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Long Island Representative Sounds Off On Selection Of Controversial Imam Who Delivered Invocation At Congress

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A faith leader is under fire after delivering the opening prayer in Congress last week.

That's because some consider his views radical and dangerous.

A local congressman is leading the chorus of calls to better vet the next prayer leaders, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday.

There was nothing controversial about his actual prayer, but the invitation to Imam Omar Suleiman to deliver the invocation at Thursday's session of Congress has unleashed a flood of condemnation.

Imam Omar Suleiman
Imam Omar Suleiman (Photo: C-Span)

Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, for one, said he was shocked by the selection.

"I would chose an imam who doesn't have a history of comparing Israel to the Nazis, who has called Israel a terrorist regime, inciting violence by calling for a third Palestinian intifada," Rep. Zeldin said.

Zeldin said Suleiman should have been better vetted. The 33-year-old Texas imam of Palestinian descent in 2014 rooted for a Palestinian uprising, compared Israel's actions to the holocaust, and Gaza to concentrations camps.

But to young Muslims he's a hero and they consider the criticism against him to be an an Islamophobic smear campaign.

"He gives us a viewpoint that is dissenting against the political system in a peaceful manner and that is important to get youth involved in activism," said Shaykh Ubaid of Baldwin.

"He is a huge role model to Muslim youth. I feel he's doing a huge service to our country by kind of shepherding the youth towards peaceful dissent," said Seemi Ahmed, the Muslim chaplain at Hofstra University.

In his own defense, Suleiman in an op-ed piece insists that he has "never been anti-Semitic," and has has spent his life "fighting bigotry."

"Does that mean that I haven't said anything regretful in the past? Absolutely not," Suleiman said, adding he has been re-evaluating his words and positions.

But Zeldin said Suleiman has not taken back hateful attacks on Israel.

"None of this, as far as I know, he has specified that he has any regrets or apologies for," Zeldin said.

The House Speaker's Office chooses and vets the faith leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not responded to requests for comment or offered any public explanation.

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