Islamic Fundamentalists in North America
by Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and its Wahhabi fundamentalist allies – who use the term "Salafi," indicating Islamic virtue, to hide their true history and nature as bloodthirsty zealots – face a constitutional and political crisis. But in North America, the allies of the Muslim Brotherhood have been conducting an offensive. From December 21 through December 25, a national convention was held in Chicago by the Muslim American Society [MAS], inspired mainly by the Brotherhood, and the Islamic Circle of North America [ICNA].
ICNA is perhaps the most dangerous above-ground Islamist movement in the West. Its outlook is jihadist and aggressive, driven by the South Asian ideology of Abu-Al'a Mawdudi (1903-79), an Indian Muslim who created the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami [Community of Islam]. ICNA is problematical because of its fanatical views, but also because it enjoys an audience in mosques far beyond its somewhat obscure and typically ignored status. Indeed, it is often overlooked or treated benignly by non-Muslims. Yet ICNA maintains an intimidating apparatus among South Asian Muslims in America, who make up the plurality of the foreign-born in the American Muslim community.
ICNA acted this year through the so-called Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which is controlled by Hamas, as identified in 2009 by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Solis, who found that, "The government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, [the Islamic Society of North America – ISNA] with [the North American Islamic Trust – NAIT], the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas."
CAIR, MAS and ICNA complained when U.S. officials barred a mentor of the late Osama Bin Laden, and one of the most outspoken advocates of jihadist interference in the recent Syrian mass protests, Saudi Shaykh Ayed Al-Qarni, from going to the U.S. for the Chicago convention in late December.
Considered a dangerous figure by the American authorities, and known among Muslims worldwide as a violent and disorderly demagogue whose unrestrained Wahhabi incitement has elicited commentary and criticism for years, Al-Qarni was reportedly removed from a Saudi air flight to the U.S.
At the start of the 2003 war in Iraq, Al-Qarni distinguished himself by composing a poem, broadcast repetitively on Saudi-subsidized television and radio. The text included the phrase: "Slaughter the enemy infidels and say there is but one God." In an interview, Al-Qarni said he prayed several times daily for the destruction of America, according to him the main source of global suffering. He urged Saudi subjects to fight in Iraq and contribute money to the defense of Saddam Hussein.
Five years later, apparently shocked by the bloodshed in Iraq, Al-Qarni appealed for peace between Sunnis and Shias, but nonetheless called on the latter to "stop belittling, insulting, and finding fault with the Companions of the Prophet." Yet there is no Shia Islam without criticism of those Companions of Muhammad viewed as moral and ethical guides by Sunni Muslims, and to ask Shias to refrain from expressing their views, rather than simply disagreeing with them as most Sunnis would, is to call for silence.
In April, Al-Qarni issued a fatwa legitimizing the assassination of Bashar Al-Assad, as reported in the news portal Emirates 24/7. Al-Qarni said killing Al-Assad is more important than killing Israelis – just the latest entry in a long history of anti-Jewish comments. The Saudi cleric referred to Al-Assad as "a rogue" and leader of the "rogue" Ba'athist party, as well as "disobedient to God."
Although MAS and ICNA were prevented by the U.S. government from providing a platform for Al-Qarni, their convention did host Jamal Badawi, a MAS luminary and Egyptian-born Canadian ideologue who has only business administration degrees but pretends to status as a leading Islamic theologian, for which he possesses no training or credentials. In conventional Islam, theologians must have completed significant study of the faith under recognized teachers who award formal qualifications. Self-designated "Islamic experts," basing their arguments on improvisation, as Badawi does, are invalid in providing religious guidance.
As described in the Centre for Islamic Pluralism 2009 "Guide to Shariah Agitation and Islamic Ideology In Western Europe" (soon to be reissued in a 2013 revised edition), Badawi is a close associate and assistant of an important influence on the Muslim Brotherhood, the hate-mongering television preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, in the so-called European Council for Fatawa and Research (ECFR). After the Al-Qaida attacks of September 11, 2001, Al-Qaradawi hailed Osama bin Laden as "a symbol of the world uprising against American hegemony." EFCR was created, mainly by Muslim clerics from outside Europe, to formulate Islamic law for Muslims living in Europe.
Badawi is known chiefly for his views on the status of Muslim women. Although in a widely-read online commentary, Badawi cited standard Islamic sources which discourage wife-beating, including a common moderate Muslim argument that the Prophet Muhammad himself never engaged in the practice, Badawi also translated a Quranic reference to wife-beating as follows, with his own interpolations: "(and last) beat (tap) them (lightly)." (Qur'an 4:34). This was apparently to support wife-beating through an ameliorative form of editing. Badawi is also known for his defense of polygamy: "Polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted."
In his volume The Status of Women in Islam (1980), Badawi condemns involvement of women in politics: "According to Islam, the head of the state is no mere figurehead," he wrote. "He leads people in the prayers, especially on Fridays and festivities; he is continuously engaged in the process of decision-making pertaining to the security and well-being of his people. This demanding position, or any similar one, such as the Commander of the Army, is generally inconsistent with the physiological and psychological make-up of woman in general. It is a medical fact that during their monthly periods and during their pregnancies, women undergo various physiological and psychological changes. Such changes may occur during an emergency situation, thus affecting her decision, without considering the excessive strain which is produced. Moreover, some decisions require a maximum of rationality and a minimum of emotionality – a requirement which does not coincide with the instinctive nature of women."
This line of argument conflicts with the experience of Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Albania, and Kosovo – all majority-Muslim countries, which have included women among their political leaders.
Jamal Badawi represents an example of the entry of an exponent of Shariah law into Western government councils. He has been prominent, since 2006, in a British project, the "Radical Middle Way" (RMW) a preaching circuit of UK Muslim communities. The tour, derided by moderate Muslims and non-Muslim media alike as a "roadshow," was financed by the British government. Its intent was to provide an opportunity for extremists in the Muslim community to express themselves and their ideology while denouncing violent action and thereby proving, allegedly, their moderation. In historical Islamic doctrine, however, radicalism and "the middle way" are strongly opposed to one another and trying to merge them is nonsensical. The project was self-contradictory and therefore misconceived in its intent; it has had no outcome except to provide a platform for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the South Asian radical Deobandis.
One of the most prominent acolytes of RMW has been the American Muslim fundamentalist Muslim preacher Hamza Yusuf Hanson, creator of the puffed-up claim that his provision of a few classes in Northern California laid the foundation for "Zaytuna College," supposedly the first Islamic college in the U.S. American media fell for this assertion and gave Hanson considerable free and inaccurate publicity for his posturing. In a feature on National Public Radio in September 2010, "New College Teaches Young American Muslims," a student at Zaytuna, Faatimah Knight, claimed that Hanson and his main associate, African-American Muslim Zaid Shakir, have "thousands, maybe millions" of "teenagers around the world" who "follow Shakir and Yusuf on YouTube." Hanson skipped the MAS-ICNA affair but was represented there by Shakir.
Hanson is most infamous for his Islamist diatribes before the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Only two days preceding the Al-Qaida assault on the U.S., Hanson declaimed to Muslim students in Los Angeles, "this country is facing a very terrible fate. The reason for that is that this country stands condemned. It stands condemned like Europe stood condemned for what it did… This country (America) unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too to illiterate to read the writing on the wall."
After September 11, Hanson adopted a more "spiritual" pose. But his "Zaytuna College" is known for its fundamentalist approach to student dress and he has refused to denounce Wahhabism or other violent ideologies, on the ground that he does not wish to divide the Muslims. This is a common excuse for acquiescence to extremism.
Shakir commented to The New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein, on June 18, 2006, "Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country. I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community." This self-important claim of "honesty," and expansive attitude toward non-Muslim societies, are not traditionally Islamic. In normal Islam, neither Zaid Shakir nor any other ordinary believer has the right to accuse others of dishonesty unless a deliberate act of deceit can be proven. In addition, through many centuries, Muslims accepted that the non-Muslim lands were to be respected as territories dominated by other faiths. While all religious believers wish for the success of their creed, and Muslims are no different in this, the use of ambitious idioms implying a desire for Islamization of the West is neither necessary nor positive. And finally, Islam is a revealed religion founded on belief in the divine, not a "self-help" movement.
More participants summoning the Muslim public to the MAS and ICNA affair included Islamist academic and fundamentalist legal theorist Tariq Ramadan; Hamza Yusuf Hanson's mentioned companion, Zaid Shakir; Abdelfattah Mourou, a leader of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood's "Renaissance party [En-Nahda]," and African-American preacher Siraj Wahhaj. Wahhaj's record of extremist rhetoric includes his defense of the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman, and Wahhaj was, according to U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 plot to blow up the World Trade Center,
During the same week, from December 21 to 23, Toronto, Canada, was scheduled to host the 2012 Rising Islamic Spirit [RIS] assembly, a prominent event for fundamentalist mobilization of Western Muslims.
RIS advertised the presence of Badawi, Ramadan, and Zaid Shakir as well as the pro-Iranian official "expert" on Sufi spirituality, Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Others invited included Hamza Yusuf Hanson, via video, and Hanson's mentor, the Saudi-based Mauritanian cleric and higher assistant to Al-Qaradawi, Abdullah Bin Bayyah. The latter currently teaches at the Wahhabi King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, and was a close friend of the late Prince Nayef, the extreme Wahhabi interior minister of Saudi Arabia. Bin Bayyah is prominent in Al-Qaradawi's "Euro-Shariah" body, the EFCR, as is the recently-replaced chief Bosnian Muslim cleric Mustafa Cerić in the Balkans are the leading team propelling Al-Qaradawi's project for Islamic law in Europe.
In Chicago and Toronto alike, the long catalogues of past statements by Islamist organizers illustrate their close association with Saudi Wahhabism, South Asian jihadism, and the injection of the Muslim Brotherhood's attitudes into Islam in North America. This effort is challenged by increasing opposition to Islamist appeals among North American Muslims, who see the fruit of Wahhabi fundamentalism in the transformation of the Saudi religious legacy into a vast commercial scheme, with the erection of hotels and other buildings dwarfing the sacred religious architecture of Mecca and Medina. In the achievement of this "vision," much of the Islamic cultural legacy of the holy cities – ancient residences and mosques – has been destroyed, including buildings associated with Muhammad and his family.
It is no coincidence that while the Saudis level the heritage of Mecca and Medina in the name of modern development, Wahhabis in countries as diverse as Macedonia in Europe and Somalia, Libya and Mali in Africa have devastated Sufi shrines. The intent is the same: to reinvent Islam according to the whims of those who currently have state power or seek it.
In addition, the resurgence of radical Islam has brought about the collapse of the Egyptian democratic movement; has drawn the Syrian protests into disorder and brutalization, and has produced a general failure of the "democratic" upsurge of the past three years. Theological rigidity, global intransigence, and support for fundamentalism have been reimposed by Islamists in the aftermath of the failed promises of the "Arab Spring." Islamic religious revivalism in political form, as represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Wahhabis, and Iranian-financed Shia protests, have taken millions of Muslims back to a point of disillusionment and despair about the future of their societies.
North American Muslims were well advised to avoid involvement with, and support for, both the MAS/ICNA and RIS gatherings.