Palau's Muslims anxiously await Gitmo detainees
"If they are real Muslims, they have to follow what our Quran says," said Uddi, adding that he does not tolerate the violence embraced by extremists.
KOROR, Palau – At the call to prayer, the men turn one-by-one down a narrow path through the jungle, marked only by a towering coconut tree.
Hidden at the end of the dirt track stands the sole mosque in Koror, home to more than two-thirds of people in Palau, the tiny Pacific nation that has agreed to take in a group of Chinese Muslim detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
The mosque is perched on bamboo stilts and held together by a patchwork of corrugated metal. For the small group of about 500 Muslims in this predominantly Christian nation, this is a spiritual sanctuary.
Most are workers from Bangladesh, who began landing on this remote archipelago over a dozen years ago, seeking better jobs and peace.
Reflecting local sentiment, they expressed mixed feelings Friday about the expected arrival of 13 Guantanamo detainees. They are protective of their adopted society and the lives they have built.
Haranou Rashid, a Bangladeshi chicken farmer who has lived in Palau for 13 years, said the news makes him nervous.
"Palauans like us," the 40-year-old said. "We do not make any trouble here. But when newcomers arrive, maybe they are not good."
If one Muslim causes problems, Rashid said, it would hurt all Muslims in Palau.
Palau made global headlines last week when it agreed to President Barack Obama's request to take a group of Uighurs — Turkic Muslims from China's far western Xinjiang region.
The Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs) were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 and then held at the U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which Obama has vowed to close. The Pentagon determined last year that the Uighurs were not "enemy combatants," but the men have been stuck in legal limbo since then.
The United States asked Palau for help after other countries turned it down. Four other Uighurs left Guantanamo last week for a new home in Bermuda.
George Clarke, a Washington-based attorney representing two of the Uighurs, said his clients have asked about the religious facilities in Palau.
Any Muslim — regardless of their past — is welcome to pray at the mosque in Koror, said Mohi Uddi, 32, president of the Bangladesh Association.