- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Manassas Mosque, an Islamic worship center in Northern Virginia, will be able to claim 750 pounds of Iranian ceramic tiles inscribed with Koranic verses, the Treasury Department decided in a letter revealed Tuesday.

The decision means the tiles, made in the Iranian holy city of Qom, won’t have to be destroyed or re-exported, as a previous message to the mosque indicated.

“Based upon the request dated July 31, 2021, and supplemental correspondence dated August 8, 2021 to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (the ‘Application’), the transactions described herein are hereby authorized,” Alan W. Christian, deputy assistant director for licensing at OFAC, wrote in the letter dated Monday and made public a day later.

Mr. Christian offered no explanation for the decision, which was handed down six days after a news conference petitioning for their release took place.

Imports from Iran, a nation under strict commercial sanctions, usually are not allowed unless a license has been obtained in advance. In this instance, the license application apparently was made after the shipment arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport in late June.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, applauded Treasury’s approval in a statement.

“We welcome this decision as a reaffirmation of our nation’s respect for religious freedom and diversity. Americans of all religious backgrounds should have access to the symbols of their faith, whatever the origin of those symbols,” he said.

Imam Abolfazl Nahidian, spiritual leader of the Manassas Mosque, is a native of Qom who was offered the tiles during a visit to his hometown.

“Thank God the tiles were not re-exported and the verses of the Quran were not destroyed, and they were instead released for delivery to our mosque,” he said.

The Manassas Mosque is in the process of constructing a new facility approximately six miles from its present location in Prince William County. The donated tiles are destined for use in a “mihrab,” a semicircular niche indicating the direction of prayer towards the Kaaba in Mecca.

At the Aug. 10 news conference, one area Muslim leader questioned whether religious prejudice played a role in the initial import denial by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent.

Rafi Uddin Ahmed, chairman of the Virginia Council of Muslim Organizations, asked at the time, “If this was a statue of the Virgin Mary, would we be here discussing this or not?”

According to an Associated Press report last week, Mr. Nahidian “has occasionally drawn scrutiny from critics who say he is anti-Israel and was a supporter of the ayatollahs in the Iranian Revolution. He has blamed the Sept. 11 attack on Israel; in 1979, he and others chained themselves to the railings of the Statue of Liberty after climbing to the top and unfurling banners criticizing the shah of Iran, who was overthrown.”

In response, Mr. Nahidian told the AP his “history” shouldn’t affect the import decision.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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