A Sacramento mosque has won FBI Director Robert Mueller's community leadership award for its efforts to prevent violence and educate the public.
The Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims considered one of the most progressive mosques in the nation was nominated by Herb Brown, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office.
"SALAM's established and maintained a dialogue with the FBI and welcomed crime prevention programs such as the FBI Citizens Academy and cyber safety awareness presentations," Brown said during an award ceremony this week. "SALAM's openness and commitment to the community as a whole, regardless of faith, makes them a shining example of community leadership."
All 58 FBI field offices across America get a chance to nominate organizations or individuals who have helped prevent crimes and built bridges of understanding, said Sacramento FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie.
It was the second time in three years the FBI has recognized SALAM for its promotion of community service and interfaith cooperation.
SALAM's imam, Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, won the award in 2009 for his efforts to teach both Muslims and non-Muslims about the Islamic faith. He's spoken at local FBI functions and invited a Muslim FBI agent to attend the mosque, helping defuse some of the distrust many local Muslims felt after the FBI's undercover investigation of a Lodi mosque for possible terrorist activities.
In that case, a Pakistani American cherry picker, Hamid Hayat, was convicted in 2009 of lying to the FBI about going to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and sentenced to 24 years in prison. There was no evidence other than his own words that Hayat actually underwent terrorist training.
Metwalli Amer, an Egyptian American who founded SALAM 25 years ago, said the goal from the start was to build bridges between Muslim Americans and their neighbors. He said that for an Islamic organization to get the FBI's community leadership award "speaks volumes it's like a clean bill of health for our organization and what we do to help secure all the people in our community."
SALAM's chairman, Pakistani immigrant Farrukh Saeed, will fly to Washington, D.C., in April to accept the award from Mueller.
Saeed called the September 11, 2001, attacks "a dark mark in the history of our nation." The actions of the 9/11 terrorists should not be used to judge all Muslims or Muslim Americans, Saeed said. "The best thing to do to dispel these myths about how Muslims live and what they teach is to keep your doors open at all times and have a proactive rather than reactive relationship with the community and law enforcement."
As part of SALAM's outreach, Christians, Jews, Hindus and other faiths have sent their clergy to visit the center and share what they've seen and heard with their congregants, Saeed said.
"I think if anyone at SALAM knew anything about (potential) terrorism, they would come to us at the FBI," Brown said, adding that despite the tensions after 9/11, "the fact is we never gave up on the Muslim community in Sacramento, and they never gave up on us."