An Islamic group has canceled its $1.5 million offer to Temple University for an endowed chair in Islamic studies after concerns were raised about the organization, which was included in a U.S. government probe into funding of suspected terrorists.
The International Institute of Islamic Thought, a nonprofit research group, was among 20 charities and nonprofits raided by the government in 2002 to gather evidence against Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a former professor suspected of funding Palestinian terrorists through a University of South Florida think tank.
Al-Arian was acquitted of most charges but pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and received 57 months in prison.
No charges were brought against the institute, assets were never frozen and items taken in the search have been returned, the group’s attorney, Nancy Luque, told The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.
“They did not want a chair of Islamic studies funded by a Muslim organization,” said Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub, 69, a blind Islamic and inter-religious scholar who was to be the Temple University chair’s first occupant. “That is really a sad thing, because part of the chair’s mandate was to encourage and engage in interfaith dialogue with Jews and Christians and others.”
Negotiations between Temple and the institute broke down in the fall after trustees and others pressed the school to reject the gift, Ayoub said.
“There were allegations from outside groups that we shouldn’t be taking the money from this organization,” said department chair Dr. Rebecca T. Alpert.
In a statement, Temple President Ann Weaver Hart said that “after much discussion and consideration, Temple decided to neither accept or reject this generous offer.”
“The university indicated that no decision regarding this matter would be made until post-9/11 federal investigations of the IIIT are complete,” Hart said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Virginia said he could neither confirm nor deny whether there was a continuing inquiry.
The chair was to be named for Dr. Ismail Al-Faruqi, who founded Temple’s Islamic studies program and was a co-founder of the Islamic institute. He and his wife were stabbed to death in their home in 1986. The case was never solved.
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