Madrassa update

Turning from bananas in schools to more serious issues, I should begin this post by stating that I do not go about looking for child molesters under every table, any more than I look for terrorists in every mosque. (Regular readers probably know this, but I'm hoping the rest will keep it in mind.)

Last week I went to the Zoning Board hearing I mentioned twice in my discussions of a Saudi madrassa in the neighborhood. At the hearing I saw lots of testimony by angry neighbors, which included complaints that a man identified as a sex offender was listed (pursuant to Megan's Law requirements) as living at the madrassa's address, and had been seen by neighbors.

The sex offender issue seemed to be of much more interest to the Zoning Board than a later attempt to raise questions about possible connections to terrorism of people allowed to use the madrassa. (Questions about the latter were deemed "irrelevant" by the hearing chair, although it was late at night.)

As might be expected, the local newspaper account (in a writeup headlined "Allegations of Megan's Law violatio stall Islamic foundation's expansion plans") focuses on the sex offender-related testimony:

VILLANOVA - Citing concerns over possibly allowing a registered sex offender on their property, neighbors last week objected to a plan to add a school, retreats and other activities on the grounds of the Foundation for Islamic Education in Villanova.

Officials from the foundation went before the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board last week for a special exemption to add a licensed elementary school for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school would initially house 93 students but could grow to 130 in the future.

The foundation is also asking the board to allow a six-week summer camp, increase its full-time staff, increase its Sunday School classes, allow for more people to attend its Friday Juma Prayer session and increase its holiday attendance to allow for up to 400 participants.

But officials from the foundation spent most of the meeting fending off allegations from residents.

Attorney Jim Greenfield, representing a group of residents living near the foundation, raised concerns over whether a registered sex offender was spending time on the foundation's property.

Greenfield entered into testimony the page from the state's Megan's Law Web site on Farhat Mghirbi.

Mghirbi was convicted in Delaware in 1999 of unlawful sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl, according to court records.

Pennsylvania law requires individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to be registered where they live and work. The information is then put on the state's Megan's Law Web site for the general public.

Later, two residents testified that they saw Mghirbi at the foundation around the spring of 2005.

"There was an open house ... that's when we saw him," neighbor Mark Hershorin said.

When asked by board member Robert Fox what Mghirbi was doing during the open house, Hershorin said he was mingling.

The foundation's director, Manal El-Menshawy, denied knowing who Mghirbi was and said the FBI sent agents to the foundation and showed her a photo of him, asking her if she knew him. She testified that she told them that she had never seen him.

Later, Greenfield also entered into testimony a summary of Lower Merion police calls to the address of the foundation, to which the attorney for the foundation objected.

"This is a meaningless list of information," foundation attorney Fred Fromhold said as he looked over the list of police calls.

Fromhold objected to entering the list, saying there were no details on the police list and the calls could have come from people making calls from the street in front of the foundation.

The board did not make a decision on the foundation's request, but could in the next few weeks.

In addition to the above, voting records were submitted which purportedly showed that 15 to 17 people lived on the property, yet the Foundation's spokesperson stated that the Foundation had no idea who most of them were. In response to numerous questions about religious retreats held regularly, it was admitted that no records were kept about the retreats. Neighbors are concerned that strangers are allowed to use the Foundation's facilities without any information being kept about them or the possible agendas of the retreats.

Obviously, no one with a history of being a sexual offender should be connected with any school. Nor should anyone with any connection to terrorist activities. While I have no personal knowledge of what goes on inside the school, the testimony at the hearing made me feel less than confident that this school does a good job of policing itself.

UPDATE (05/21/06): Via Glenn Reynolds, a look at the sort of things which typically appear in Saudi textbooks. Example:


"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."

I don't know what teaching material is being used in the local madrassa, but I can only hope it's not stuff like that.

posted by Eric on 05.19.06 at 09:51 AM


Irrelevant? Wow. How do you get around that? I mean by saying it is irrevelant he's saying they're is no possibility there's any link to terrorism.

-What if there is a link?


-How can it be irrevelant?

-It is.

-But what if there is a link to terrorism.

-The question of terrorism is irrevelant.



-No, but...


-Hey, I'm not a racist.

-That's irrelevant to this discussion.

It has me so confused I can't even remember how to spell the word.

Harkonnendog   ·  May 19, 2006 5:57 PM

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