Americans for Peace and Tolerance, like so many other counter-extremist and moderate Muslim groups, has focused almost exclusively on tackling the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat posed by its influence inside American civic institutions, media and the Muslim community.
But this singular focus risks overlooking equally-dangerous threats posed by preachers and operatives from other Islamist networks and ultra-conservative Islamic groups.
On Saturday, after a series of events in Connecticut, the Indian Islamist cleric, Yusuf Islahi addressed crowds at the Islamic Society of Great Worcester in Massachusetts, at an event organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development – a prominent Islamic charity feted by U.S. government officials and media alike.
Yusuf Islahi is not part of the Brotherhood but rather a leading member of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a South Asian Islamist organization that promotes terrorism and incites hatred against Jews, women, homosexuals and other minorities. Today, the Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal holds JI responsible for mass-murder, abduction and torture during the 1971 War of Independence, and has convicted several Western JI leaders for their complicity. The good people of Worcester surely do not know this.
While many Americans have heard of the Muslim Brotherhood, few know of Jamaat-e-Islami, whose support and membership within America is, arguably, equally strong.
Yusuf Islahi, as a key leader of JI’s Indian branch, has promoted much of the group’s hatreds. Irfan Ahmad, a renowned academic and Islamism-expert explains:
“Islahi has the following position: the September 11 event is a well-planned conspiracy to defame Islam. Muslims are being blamed for it without any evidence. Everyone knows who is the real culprit: Jews. … The United States has unjustly and arrogantly ruled the world for too long. Allah has destroyed that ignorance on September 11. God willing, this will also inaugurate the age of Islam the world over.”
According to the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), at whose conventions Islahi is a regular speaker, Islahi studied at “Madrasa Mazahirul Uloom, Saharanpur, Later he joined Madarsatul Islah, Sarai Mir, Azamgarh.”
Both these institutions are theological schools belonging to the Deobandi movement, one of Islam’s most hard-line sects, which gave birth to the Taliban. Deobandi clerics in the West, reports The Times, promote hatred against Western values, Jews and Christians, and “call on Muslims to ‘shed blood’ for Allah.”
Both the ICNA and Helping Hand are themselves linked to JI. In 2013, counter-terrorism analysts noted that Helping Hand was financially linked to “the Al-Khidmat Foundation, a Pakistani charity which gave a 6 million rupee check to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in 2006.” Al Khidmat, Pakistani media reports, is the charitable wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Visitors to the WhyIslam website are informed about the correct method of stoning under Sharia law. They are told that non-Muslims are only “protected so long as they pay the annual tax, called jizya.” Homosexuality is condemned as “evil”, polygamy is encouraged and anti-Semitic ideologues are promoted.
Islahi may be one of the most senior Islamist leaders to address an event organized by Helping Hand, but he is by no means the most extreme.
In this year alone, Helping Hand has organized events with the cleric Sulaiman Hani, who writes that “Freedom of speech is a facade of a tool that is used inconsistently by those in power” and which serves to stifle “objective discussion” of the “Holocaust and Jews”; and Hussain Kamani, a cleric who tells Muslims to “not resemble the Jews”, advises parents to “beat” their children “if they do not [pray]”, and advocates the use of female sex slaves.
Undoubtedly, the Muslim Brotherhood poses a threat to the United States. Counter-extremist activists must continue to work with moderate Muslims to counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence, infiltration and deception.
But it is also vital we do not ignore the threat posed by other Islamist organizations, and especially particular hate clerics, who are the frontline spokespersons for radicalization – promoting violent, bigoted views to which young Muslims across the country are exposed.
In July, an “interfaith service” was held for the victims of the Dallas police shootings. On national television and in newspapers across the country, the cleric Omar Suleiman could be seen sitting just a few feet behind the 43rd and 44th first couples: George and Laura Bush, and Barack and Michelle Obama.
Surely unknown to these two American Presidents and their wives, Omar Suleiman describes homosexuality as a “disease” and a “repugnant shameless sin.”
In sermons published openly on YouTube, Suleiman warns, without condemnation, that women who commit adultery risk being killed by a family member. In another talk on the question of slavery in Islam, Suleiman defends sex slavery, or concubines, on the grounds that captured women would otherwise escape and become prostitutes – and that “society’s welfare” is more important than the “individual’s welfare.”
Suleiman is also an “instructor” at the Al Maghrib Institute, where his colleagues include Abdullah Hakim Quick, a preacher who has called upon God to “clean and purify Al-Aqsa from the ﬁlth of the Yahood [Jews]”; and Abu Eesa Niamatullah, who has said of Jews, “They find it so easy and natural to do what they do….Look at them today, look at the way they massacre. They blow up babies like as if it’s a computer game. They have no humanity, no morality, no ethics.”
In what world is Suleiman a suitable attendee at a memorial for murdered police officers?
The Muslim Brotherhood is a threat, but we must not let it also be a distraction. If we and our moderate Muslim allies are to counteract the problems of extremism, terrorism and radicalization, then it is vital we understand all the constituents of American Islam, and avoid obsessing over one extremist network while ignoring others.
Without a more extended and inclusive focus, clerics such as Yusuf Islahi and Omar Suleiman will continue to indoctrinate young Muslims and sit within whispering distance of the world’s most powerful men.