The Salafist Connections To The WhyIslam Billboard Campaign

Sam Westrop and Charles Jacobs President; Research Director, Americans for Peace and Tolerance
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Across America, from Boston to San Diego, billboards have appeared proclaiming Islam to be a religion of peace, and, as Reuters reports, “offering solace to the troubled.” But research reveals that the people and networks behind the billboard’s message of peace and love are Islamic radicals who instruct Muslims in jihad and hatred. People connected with the “Islamic love” billboards encourage Muslims to clean the land of infidels, warn Muslims of Jewish “stench,” and proclaim that all Muslims should become terrorists. The website advertised by these peace and love billboards even include instructions on how to properly crush the heads of those being stoned for Islamic “offenses.”

The campaign is a project of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which has erected more than 100 billboards across the country. “The idea for the campaign,” reports Boston’s WCVB News, “arose after January attacks in Paris by Islamist militants on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store killed 17 people, plus the three attackers.”

The billboard campaign strives to “counter the negative portrayal of Islam by anti-Islam activists” and, as ICNA official Waqas Syed explains, “to educate the larger public about his [Muhammad’s] personality, which exemplifies love and brotherhood.”

Boston is a key location for the initiative, suggests ICNA President Naeem Baig, because with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings still fresh in many people’s minds, there is a need to “challenge extremists in all communities.”

However, the WhyIslam billboard campaign, reveals Americans for Peace and Tolerance, is not solely the work of the ICNA and its Muslim Brotherhood supporters. WhyIslam and its sister campaign are, in fact, part of global initiatives organized by a British Islamic group, the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), which is part of the hardline Salafist branch of Islam. The ICNA’s campaigns even share the same logos and taglines used by the iERA.

The iERA comprises some of Europe and America’s most extreme Islamic preachers. It was established by a British convert to Islam, Abdur Raheem Green, a former jihadist in Afghanistan who warns Muslims of a Jewish “stench.” Other iERA officials include Zakir Naik, who has said that “every Muslim should be a terrorist,” and Abdullah Hakim Quick, who has called upon God to “clean and purify al-Aqsa from the filth of the Yahood [Jews]” and “clean all of the lands from the filth of the Kuffar [non-believers].”

The iERA works closely with Sheikh Mohammad Al Arifi, a Saudi cleric banned from the United Kingdom after he was accused of radicalizing young Western Muslims now fighting for the Islamic State terror movement. In 2013, in fact, five members of an iERA “dawah team” left for Syria to join the Islamic State.

When questioned about its relationship with the iERA and the identical campaign names and logos, a representative of the ICNA claimed that the WhyIslam campaign was “conceived in January 2015 by ICNA General Assembly and is executed by ICNA alone. … iERA is not affiliated with ICNA or its ongoing billboard campaign. Any similarities may be due to iERA replicating them.”

In direct contradiction to these denials, a leading Islamic news portal, OnIslam, has reported that the ICNA’s campaign is actually a continuation of the iERA’s work. In 2014, in fact, one of the iERA’s leading officials, Hamza Tzortzis, spoke at a number of ICNA events just a month before the ICNA launched its copy of the iERA campaign. Tzortzis, a former activist with the radical Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, has previously said: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom.”

In addition, one of the ICNA’s WhyIslam coordinators is Fahad Tasleem, who, in April, was employed by the iERA’s North America branch as an “instructor.”

While the slogans on the ICNA’s billboards themselves offer varying motifs of peace, harmony and fellowship, there is one constant – WhyIslam.org, a website to which viewers are directed. In just a few clicks, visitors to the website find themselves swimming in an ideology far removed from the peaceful overtures of its PR men.

Visitors to WhyIslam are informed about the correct method of stoning under Sharia law: “the person was held fast in a fixed position, and a stone or rock that it took two men to lift (i.e. was heavier than one man could lift alone) was to be dropped to crush the head.”

Also under Sharia law, the website continues, non-Muslims “are protected so long as they pay the annual tax, called jizya.”

Homosexuality is condemned as “evil” and polygamy is encouraged. The website even features a specially-recorded video by Yasir Qadhi on the “suppression of sexuality” within Islam. Qadhi is a notorious extremist preacher who, elsewhere, has claimed: “Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews … The Hoax of the Holocaust, I advise you to read this book … a very good book. All of this [the Holocaust] is false propaganda … The Jews, the way they portray him [Hitler], also is not correct.”

In addition, WhyIslam advertises the writings of Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a convert to Islam, who has expressed support for anti-Semitic activists and endorses conspiracy claims by the Holocaust denier Chris Spivey that the Boston marathon bombing was an elaborate government conspiracy.

Most importantly, however, WhyIslam cites much of its content from the work of Abul Ala Maududi, an Islamist ideologue and the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian Islamist movement.

In 1971, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) killing squads, in collaboration with the Pakistani army, murdered hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi citizens. In 2014, a Bangladeshi War Crimes Tribunal convicted many of JeI’s leaders for those crimes.

Despite this history of genocide, the WhyIslam website features the advice of Khurram Murad, the late vice-President of JeI’s headquarters in Pakistan.

ICNA, the group behind the billboards and the WhyIslam website, has actually identified itself as the key American outpost of Jamaat-e-Islami. When we contacted the ICNA for comment, however, they claimed that “we maintain no structural, collaborative, or organizational ties with Jamaat-e-Islami.”

The Investigative Project reports that texts distributed by the ICNA encourage hatred of Jews and express support for terrorism. One required reading for ICNA members, ‘Islam in Focus,’ describes Christians as “enemies of God.”

Although ICNA is a Jamaat-e-Islami group, it works closely with Muslim Brotherhood networks. A 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document lists ICNA as one of the “organizations of our friends.”

Although the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, while Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) was established thousands of miles away in South Asia, within the Muslim diaspora, they often operate, in effect, as one global movement. Qazi Ahmad Hussain, head of JeI in Pakistan and a featured speaker at ICNA events, has declared: “We consider ourselves as an integral part of the Brotherhood and the Islamic movement in Egypt … Our nation is one.”

Accordingly, the ICNA’s WhyIslam website also features the writings and fatwas of key Muslim Brotherhood clerics, such as its spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has expressed support for suicide bombings; and Jamal Badawi, a former trustee of the Islamic Society of Boston whom, in 2007, the federal government listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Holy Land Foundation terror finance trial.

Badawi, who has provided copious amounts of material for the WhyIslam website, has described Hamas suicide bombers as “freedom fighters” and “martyrs.”

The national billboard campaign claims to promote the “true message of Islam.” The ICNA’s Islam, however, appears to represent religious extremists, supporters of terror, and a determined hatred of Jews, Christians and the West.

Far from “offering solace to the troubled,” counter-extremism groups have accused the ICNA of offering yet more trouble to Boston’s Muslim community, whose mosques have been linked to 13 people who are in jail, on the run from authorities, or killed during terrorist acts – all related to jihad. The ICNA, like other radical Islamist groups, aims to mislead curious Americans while it promotes a radical form of Islam that betrays moderate Muslims everywhere.

Sam Westrop and Charles Jacobs are Research Director and President, respectively, of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (www.peaceandtolerance.org)