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A moderating mosque

THE NEW leadership of the embattled Islamic Society of Boston is saying clearly that it wants to join the family of forward-looking religious institutions in the city. Such an outcome would benefit both local Muslims who want to practice their religion free of extremist influences and members of other faiths who seek to engage Muslims in positive discussions.

Concerns had escalated in recent weeks about the Cambridge-based group's undertaking to build a $22 million mosque and cultural center in Roxbury. Both long-past and recent members were showing up in chilling contexts: A 1982 founder is scheduled to be sentenced shortly on charges of illegal money transfers from Libya; a Muslim cleric from Qatar who raised funds for the new mosque provides religious justification for suicide bombings; a treasurer pens anti-Semitic screeds for Arabic-language periodicals.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday with Globe editors, leaders of the cultural center suggested that the controversy has roots in both the political radicalism of some of the early members of the mosque and distortions by critics. The point now, they say, is to move ahead and assume a place as a moderating influence and welcoming presence. There is evidence that the Islamic Society of Boston means to do just that.

Dr. Yousef Abou-Allaban, chairman of a newly constituted board of directors, promises transparency. The center, he says, is fully under the control of a seven-person local board. Radical and Jihadist speakers will not be provided forums. Donations are scrutinized for ties to possible terror networks. One such donation of $10,000 has already been rejected. And mosque members maintain open relations with local law enforcement, including the FBI.

Abou-Allaban also stated that the center receives no donations from the North American Islamic Trust, a foundation thought by US law enforcement officials to fund the establishment of hundreds of US mosques with especially radical agendas.

The new board of directors sent an important message by removing treasurer Walid Fitaihi, an endocrinologist now living outside the United States whose anti-Semitic writings had brought the mosque to the breaking point with area Jewish groups. In a letter this week to Mayor Menino, the group stressed that their former treasurer's writings do not reflect the views of the society. But Fitaihi's continued status as a trustee for life still casts a cloud. The relationship should be ended.

Internal struggles between moderate and radical forces are not uncommon in American mosques. This conflict mirrors a split in the Islamic world. Bostonians of all faiths should welcome the new mosque and encourage the responsible members to prevail. 

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