Nestled comfortably on Malcom X Boulevard in the historical Roxbury neighborhood, the Boston Islamic Seminary (BIS)—an educational institution dedicated to training the next generation of Muslim religious leaders—appears at first glance to be a welcome addition to Boston’s diverse religious communities. BIS promises to produce the next generation of moderate Muslim clerics and teachers, advocating that: “Muslims should be vibrant members of America’s pluralistic society, working collaboratively with people of other faiths.”
An examination of BIS’ founders, however, reveals that the seminary was created by two Muslim Brotherhood offshoot organizations—the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB). And despite its recent establishment, BIS events have already featured hardline Islamist preachers known for their anti-Western, racist, and violently misogynistic rhetoric.
In 2008, MAS was described by federal prosecutors as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.
The ISB, meanwhile, is one the largest mosques on the East Coast. Established in 1981, the ISB’s trustees have included Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader who has openly justified suicide bombings; and Abdulrahman Alamoudi, who was convicted in 2004 of participating in an Al Qaeda plot to assassinate a Saudi crown prince. And, Walid Fitaihi, an ISB trustee, has publicly expressed violent hatred for Jews.
Several ISB congregants and officials have been apprehended, killed, or deported for terrorism-related offenses. Several, including Oussama Ziade, Saladin Ali-Salaam, and Hossan Al Jabri were involved in PTech, a Boston-based software company that was found to be helping finance Al Qaeda.
The Boston Islamic Seminary does not appear to have shed its founding organizations’ extremist ideas. In 2016, BIS hosted an event featuring Imam Siraj Wahhaj. Wahhaj has frequently expressed anti-Western views, and even once told his congregation that, “I pray one day Allah will bless us to raise an army and I’m serious about this. We were very close, recently. We had made intention to raise an army of 10,000 men in New York City. Muslim men to go fight in the way of subhanahu wa ta’ala. And this is serious.”
Wahhaj holds a particular hatred for homosexuality: “And you know, brothers and sisters, you know what the punishment is, if a man is found with another man? The Prophet Mohammad said the one who does it and the one to whom it is done to, kill them both.”
Other BIS speakers have included Yusuf Abdallah, East Coast manager of Islamic Relief USA. Abdallah has repeatedly expressed his anti-Semitic feelings on social media, referring to Jews as “stinking,” and circulating stories about “martyrs” providing guns to “kill more than 20 Jews.”
Even the faculty at BIS is concerning. One lecturer is Suheil Laher, a Salafist cleric. Laher, who once served as the head of Care International, an Al Qaeda charity that was found to be channeling charitable donations to jihadists, is teaching a course called “Madhhabs: Development & Difference” this coming fall. Previously, Laher’s personal website featured the late Al Qaeda leader Abdullah Azzam’s call to Jihad as well as a link to an Al Qaeda fundraising website.
BIS is planning to open a full-time graduate program to train imams and chaplains in 2019. If Islamist groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist organizations are permitted to monopolize the clerical “supply chain”, the next generations of Islamic clerics will sideline moderate Muslims and further spread Islamist ideas.
Officials and clerics from the ISB have claimed that the backing of community leaders, Jewish groups and journalists were crucial to the extremist mosque’s efforts to salvage its reputation. Over the last few years, the ISB has enjoyed public declarations of support from Elizabeth Warren, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Police Commissioner William Evans, and Jewish organizations such as the Workmen’s Circle.
Instead of reaping the benefits of local support, Islamist organizations such as the ISB and its projects should be exposed as extremist fronts. Community leaders should instead support truly moderate Muslim organizations and institutions that speak out against the extremism of this new seminary. Only then can we truly, as BIS duplicitously claims, “work collaboratively with people of other faiths on matters of common concern towards a better world for all.”
Mauro Lubrano is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum