Virgin Islands Muslim Community Renounces Flag Switcher Salem … Urges Tolerance
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Representatives of churches, synagogues and mosques met at the Masjid Nur Islamic Center in Sugar Estate on Sunday afternoon to talk about religious tolerance and cooperation among all members of the community no matter what faith they follow.
The interfaith gathering at Masjid Nur on Eighth Street in Sugar Estate was in response to the arrest of 29-year-old Alla H. Salem on Virgin Islands charges Friday allegedly for taking down nine flags at the entrance of the road to Cyril E. King International Airport and replacing them with black flags bearing the word “Allah” in white.
Virgin Islands Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. said there was no basis for federal charges in a press conference about the incident on Saturday.
The center issued a statement Sunday night condemning the placement of the black flags.
“Masjid Nur Muslim Community of St. Thomas condemns the placement of ‘black flags’ labeled Allah, which means God in Arabic, near Cyril E. King Airport. In fact, the suspect was reported and turned in by concerned members of the local Muslim community, ” the prepared statement said. “As confirmed by the police commissioner during his press conference this past Saturday, the suspect is considered to be suffering from mental illness.”
“In the faith of Islam, Muslims are required to abide by the constitution and all applicable laws of the land, wherever they live, ” the statement said. “We really appreciate the support and solidarity expressed by many of the faith leaders in the local community. At this time we ask everyone to work towards unity, healing and hope.”
Salem was arrested by the VIPD Friday on Virgin Islands charges of conversion of government property, malicious mischief and petit larceny.
“I would like to thank the community, especially members of the Arab community, who came forward to the Virgin Islands Police Department and the FBI and who provided that crucial information that we needed to track this particular suspect and bring him forward, ” Richards said Saturday.
Participants of Sunday’s meeting described it as reinforcing solidarity and unity among all the religious faiths in the territory.
“The purpose of the meeting was for the various faith traditions to come together for the purpose of dismantling stereotypes and fostering religious tolerance, ” said Pastor Charles Brown Jr. of Family of Faith AME Church in Sugar Estate.
Brown said community involvement was instrumental in the Virgin Islands Police Department’s quick arrest of Salem. The community reached out to Masjid Nur and told members of the center that Salem had put up the Allah flags and the center immediately called the proper authorities, according to Brown.
The pastor characterized the Sunday meeting as a success.
“The major thing that was accomplished was we recognized that it was our responsibility to respond and change the narrative regarding what happened to foster a spirit of religious tolerance, ” Brown said Sunday evening. “One purpose of the meeting was to “show our tremendous appreciation and support for the work the Islamic Center does prior to this incident, as well as what they did regarding this incident. That’s the short-term accomplishment, and the long-term goal is instead of being reactionary to this incident we are going to strengthen the already existing partnership we have and make sure we can collaborate long term on community issues.”
On St. Croix, Omar Idheileh, president of the Virgin Islands Islamic Society, said the Muslim community “renounces the actions of the individual or individuals or individuals responsible for taking down the U.S. and V.I. flags at the St. Thomas airport and replacing them with a flag that read ‘Allah.'”
“This action is disturbing and is against our religious teachings and it has caused unease to the Virgin Islands Muslim communities on St. Croix and St. Thomas,” Idheileh said. “Both communities have spoken to the authorities to help bring the perpetrator to justice. The Muslim communities on St. Croix and St. Thomas have lived here for decades in peace and security with Virgin Islanders, and we hope and strive for it to remain like this. We are one community under the leadership of the U.S. government, and we will always uphold that as Muslims. This is what our religion teaches us.”
The interfaith group has called a meeting open to all members of the community for noon Wednesday at the same Masjid Nur in Sugar Estate.