Rep. Peter King and members of Suffolk County's Muslim community heralded the congressman's visit Friday to a Bay Shore mosque as the start of a new relationship.
"I was actually surprised" by the welcome, said King (R-Seaford), who addressed nearly 1,000 congregants at Masjid Darul Qur'an mosque for about 10 minutes. "I'm surprised by the reception for me, but not surprised by the hospitality of the people."
King, who previously has drawn criticism from the area's Muslim community for his statements linking Islam to terrorism, shared a meal with the mosque's leaders and said he would return soon for a town hall-style meeting.
"I think we're going to understand each other better," King said. "I don't expect anyone to change their position. I'm not changing mine. But I think we can find ways to work together."
Mosque leaders, who invited King, also said they believe it will lead to a new relationship with King, a member and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
"I think it went very well. This will lead to future dialogue," said Hafiz Rehman, a pediatrician and leader of the mosque who helped arrange King's visit. "I think already I can sense that he regrets his own past statements."
While Friday's encounter was generally friendly, both sides took some gentle jabs at one another.
Mosque president Roshan Shaikh, in introducing King to the congregation, repeated some of the congressman's most controversial comments about Muslims.
"I know we have all heard some tough statements from him, which we have not liked," Rehman told the congregation. "But the welcome he has seen today is going to change him."
King told his listeners that he will not back down from past assertions that police surveillance is needed in Muslim communities, in part because the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists identified themselves as Muslims and because some suspects arrested on other terror-related charges have attended Long Island mosques.
"The fact that there are people within the community who are evil and bad does not reflect on the entire community," King told the congregation. "But there is an obligation on that community to cooperate fully with law enforcement."
Some congregants made clear Friday that their religion condemns violence and the 2001 attacks, and that they don't consider the attackers to be Muslims.
Islam "is against all forms of terrorism," said Yousuf Syed, a doctor and a member of the board of trustees at the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden.
In 2011, King held congressional hearings on what he called Muslim "radicalization." 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 has said his comments were taken out of context.