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The largest Muslim school in Queens may have some relocation problems ahead of it after the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office filed papers seeking to seize its landlord’s properties.
Federal authorities suspect the Alavi Foundation, a nonprofit founded to support Persian-language and cultural programs in the United States, helped launder money for the Iranian government.
They seek to seize the group’s properties, including a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the building the Razi School leases at 55-11 Queens Blvd. and other properties in California, Maryland and Texas.
Representatives from the school and its umbrella organization, the Islamic Institute of New York, were not available for comment by press time Tuesday, but The New York Times reported that school officials found out about the legal action last week when agents posted a notice on their door. Neither the school nor the Islamic Institute face any charges in the criminal complaint filed against the Alavi Foundation.
The nonprofit developed from a foundation established by the late shah of Iran, who fled the country after he was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. The conservative Shiite Muslim clerics who led the revolution did not look fondly on the deposed leader’s close ties to the United States, and the oil-rich Persian Gulf state has been hostile toward the American government for three decades.
The move to seize these properties concerned a major Islamic watchdog group, which called it “unprecedented” and worried about the implications for Muslim communities throughout the country.
“Whatever the details of the government’s case against the owners of the mosques, as a civil rights organization we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Center on Islamic American Relations, in a statement.
But the U.S. attorney’s office said the tenants of the Alavi properties would not necessarily be ousted. If the case proceeds and the properties are seized by the federal government, they will be sold at auction by U.S. Marshals.
“The tenants and occupants remain free to use the properties as they have before today’s filing,” said spokesman Yusill Scribner. “There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants.”
More than 400 students attend the Razi School, which provides classes meeting state Department of Education curriculum standards alongside lessons in Islamic faith. The school has hosted several interfaith dialogue sessions with other borough religious leaders in the wake of incidents like the 2006 publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, whose visual depiction is strictly forbidden in Islam, in a Danish newspaper.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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