The mosque where half the men accused of plotting an attack on Fort Dix worshipped opened its doors to the public on Friday in an effort to foster greater understanding of Islam and its teachings.

A standing-room-only crowd was at the Islamic Center of South Jersey’s emergency town hall meeting meant to reassure the people the center’s teachings didn’t play a role in the alleged terrorist plot.

“We are here so we can provide information about Islam, about Muslims and about us,” said Rafey Habib, a trustee at the center and a literature professor at Rutgers University.

Six people — Mohamed Shnewer of Pennsauken; Agron Abdullahu of Buena Vista Township; Serdar Tatar of Cherry Hill; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, all of Cherry Hill — have been charged and are being held by federal authorities in connection with the plot. The Duka brothers all worshipped at the Palmyra mosque.

Habib was among the many speakers, including elected officials and law enforcement personnel, who addressed the public at the three-hour event.

“I’m very proud to be here and I’m very proud that this center is in our community,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-Haddon Heights. “We’re here tonight because this is a place where peace is taught. We are united by a common desire that the peaceful practices that we heard tonight be truly a practice, not just an aspiration.”

Center officials talked about the basic principles of Islam, South Jersey’s Muslim community and the mosque itself, which has more than 100 members and has operated for 16 years out of a stone building that was once a church.

“There is nothing in Islam which condones terrorism,” said Nassem Badat, the center’s spokeswoman. “We want to achieve mutual understanding between the faiths. We are Muslim, but we are American.”

Afsheen Shamshi of the New Jersey Council on American-Islamic Relations, said last week’s arrest of six area men authorities described as “radical Islamists” led to a surge in instances of discrimination and harassment of Muslims, especially women.

A Passaic County woman was allegedly harassed on the street and a man was charged Tuesday with punching a Muslim woman in the face in Fairfield.


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