Advocacy group sues after Illinois State Police revoke first Muslim chaplain's appointment

A Muslim advocacy group filed a federal discrimination lawsuit Monday over an Illinois State Police decision to revoke the appointment of the agency's first Muslim chaplain.

Kifah Mustapha, a Chicago-area imam, was named a chaplain in December along with chaplains of other faiths. He underwent training, passed a background check and was issued state identification. But shortly after, the appointment was criticized by the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, which said Mustapha was a "radical fundraiser" and alleged he had links to Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Mustapha hasn't been charged with any crimes and denied wrongdoing.

According to the lawsuit filed on his behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Chicago office, Mustapha was then told by Illinois State Police that he had passed only a preliminary background check and another should have been conducted before the training. Mustapha was asked to submit paperwork for another check.

In June, the police department revoked his appointment, citing only information revealed during a background check.

According to the lawsuit, Mustapha was told by a police employee that articles by the investigative think tank prompted the second background check.

The lawsuit claims the think tank is known for "anti-Muslim views" and alleges religious, national origin and racial discrimination on the part of police. Mustapha is a Lebanese Muslim of Palestinian descent. It also alleges Mustapha was denied his First Amendment right to freedom of association, which prohibits the government from imposing guilt by association.

"Imam Kifah is an upstanding citizen who has served this country and his community time and again," said Christina Abraham, the council's civil rights director in Chicago. "It is time to put an end to the fear-mongering and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has senselessly engulfed our nation."

The lawsuit seeks damages, attorneys fees and the reinstatement of Mustapha to the chaplain post.

Police spokesman Master Sgt. Isaiah Vega said the agency had not been served with the lawsuit and would not comment on pending litigation. Police Director Jonathon Monken is among those named in the lawsuit.

In December, community and religious groups hailed Mustapha's appointment as a nod to the growing diversity among the agency's nearly 2,000 officers.

Since 2002, Mustapha has been an imam and director at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, one of the Chicago area's oldest and largest mosques. He also served as a designated chaplain with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, helping to counsel Hurricane Katrina victims.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism alleged Mustapha was linked to the Palestine Committee of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which advocates the formation of Islamic governments in the Middle East. It also alleged he raised money for the Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct Islamic charity whose founders were sentenced last year for funneling money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The think tank cited internal documents and a list of unindicted co-conspirators.

In the lawsuit, Mustapha said he had never heard of the Palestinian committee, was not connected to Hamas and any work or fundraising he did for Muslims was helping those who were disadvantaged.

A message left for the Investigative Project on Terrorism wasn't immediately returned Monday. Executive Director Steve Emerson has said the group stands by its articles and was prompted to investigate after news of Mustapha's appointment appeared on his mosque's website.

Mustapha declined media interviews Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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Online:

Council of American-Islamic Relations in Chicago: http://www.cairchicago.org/

Illinois State Police: http://www.isp.state.il.us/

Investigative Project on Terrorism: http://www.investigativeproject.org/

Mosque Foundation: http://www.mosquefoundation.org/