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School plan divides Lodi mosque

Before an FBI terrorism investigation sparked the anger and fear of the Lodi Pakistani Muslim community, a rift over plans for a school led by an imam who is now under federal arrest divided the community of about 700.

While the Pakistani community grapples with a terrorism investigation many feel has gone too far and left them open to racist retaliation, the internal conflict over the building of a new mosque and religious school has spawned a lawsuit and an acrimonious county Planning Commission hearing.

In a lawsuit filed in March, board members of the Lodi Muslim Mosque allege fraud and deceit in the planning of the proposed Islamic center. The suit accuses Muhammed Adil Khan, 47, the imam of the Lodi Muslim Mosque who is currently in federal custody in the terrorism probe, and four others of misuse of money to build the Islamic center.

The suit, filed in San Joaquin Superior Court, challenges plans to build the school and mosque on 18 acres southwest of Lodi and the fact that some of the finances would be controlled by a Muslim group in East Palo Alto.

"When they found out, they felt they'd been taken," said attorney Joe Rishwain Jr., who represents leaders of the mosque. "It was supposed to be a local school, owned by the local mosque."

Rishwain said members of the mosque were unhappy that Khan put about $200,000 they raised into the name of the Farooqia Islamic Center, a nonprofit Islamic organization with most of its board members living in the Bay Area.

Members of the community have speculated that Khan's opponents on the project spurred the FBI investigation of terrorism that led to his detention in the Santa Clara Main Jail.

Although the FBI has heard this accusation, a spokesman denies that an opponent of Khan's sparked the investigation. Officials said the case has been open for several years.

FBI spokesman John Cauthen said the clash between Lodi mosque leaders and Khan did not prompt the investigation, but agents are looking at it along with "all the evidence."

Gary Nelson, a Modesto attorney who is representing Khan and four Bay Area men, said the mosque's lawsuit attacks agreed-upon plans after the fact.

"It wasn't like someone did anything in the dark of the night," Nelson said. "It was out in the open; everyone knew it."

Nelson said he's filed a motion asking Rishwain to clarify whether his clients want money, land or control of the project.

Brian Chavez-Ochoa, a spokesman for some members of the Lodi mosque, said the rift has split the mosque's board members, mainly over whether women would be allowed in the school and the extent of community use. Chavez-Ochoa, an attorney, said Khan and his supporters on the board hold more moderate views than the board members who sued him.

On April 21, a San Joaquin County Planning Commission hearing on the project was so tense that five sheriff's deputies stood by to calm the crowd of 400, said commission Chairman Larry Solari.

A transcript of the meeting shows testimony in support of Khan's school plans from a rabbi, a minister and parents of prospective students. Opponents included mosque members and neighbors worried about traffic.

"There were a lot of accusations, character witnesses on both sides," Solari said. "You could tell there were feelings that extended beyond land use."

The rift began months before the arrests of two men who apparently were not involved in plans for an Islamic center: Hamid Hayat, 22, and his father, Umer Hayat, 47, are being held on charges of lying to federal officials. The younger Hayat allegedly admitted to training in a terrorist camp in Pakistan and returning to the United States to complete a jihad mission. His father is accused of lying about financing his son's training.

Khan and another religious leader in the Pakistani Muslim community, Shabbir Ahmed, 42, and Khan's son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19, were arrested last week on alleged immigration violations.

Mohammed Hakik, a board member of the Farooqia Islamic Center in East Palo Alto, said he approached Khan in 2001 about joining with the Lodi school project to build a mosque because land prices are more affordable in Lodi.

FBI agents questioned Hakik last Wednesday, he said, and asked about the Farooqia center, Khan and terrorism.

Hakik and several others close to Khan said detractors of his plans for the center reported false information about Khan to the FBI.

"He was trying to bring all the religions together and the religious people who could work together, as friends and family," Hakik said.

Hakik said the name Farooqia is for a Muslim leader, similar to naming something after Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy.

But one scholar said the name may have more controversial roots. Husain Haqqani, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., said "Farooqia," a term derived from the second caliph of Islam, means "the one who is able to distinguish between good and evil."

Some Pakistani schools, called madrassas, also bear the name Farooqia and espouse militant ideas.

"Some of the madrassas have in the past been found to encourage sectarian militantism in Pakistan ... and also to relatively extremist interpretations of the Taliban," he said.

But, Haqqani said, "At this time, there is no evidence of the Lodi Farooqia being linked to that."

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