Who's Minding the Mosques?
by Stephen Schwartz
The Washington Metro bomb plot was consigned to lesser media attention in the last week of the electoral campaign. But reporting on Farooque Ahmed, the 34-year-old Pakistani-American residing in Ashburn, Va., who was stung by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Metro affair, provided a fascinating glimpse of local mosque life. According to the Washington Post, which ran the story in its October 30 Metro section (in a case that has national security relevance), Ahmed was "a firebrand whose conservative views sometimes clashed with others at the Sterling mosque where he worshiped."
Ahmed, whose media images show him with the characteristic untrimmed beard favored by Muslim fundamentalists, attended the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS). The newspaper said Ahmed "objected to the fact that men and women prayed together and demanded, without success, that women be relegated to an upstairs room . . . . Many still remember a nasty shoving match with a boy who he felt was too noisy and was dressed inappropriately for prayer. 'He was very angry and tried really to fight with him,' said the deputy imam, Abdur Rafaa Ouertani. Ouertani pulled Ahmed off the boy, took him aside and admonished him. 'I noticed a lot of anger,' he said. 'For most of the people at the center, this is what they remember about him. This "show." It was unfortunate.' "
But for Ahmed, who later expressed to others in the mosque his desire to go abroad and wage jihad, the show was serious, and his intentions were deadly. The Post confirmed that Ahmed's jihadist intentions had been the subject of a tip to the FBI by a member of the congregation. Many Muslim clerics in America now advise their communities to denounce jihadist conspiracies to the U.S. government. But will that suffice? Farooque Ahmed was stopped from carrying on a fistfight, but until someone called the Feds, nothing more seems to have been done to discourage his extremism.
Encouraging tipsters among mosque congregants is obviously good, but failing to treat radical disruption seriously when it is manifested visibly dilutes the effectiveness of such preaching. While moderate clerics may oppose radical doctrines, too many may be tolerant of them even after they are advocated loudly, as they were by Farooque Ahmed. The chief imam at the ADAMS mosque, a Sudanese-American cleric named Mohamed Magid, was said by the Post to have "urged all ADAMS community members to work with law enforcement to report any suspicious activity." Yet Magid was running the mosque when Farooque Ahmed put on his radical "show," and appears to have done nothing substantial about it.
Imam Magid has just been elected to succeed Ingrid Mattson, who delivered a Muslim prayer at the inauguration of Barack Obama, as the president of the fundamentalist Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The dominant mosque network in this country, ISNA has seemed to gain almost-automatic access to the White House in dealing with "Islamic affairs." But if Imam Magid could not be bothered to remove Farooque Ahmed from his mosque, how effective will he be, as the main representative of American Islam, in keeping the rest of the American Muslims away from radicalism?