Rep. Peter King, who has been criticized for broad statements linking Muslims to terrorism, will visit Suffolk County's largest mosque this week -- an appearance some Muslim leaders hope signals a friendlier relationship.
The mosque invited King to attend prayer services tomorrow at Masjid Darul Qur'an in Bay Shore. He will offer some comments and may share a meal.
King (R-Seaford), a member and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he is aware he is perceived as being "anti-Muslim" and he doesn't hold expectations of a warm reception.
He denied the visit is aimed at winning votes in his district, which was reconfigured in 2012. He said he visits many places to which he is invited, including synagogues and churches with black congregations.
"I have no problem going to a mosque. Not everyone there is going to agree with me," King said, adding that he has received one hostile letter from a member of the mosque telling him he has no right to visit.
"I understand the reality," said King, who as Homeland Security Committee chairman held congressional hearings on what he called Muslim "radicalization" in 2011. "I'm perceived by some people as being anti-Muslim and taking a hard line."
He said he has visited only two or three mosques on Long Island since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, mainly because he has received few invitations.
Hafiz Rehman, a pediatrician who is a leader of the Bay Shore mosque, said it was "logical" to invite King because the mosque's members are constituents in his district.
"I know he has some very strong views, but hopefully he will understand that we are law-abiding citizens," Rehman said. "I look forward to a good dialogue with him and I look forward to a new chapter in our relation."
Habeeb Ahmed, a leader at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, said King's statements about Muslims and mosques have been "very disturbing."
"One of the problems we have with him is basically he says the whole community is full of bad apples," Ahmed said. "We agree with him to a certain extent, that like any other community we have our share of bad apples. But that doesn't mean that everybody in the community is bad, and we need to be always under the microscope."
King's district used to be mainly in Nassau County. With the changes, which took effect last year, it is primarily in Suffolk and includes the heavily minority communities of Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch. The district's non-Hispanic white population dropped from 87 percent to 66 percent, and minorities rose from 13 percent to 34 percent, according to 2002 and 2010 Census figures.
The congressman, who is in his 11th two-year term in the House, won re-election in 2012 by 18 percentage points over Democrat Vivianne Falcone.
King, formerly a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, also has reached out to the Hispanic community and has changed his views. He now supports comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally.
Before the terror attacks, he enjoyed good, even close, relations with the local Muslim community. In 1984, he helped inaugurate the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.
But for more than a decade, his comments about Muslims have stirred controversy. In 2004, he said 85 percent of the nation's mosques have "extremist leadership." In 2007, he said, "There are too many mosques in this country, there's too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam," though he said his comments were taken out of context.
King said this week he stands by everything he has said and that he has a legitimate basis for eyeing local mosques with suspicion: Several people arrested on terror-related charges have attended mosques on Long Island.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslims are good Americans," King said. "But within that community there is a small element which has been radicalized."
Rehman said he hopes to correct misconceptions King may have, such as his assertion that Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement. "We can bring law enforcement people there, and they'll tell him that we cooperate in everything," Rehman said.