People On Our Side: Shaykh Kadhim Mohamad
by Stephen Schwartz
On the eastern side of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the heart of metropolitan New York, two mosques stand on Atlantic Avenue, symbolizing the division in American Muslim life. One is the Al-Farouq Masjid, a center of the ultra fundamentalist, violent Sunni sect known as Wahhabism, which inspires al-Qaida. Although occasional reports on Al-Farouq have underscored its alleged links with the plotters of the September 11, 2001 atrocities, little consequential action has been taken by official authorities to oppose its influence over local Muslims.
The struggle to counter the presence of a radical mosque like Al-Farouq has been carried by the imam at a structure across from it: the Brooklyn Ahl ul-Bayt Mosque. Its leader is an Iraqi Shia Muslim, Shaykh Kadhim Mohamad. The Ahl ul-Bayt Mosque congregation is made up of African Americans, Egyptians, Sudanese, and others.
Shaykh Kadhim, born in the Shia holy city of Karbala and 53 years old, is a hero of Muslim moderation and pluralism. He is not content to write articles or make speeches, and almost never appears at non-Muslim events. But he lives in two worlds: he travels from Brooklyn to Iraq every other month.
In the U.S., Shaykh Kadhim is deeply committed to one of the most controversial anti-terrorist efforts on our soil. That is the campaign to eject Wahhabi chaplains from the city, state, and federal prison systems across our land. Today, Saudi-guided Wahhabis possess a strict monopoly over the spiritual lives of incarcerated American Muslims…as well as in the armed services. The fight against Wahhabi chaplains in American prisons is among the most urgent facing the opponents of terrorism and the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), of which I am proud to be Executive Director, is the leading nonprofit agency involved in it.
But neither Shaykh Kadhim nor CIP enjoys the resources of the multi-storey Wahhabi mosque across the street from Shaykh Kadhim's moderate mosque. Legal proceedings against the Wahhabi chaplaincies have proven difficult and, unfortunately, judicial authorities have been less than helpful. Correctional agencies tend to see prison chaplains, regardless of their ideology, as civil servants difficult to fire.
When he returns to Iraq, Shaykh Kadhim is constantly reminded of his three brothers, who were killed by the mercenary thugs of Saddam Hussein. Their place of burial is unknown. Eleven of his cousins were also slain at Saddam's order.
Shaykh Kadhim is an American citizen, and supports the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. Above all, he hopes President George W. Bush will fully understand and appreciate the situation of the Iraqi Shias and not allow them to be marginalized. "The freedom and progress of a united Iraq depends on the U.S. helping to beat Wahhabi Sunni terrorists and radical Shia troublemakers," he said in an interview.
He prays for the souls of the American military and civilian dead, who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Iraqi Muslims. But he also prays that the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki can reach an authentic peace with strong backing from the U.S., and before the U.S. forces depart.
"The al-Maliki government is based on elections," he said. "The main enemy in Iraq is Al-Qaida, and they do not believe in elections. They and their followers' constituency will never, never accept the new government, never," he emphasized. "If they are not defeated the outcome will be devastating for the whole region."
Shaykh Khadim believes most of the so-called "foreign fighters" in Iraq are Saudi subjects, and he hopes President Bush will work hard to persuade Saudi King Abdullah to fully cut off the flow of volunteers and money across his northern border to the jihadists in Iraq.
But he also warns his fellow Shias that their own militants' interference with the U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq simply helps Al-Qaida. He said, "Iraq can and must become a good example for the whole region, with the help of the U.S."
Shaykh Khadim Mohamad is a brave, moderate American Muslim cleric who confronts the enemy in the riskiest places: in the American prison systems and in Iraq. He stands for all those moderate Muslims who have spoken up since September 11 but whose voices have been ignored by the mainstream media, and which are therefore unheard by non-Muslims who believe in the myth of Muslim silence about terrorism.
On the frontlines of Iraq, Shaykh Khadim Mohamad and his community have our support. We hope it will be sustained. But who will help him here on our soil?