PITTSBURGH — As the mostly African American and Latino congregation was preparing for weekly Friday prayers at Light of the Age mosque here on June 30, a dozen FBI agents raided the building and lined up worshippers outside at gunpoint. Agents ransacked the building and asked individuals detailed personal questions, demonstrating intimate knowledge of their private lives.

The agents had a warrant for a mosque member over a parole violation, but he and his vehicle were already seized outside hours before. Later a federal judge declared the man was no threat and released him without bail. The formerly incarcerated member had been pulled over in Utah for tinted windows. Because he was “nervous” his van was searched, turning up pieces of his wife’s permitted handgun. He was allowed to leave Utah and spent the night at the mosque. The FBI also tried to charge a parole violation in the State of Washington but the state wasn’t interested.

The real target of the raid may have been the unity of the local Muslim community and its allies. Over the past years, foreign-born Muslims who were voluntarily interviewed by the FBI noticed that African American mosques and personalities were central to the FBI’s questions. The day after the raid, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published erroneously that the mosque is not part of the Islamic Council of Greater Pittsburgh, an umbrella group. The prosecutor cited the article in court to justify the raid, and sensationalized the alleged parole violations.

The raid and media coverage galvanized the multiracial, multi-class Muslim community to respond. An emergency outdoor leadership meeting was convened in a city park with members of African American and foreign-born mosques.

A prescheduled cookout and piñata game for the mosque’s working-class neighborhood was held with a high turnout of support. A documentary crew making “The New Muslim Cool” for PBS, about African American and Latino Muslim hip hop, was on site.

It would take two weeks for the Islamic Council to reach consensus, but the raided mosque and African-American Muslim leaders organized an immediate response press conference July 7.

A vacant lot next to the mosque was packed with diverse supporters. Luqman Abdus-Salaam, the mosque director who is also a hip-hop performer known as “B-Tree,” read a statement asking why the FBI disrupted a community-service-oriented multiracial mosque.

Tahir Abdullah, assistant director, read a statement citing the FBI’s history of harassing African Americans from the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA), the mosque’s national organization which is predominantly African American in its makeup. Speakers from the foreign-born community and the Nation of Islam also read solidarity statements. Leaders of civil rights, economic justice and labor organizations were also present.

Khari Mosley, local Democratic Party ward chair and League of Young Voters regional director, told reporters the mosque is a community asset and asked why “we have a war going on overseas, and poverty is escalating, yet we’re using our resources to be Big Brother and to raid mosques in a police state, Gestapo fashion?”

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