, according to Islam, and one of them was Lugman Mumin, 35, who was also arrested.
Police say Mumim, who has served time for drug use, theft and involuntary manslaughter, hit an officer several times during the scuffle.
Once Islam spoke out about the incident, word spread quickly through the local Muslim community.
The Chicago chapter of one nationwide group, the Islamic Circle of North America, sent an alert to area Muslims, seeking their support and adding that “these incidents cannot be allowed to go unanswered.”
“No other community has their prayer services interrupted and their place of worship defiled,” the group said.
Other Muslims are more reserved, saying they prefer to avoid harsh words and to work with the police to avoid similar incidents.
“We would like to educate the police community,” said Nihad Awad of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington.
“They can do their job, but at the same time they have to respect this part of their community.”