Inside the Toronto SkyDome with more than 10,000 fellow Muslims, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf presided over new conversions, translated an ancient poem and gave a scholarly talk on the Prophet Isa, Islam's analog to Jesus.

Then the bespectacled imam turned for home and his institute in Hayward feeling uplifted.

But when Yusuf handed over his passport at the Toronto airport, two U.S. Customs agents led him to an interrogation room and detained him three hours for questioning. It wasn'tYusuf's demeanor or appearance.

As the son of two American academics and a convert to Islam almost 30 years ago, the most influential Islamic scholar in North America travels in a business suit, no headdress or flowing robe. His adopted Muslim name was flagged on a Department of Homeland Security computer, and the two agents questioning him wouldn't say why.

Yusuf soon stopped answering their questions. It was, he told them, a scene worthy of Kafka. What about his right to attend a spiritual conference, his right to free speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure?

"The rules are different now," one agent said.

That December day, at least 38 other U.S. citizens who attended the "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" conference were held up to six hours at bridges crossing the U.S.-Canada border, according to Homeland Security officials and civil rights activists.

The detainees, ranging from an infant to teenagers to men and women in their 50s, were kept from about 11:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. They were questioned, photographed and fingerprinted.

Agents asked a woman who said she was seven months pregnant to prove it by lifting her shirt. Some women cried as agents pressed their hands to digital fingerprint scanners.

After three hours, one woman with children became agitated and suggested she was going to leave. "We're going to send a car after you to get you," the officers said, according to officials at the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Here at the border, the Muslims were told, "you have no rights."

A few hours later, U.S. Customs officers at the airport detained a University of Chicago academic and made jokes about Muslims.

But the men who detained Yusuf were "very polite and, I think, very bored. I think they literally were doing what the computer told them."

"You might as well answer our questions," one told him. "You're not going anywhere."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities say the stops technically were not detentions or arrests.

Officers had been instructed to watch for Americans coming from Islamic conferences and confirm their identities beyond their passports, said Kristi Clemens, a Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner.

"We had ongoing, credible intelligence that conferences such as this one in Toronto had been used, are being used and will be used by terrorists to transmit fraudulent documents, to fund-raise and also to mask the travel of terrorists," Clemens said. "Based on that information, we decided to have individuals verify they were who they said they were."

Yusuf's detention in Toronto — his third in two months — is a remarkable turn for a moderate Muslim who advised President Bush after the 9/11 attacks and whose steady condemnation of Islamic terrorism has earned him, in some Muslim circles, criticism as a U.S. propagandist and derision as "Bush's pet."

At the same time, Yusuf's experience reflects the frustratingly vague intelligence that feeds the nation's domestic security agencies and their dilemma: how to turn non-specific information into action without damaging the civil liberties of individuals.

Clemens said Customs struck the right balance at the border.

"It's unfortunate when people are delayed because we are going through additional security measures," she said. "But I think the American public expects us to carry out this mission and to do what's necessary. I think they want us to protect them."

Homeland security officials still were concerned enough last week that they scrambled to say it was not a new policy and, they stressed, "absolutely not racial profiling."

"There really isn't any policy," Daniel Sutherland, a veteran government civil-rights litigator who heads the agency's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said of the border stops. "We're really working through it and trying to see what we can learn from it."

The way America's domestic security agencies have handled Muslims in the last three years has been a roller coaster, yet in some ways little has changed since the anxious weeks after the 2001 attacks.

People with common Muslim or Arab names frequently are detained at airports and borders.

Three Iranian brothers whose names appeared on a list found in a terrorist's home have been detained since 2001 in Southern California, despite a court finding that they have no evident links to terrorism.

This summer and fall, FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces sought out thousands of American Muslims at home or work for interviews.

''I think's it's racism, and it's based on names," Yusuf said. "It's been three years now. They've had time to sort things out and they're not sorted out. Unfortunately I think they've lumped us all in together, and it's just guilt by association."

Some Muslim civil-rights advocates say Bay Area Muslims are fortunate. The San Francisco FBI office is trying to build trust with Muslims; unlike elsewhere, its agents haven't shown up at Muslims' workplaces demanding interviews and arousing employer suspicions.

Bureau officials say the interviewees aren't under suspicion. Rather, they say, agents want reassurance that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, that no terrorist cells are at work. Yet civil-rights lawyers and Muslim activists say the interviews delve intrusively into religious practices and political opinions.

How often do you go to mosque? Who do you see there? What are their names? How do you feel about the war in Iraq? What is your view of President Bush?

Yusuf can say he knows the president personally. Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the president's aides called on him for a show of religious unity for a grieving nation. On Sept. 20, 2001, he joined 30 of the nation's top spiritual leaders at the White House. Afterward, Yusuf and four others were ushered into a talk with the president.

Yusuf pressed Bush to ensure Muslims weren't demonized; that a religion of a billion people worldwide not be painted as synonymous with terrorism. America's response to 9/11 must be judicious, Yusuf said, never vengeful.

Also, it would be a good idea, he suggested, to scrap the phrase Infinite Justice as the first U.S. code name for the global war on terror. For Muslims, only Allah can mete out infinite justice, Yusuf said, and in Arabic the code name would sound blasphemous, as though America was presuming divine powers.

Bush ordered the change immediately. Operation Infinite Justice became Operation Enduring Freedom.

Three years later, Hamza Yusuf is caught between the foreign policies of the West and the politics of the Muslim world, in the gulf between a president's words and government's actions.

Meanwhile, American Muslim activists are uncertain what the new detentions mean for the world's largest Islamic conference. This week, more than

10,000 American Muslims are expected back from Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Customs officials declined to say whether Muslims will be detained, photographed and fingerprinted on their return.

Sutherland, the Department of Homeland Security's civil-rights chief, said, "There should be no concern about taking that pilgrimage."

But, he acknowledged, "I don't know that we've gone through step-by-step how to make the pilgrimage work effectively."

"It's like tightrope walking without a net," he said, "and I'm not a tightrope walker."

The Iraq invasion, the reports of torture and re-election of the president have made defending America harder in parts of the world saturated by images on al-Jazeera, Yusuf said.

"The blown-up children just aren't seen here, whereas that's what Arabs see all the time," Yusuf said. "When you're bombing Iraq, it's like bombing the whole Muslim world."

Now domestic security is making Yusuf "apprehensive" about travel abroad to speak.

"When I go back to my country, are they going to detain me? That's a horrible feeling when you're guilty of nothing except maybe having some dissident views, which I thought was a political right in this country," he said. "When you're at the brunt of it, you start feeling uncomfortable in your own country."

The pilgrimage is "the granddaddy of all Islamic conferences," said Arsalan Iftikahar, legal director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"These are citizens. Imagine how we treat non-citizens. There has to some semblance of respect for their human and civil rights," he said. "Such blanket treatment of a group of lawful and contributing American citizens really should give pause to all Americans who cherish their civil liberties."

Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@angnewspapers.com.

Yusuf's demeanor or appearance.

As the son of two American academics and a convert to Islam almost 30 years ago, the most influential Islamic scholar in North America travels in a business suit, no headdress or flowing robe. His adopted Muslim name was flagged on a Department of Homeland Security computer, and the two agents questioning him wouldn't say why.

Yusuf soon stopped answering their questions. It was, he told them, a scene worthy of Kafka. What about his right to attend a spiritual conference, his right to free speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure?

"The rules are different now," one agent said.

That December day, at least 38 other U.S. citizens who attended the "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" conference were held up to six hours at bridges crossing the U.S.-Canada border, according to Homeland Security officials and civil rights activists.

The detainees, ranging from an infant to teenagers to men and women in their 50s, were kept from about 11:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. They were questioned, photographed and fingerprinted.

Agents asked a woman who said she was seven months pregnant to prove it by lifting her shirt. Some women cried as agents pressed their hands to digital fingerprint scanners.

After three hours, one woman with children became agitated and suggested she was going to leave. "We're going to send a car after you to get you," the officers said, according to officials at the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Here at the border, the Muslims were told, "you have no rights."

A few hours later, U.S. Customs officers at the airport detained a University of Chicago academic and made jokes about Muslims.

But the men who detained Yusuf were "very polite and, I think, very bored. I think they literally were doing what the computer told them."

"You might as well answer our questions," one told him. "You're not going anywhere."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities say the stops technically were not detentions or arrests.

Officers had been instructed to watch for Americans coming from Islamic conferences and confirm their identities beyond their passports, said Kristi Clemens, a Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner.

"We had ongoing, credible intelligence that conferences such as this one in Toronto had been used, are being used and will be used by terrorists to transmit fraudulent documents, to fund-raise and also to mask the travel of terrorists," Clemens said. "Based on that information, we decided to have individuals verify they were who they said they were."

Yusuf's detention in Toronto — his third in two months — is a remarkable turn for a moderate Muslim who advised President Bush after the 9/11 attacks and whose steady condemnation of Islamic terrorism has earned him, in some Muslim circles, criticism as a U.S. propagandist and derision as "Bush's pet."

At the same time, Yusuf's experience reflects the frustratingly vague intelligence that feeds the nation's domestic security agencies and their dilemma: how to turn non-specific information into action without damaging the civil liberties of individuals.

Clemens said Customs struck the right balance at the border.

"It's unfortunate when people are delayed because we are going through additional security measures," she said. "But I think the American public expects us to carry out this mission and to do what's necessary. I think they want us to protect them."

Homeland security officials still were concerned enough last week that they scrambled to say it was not a new policy and, they stressed, "absolutely not racial profiling."

"There really isn't any policy," Daniel Sutherland, a veteran government civil-rights litigator who heads the agency's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said of the border stops. "We're really working through it and trying to see what we can learn from it."

The way America's domestic security agencies have handled Muslims in the last three years has been a roller coaster, yet in some ways little has changed since the anxious weeks after the 2001 attacks.

People with common Muslim or Arab names frequently are detained at airports and borders.

Three Iranian brothers whose names appeared on a list found in a terrorist's home have been detained since 2001 in Southern California, despite a court finding that they have no evident links to terrorism.

This summer and fall, FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces sought out thousands of American Muslims at home or work for interviews.

''I think's it's racism, and it's based on names," Yusuf said. "It's been three years now. They've had time to sort things out and they're not sorted out. Unfortunately I think they've lumped us all in together, and it's just guilt by association."

Some Muslim civil-rights advocates say Bay Area Muslims are fortunate. The San Francisco FBI office is trying to build trust with Muslims; unlike elsewhere, its agents haven't shown up at Muslims' workplaces demanding interviews and arousing employer suspicions.

Bureau officials say the interviewees aren't under suspicion. Rather, they say, agents want reassurance that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, that no terrorist cells are at work. Yet civil-rights lawyers and Muslim activists say the interviews delve intrusively into religious practices and political opinions.

How often do you go to mosque? Who do you see there? What are their names? How do you feel about the war in Iraq? What is your view of President Bush?

Yusuf can say he knows the president personally. Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the president's aides called on him for a show of religious unity for a grieving nation. On Sept. 20, 2001, he joined 30 of the nation's top spiritual leaders at the White House. Afterward, Yusuf and four others were ushered into a talk with the president.

Yusuf pressed Bush to ensure Muslims weren't demonized; that a religion of a billion people worldwide not be painted as synonymous with terrorism. America's response to 9/11 must be judicious, Yusuf said, never vengeful.

Also, it would be a good idea, he suggested, to scrap the phrase Infinite Justice as the first U.S. code name for the global war on terror. For Muslims, only Allah can mete out infinite justice, Yusuf said, and in Arabic the code name would sound blasphemous, as though America was presuming divine powers.

Bush ordered the change immediately. Operation Infinite Justice became Operation Enduring Freedom.

Three years later, Hamza Yusuf is caught between the foreign policies of the West and the politics of the Muslim world, in the gulf between a president's words and government's actions.

Meanwhile, American Muslim activists are uncertain what the new detentions mean for the world's largest Islamic conference. This week, more than

10,000 American Muslims are expected back from Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Customs officials declined to say whether Muslims will be detained, photographed and fingerprinted on their return.

Sutherland, the Department of Homeland Security's civil-rights chief, said, "There should be no concern about taking that pilgrimage."

But, he acknowledged, "I don't know that we've gone through step-by-step how to make the pilgrimage work effectively."

"It's like tightrope walking without a net," he said, "and I'm not a tightrope walker."

The Iraq invasion, the reports of torture and re-election of the president have made defending America harder in parts of the world saturated by images on al-Jazeera, Yusuf said.

"The blown-up children just aren't seen here, whereas that's what Arabs see all the time," Yusuf said. "When you're bombing Iraq, it's like bombing the whole Muslim world."

Now domestic security is making Yusuf "apprehensive" about travel abroad to speak.

"When I go back to my country, are they going to detain me? That's a horrible feeling when you're guilty of nothing except maybe having some dissident views, which I thought was a political right in this country," he said. "When you're at the brunt of it, you start feeling uncomfortable in your own country."

The pilgrimage is "the granddaddy of all Islamic conferences," said Arsalan Iftikahar, legal director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"These are citizens. Imagine how we treat non-citizens. There has to some semblance of respect for their human and civil rights," he said. "Such blanket treatment of a group of lawful and contributing American citizens really should give pause to all Americans who cherish their civil liberties."

Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@angnewspapers.com.