An American Muslim Martyr
by Stephen Schwartz
LONDON — On June 6, 1999, American Muslims saw one among them martyred. Muhammad Akram Qureshi, aged 50, set himself afire outside the courthouse in Westminster, Calif. He died at University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., after suffering second- and third-degree burns to 80 percent of his body.
Mr. Qureshi is largely forgotten today. Why did he commit public suicide in California? Obviously, his act was a protest. But against what? The U.S. government? The fate of the Palestinians? The cruelties inflicted on the Chechens? The Serbian attack on Kosovo? Kashmir?
No, Muhammad Akram Qureshi did not die in a statement about injustice committed by non-Muslims, somewhere far away. Rather, he was martyred at the end of a long process of harassment and prosecution by leaders of the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC), one of the most notorious centers of the Saudi-backed extremist Wahhabi cult, which dominates the "silent Sunni majority" in America. Because of the suffering he underwent, he was silenced forever.
Mr. Qureshi, a few days before his death, had been served with a stay-away order barring him from the area of the ISOC mosque, from which he had been kicked out in 1997. What was his offense? Nothing other than expressing his opinions, as was his right as an American Muslim.
Traditional Islam forbids suicide, and Mr. Qureshi, who underwent serious depression, had clearly been driven to his tragic act. Irate members of the ISOC congregation blamed the horror on none other than Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the mosque and now-former president of the dominant Muslim organization in the U.S., the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The ISOC dissidents pointed out that Siddiqi had harassed Mr. Qureshi, initiated his exclusion, had gotten court orders to enforce the ostracism, and had called the police several times to have the dissenter arrested.
Yet only two years later, just after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, Muzammil Siddiqi was invited to join President George W. Bush and various religious leaders at the National Cathedral in Washington, for a special prayer service.
Perhaps U.S. authorities were ignorant of Siddiqi's extremist record. But they shouldn't have been. On October 28, 2000, at an anti-Israel demonstration in Washington, Siddiqi shouted, "America has to learn . . . if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Please, all Americans. Do you remember that? If you continue doing injustice, and tolerate injustice, the wrath of God will come."
Siddiqi was also imam at ISOC when Adam Yahiye Gadahn, the American al-Qaida video mouthpiece now charged with treason, was hired as a janitor at the mosque. In his typical manner, Siddiqi proclaimed himself shocked — SHOCKED! — to learn that Gadahn had become involved with terrorism. Yet moderate Muslims have spent years connecting the dots between Siddiqi, ISNA, the Saudis, Wahhabism, and al-Qaida.
Siddiqi has long been a subject of wider public attention. I remember with grim humor how one self-important "conservative" superstar informed me after meeting with him that he did not appear to be an extremist. (My reply: how would you, a non-Muslim, be able to tell? How would you know what questions to ask or how to understand the answers?) Unfortunately, Siddiqi still has credibility with local media and, apparently, local government in Southern California, as a representative of the Muslim community.
For his part, Gadahn will doubtless be caught and brought to justice by the U.S. government, just as John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban combatant, was.
But what about Muhammad Akram Qureshi, driven to a terrible death by those like Siddiqi who, since 9/11, parade as alleged "moderates" in American Islam? Who continues to remember him, or calls attention to his case, or demands a final accounting of the totalitarian ideological domination imposed on the American Sunni community by Siddiqi and his "Muslim mafia"?
America stands for the freedom of Muslims — in this country, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere around the world. But the time must come when the silence of Muhammad Akram Qureshi will rise ever more powerfully than his original words, suffocated by Islamist extremists.