August 27. 2017 11:31AM

NH mosque defended after extremism claim

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Hala Hamapishdary of Manchester, right, gathers with Muslims to worship during the Friday midday prayer at the Manchester Islamic Center. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Inside the second floor of a nondescript, office space in a South Willow Street strip mall here, 300 men of diverse cultures and one faith stand, squat and kneel in unison Friday afternoon while their religious leader counsels the flock of the Islamic Society of New Hampshire.

"The way we do it is with action and kindness, promoting goodness and love," said Imam Sherif Shabaka.

"We have to show ourselves; let our neighbors know they are safe around us."

But one author, who claims to have a dossier about this holy place maintains the temporary mosque is anything but a safe haven and his explosive report touched off plenty of push back from many quarters in Manchester.

"On a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being the most extreme, I rate this mosque a 10," wrote David Gaubatz, who says he travels extensively investigating mosques. He says he visited Manchester's Islamic center on June 30.

ISNH Chairman Mohammed Ewiess said these unsubstantiated charges are "full of lies" and have spread distrust of his community.

"When people insist and go the extra mile to harm you in this sneaky way, why do I have to defend myself when all I do is come and pray, I pay taxes, I am a good businessman," Ewiess said.

Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said his detective embedded in the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force has no information that corroborates Gaubatz's claims.

"What he wrote in this piece of paper is slanderous. I do not believe the mosque is a hotbed for terrorism. I don't trust this gentleman's research. I think he is trying to sell a book," Willard said.

"I think the guy is a crackpot and I don't believe we have those issues in this city."

'Hate talk has no place' 

Gaubatz is the author of "Muslim Mafia," an undercover story in 2009 about the Council on Islamic Relations that ended up in a protracted lawsuit and a judge's order that he turn back over to the court thousands of documents he had obtained.

During a telephone interview, Gaubatz said he's worked in the Middle East since 1978, has visited more than 280 mosques here and that many of those mosques get a 1 or 2 rating from him. 

He also claimed Manchester's mosque is more extreme than others. 

At the last Manchester Board of Aldermen meeting, when former Ward 2 Republican State Rep. Greg Salts brought Gaubatz's report to their attention, several rose in protest of it.

"Personally this hate talk has no place in this city, that's just my opinion," said Alderman Chairman Patrick Long.

Alderman-at-Large Dan O'Neil said having this read aloud gave it too much legitimacy.

"There is no need in the city of Manchester for hatred," O'Neil said. "I know this board won't stand for it; our citizens won't stand for it."

Gaubatz said he's not surprised Manchester police and others would reject his work.

"I get that same reaction a lot of the time. They don't want to admit they have a problem in their area and it took an outsider to find it and identify it," Gaubatz said.

ISNH President Ewiess questions if Gaubatz ever really came here.

"I do not think this guy physically visited our mosque. We are always there, the imam is there, the board members go there daily. I do not know when he went or how or who he spoke to if he did," Ewiess said.

There's no question these stunning conclusions had an impact after the report went viral on social media, he said.

"We got a lot of emails that said people were scared for their kids that this was in the neighborhood," Ewiess said. "Now we have to pay attention to extra stuff that's full of lies."

Imam Shabaka said Islam and Muslims, 1.5 billion strong worldwide, are a popular target.

"If you want to be famous, say something about something that is big and make it outrageous," Shabaka said.

And he told the congregation Friday that they all bear an obligation to reject these assaults with a firm but loving response.

"A lot of people defame certain works of faith from things they see and hear of while we sit here not showing who we really are," Imam Shabaka said.

"We don't want people to have a bad opinion of us but we have to show them what the prophets of Allah are all about."

Chief Willard agreed these attacks must be answered.

"He stokes the flames of fear, but he does so through hatred, bigotry and intolerance," Willard said of Gaubatz.

"His islamophobia has no place in our country and certainly no place in the fine city of Manchester that embraces diversity of all levels to include freedom of religion."

klandrigan@unionleader.com