As he prepared to face an immigration judge in Newark on Thursday to fight deportation, Imam Mohammad Qatanani put his fate in God’s hands.
“Whatever God wills,” Qatanani said earlier this week. “I am optimistic, but even if they want to get me out, I will be fine. I will accept any kind of decision.”
Sitting at his desk in his office at his mosque, his hands folded before him, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County looked serene – hardly like someone who is in the midst of a firestorm.
Hardly like someone whose life may be upended within a week.
Hardly like someone who could have had ties to Hamas, a group branded by the United States as terrorist.
What deportation would destroy, Qatanani said, is the bridge he built between the members of his mosque – one of the largest in the state – and political and law enforcement officials. It took years, he said, to persuade a congregation suspicious of U.S. authorities, and bitter about being profiled as terrorist sympathizers, to get involved in the larger community and with authorities.
“They will say, ‘He was a moderate man, he spoke about moderation, about trusting authorities. He spoke about peace and building bridges, and what did they do? They deported him.’ This country will be sending the message that we don’t want even moderate Muslims, we do not want Muslims,” Qatanani, 44, said. “This is the message they will send to Muslims everywhere, also in the Middle East.”