Rival factions vie for control of city's oldest mosque

Posted: January 18, 2012

THE IMAM and members of the board of a prominent West Philadelphia mosque went to court yesterday in an effort to overturn a hostile takeover by rival factions, which include supporters of the ousted imam, Shamsud-din Ali - a central figure in the 2005 City Hall bugging scandal.

Elected officials of the Philadelphia Masjid, the city's oldest continuous African-American mosque, filed an emergency injunction Jan. 13, a week after fights erupted inside the mosque. Court documents allege that some rival members interrupted religious services on Jan. 6 and assaulted Imam Malik Mubashshir and Rafiq Kalam id-din, chairman of the mosque's board.

The board temporarily shut down the masjid, at 47th and Wyalusing streets, hoping that things would cool down, but they didn't. By Jan. 8, members of the rival groups had changed the locks of the mosque and would not let the elected officials in.

After a failed effort to appoint three temporary mosque leaders yesterday, including one from each group and a neutral member, Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox ordered all parties to return on Jan. 24, and warned against violent clashes.

"Although you may be in the midst of upheaval, don't let it spill out into the streets," Fox said. "Don't let it get violent." She added that if police are called to the mosque, she will shut it down until the matter is resolved.

Turmoil over the mosque's leadership has existed since the court helped settle a dispute after Ali, 72, was convicted of eight illegal moneymaking schemes in which he used the Islamic school as his headquarters.

The dispute began to heat up in 2009, when a member of the rival faction and an Ali ally, Wali Bilal, filed suit to remove the board members. A judge ruled in May that the board would stay, upsetting the rival factions, which have criticized the current leadership for changing governing rules to allow them to stay in their positions and for a perceived lack of transparency.

The leadership of the mosque underwent a tumultuous period before and after the 2005 racketeering conviction of Ali and his wife, Faridah Ali. Ali is expected to complete an 87-month prison sentence in Texas next year.

Ali was overheard in a wiretap during a drug investigation telling a dealer to take money to an employee in former Mayor John Street's office.

More than 50 defendants were convicted as a result of that wiretap, including 33 drug dealers, a city treasurer and other political officials.

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