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US mosque denied shipment of religious tiles due to sanctions on Iran

Muslim leaders ask Biden administration to release custom-made tiles bearing Quran texts confiscated by customs officials, suggest anti-Islam sentiment may be behind move

Abolfazl Nahidian, of the Manassas Mosque in Manassas, Virginia, after a press conference in which he and other Muslim leaders asked the Biden administration to release a set of religious tiles that have been confiscated because the shipment was considered a violation of US sanctions on Iran, August 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Barakat)
Abolfazl Nahidian, of the Manassas Mosque in Manassas, Virginia, after a press conference in which he and other Muslim leaders asked the Biden administration to release a set of religious tiles that have been confiscated because the shipment was considered a violation of US sanctions on Iran, August 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Barakat)

MANASSAS, Virginia (AP) — A US mosque in northern Virginia is asking the Biden administration to release a set of religious tiles that were confiscated at Dulles International Airport after they were deemed to violate sanctions on Iran.

At a news conference Tuesday at the Manassas Mosque, Imam Abolfazl Nahidian said the custom-made tiles were shipped in June from the Iranian city of Qom, to be used in the construction of a new mosque a few miles away.

He said the tiles were a gift and he paid no money for them, but a Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport blocked the mosque from claiming the tiles, citing the sanctions.

Nahidian said he has received other tile shipments throughout the years without incident, including one shipment that arrived eight months ago.

A letter from Customs and Border Protection informed the mosque that the tile must be shipped back to Iran or destroyed.

Destroying the tiles, which are adorned with Quranic verses, would be especially disturbing, Nahidian said.

“Destroying the tiles is the same as destroying verses of the Quran, or the whole Quran itself,” he said.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that whatever one’s views are of the Iranian sanctions, it makes no sense to enforce the rules on a benign piece of religious art.

“They are not weapons of mass destruction,” Awad said. “We believe the government should have common sense.”

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the tiles were placed on hold on June 21 and that on June 30, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control determined that, under the sanctions imposed on Iran, the tiles could not be imported. The spokesperson said no final determination has been made on the tiles’ disposition.

The Treasury Department declined to comment Tuesday.

Speakers at Tuesday’s news conference suggested that anti-Islam sentiment may be responsible for the confiscation.

“If this were a statue of the Virgin Mary, would we be here discussing this?” asked Rafi Uddin Ahmed, president of the Muslim Association of Virginia.

Nahidian has led the mosque for nearly three decades, and 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 September 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.

Nahidian said his history is irrelevant to whether the tiles should be imported.

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