Omar Suleiman, a Texas imam who gave the opening prayer for a session of the House of Representatives in 2019, is encouraging his followers to donate to an organization that advocates for convicted terrorists, calling them "political prisoners."
Suleiman is no small-town imam, but a prominent figure in the U.S. His rise to prominence began as a result of his interfaith activism while working for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in New Orleans in the early 2000s.
After receiving an award from the New Orleans mayor and city council in 2010 for his role in helping the city recover from 2005 Hurricane Katrina, Suleiman moved to Texas where he founded the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research in 2016 and served as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University. In 2014, Suleiman spoke at a memorial for two Dallas Police officers who had been murdered in an ambush. One image of the event shows the imam sitting behind Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama and their respective first ladies.
Suleiman became the go-to imam for politicians and journalists looking to appear sympathetic to Muslims.
By 2018, Suleiman became the go-to imam for politicians and journalists looking to burnish their reputation as sympathetic to Muslim concerns. For example, CNN published an article by Suleiman condemning the President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel from countries that presented terrorism and espionage threats to the U.S, with the imam falsely calling it a "Muslim ban."
Later in 2018, CNN listed Suleiman as one of the country's 25 most influential Muslims and in May 2019, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX) invited him to give the opening prayer as guest chaplain at the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave him a fawning introduction, drawing the ire of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who highlighted the imam's Islamist tendencies, including his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and his cheerleading for Hamas.
Suleiman's prominence has extended beyond U.S. borders. In March, he participated in a high-profile panel discussion about women's rights in Afghanistan at the Doha Forum in Qatar.
On April 19, 2022, Suleiman posted a link to an online fundraising campaign held by the Coalition for Civil Freedoms (CCF). CCF is a charity run by Leena Al-Arian, the daughter of Sami Al-Arian, who was deported to Turkey in 2015, nine years after he pleaded guilty to providing assistance to a designated terrorist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Sami Al-Arian co-founded the charity while in prison. In 2018, Al-Arian gave a speech in Turkey in which he called the United States "our enemy."
With his recent post promoting CCF, Suleiman is now cheerleading for an organization described in 2019 by MEF researcher Benjamin Baird as functioning as a "de facto 'martyrs fund' for American jihadists and their families. Would-be suicide bombers, terrorism financiers, and jihadist recruiters can rest easy knowing that CCF will pay their prison commissary and provide for their families should they end up on the wrong side of the law."
In 2019, the organization hosted an event that featured the appearance of Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was convicted in Chicago on federal charges of obstruction of justice and criminal contempt for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating Hamas.
In early 2021, CCF hosted a webinar featuring Yassin Aref, who spent 15 years in jail after he was convicted of money laundering and terrorism offenses in 2006. The charges stem from his efforts to help a cooperating witness facilitate the sale of a surface-to-air missile to a jihadi organization in New York City. In 2018, he was deported to Iraq.
Suleiman's support for CCF dovetails with his other support for convicted terrorists. In September 2021, Suleiman spoke at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, calling for the release of Aafia Siddique who was convicted in 2010 for the attempted murder and assault of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
During his speech, Suleiman also called for the release of Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, AKA, H. Rap Brown, a black separatist serving life in prison for the 1999 murder of a sheriff's deputy in Georgia; and for the release and five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation who, in 2008, were convicted of providing material support to Hamas, an organization designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 1995.
Neither Suleiman nor the Yaqeen Research Institute where he teaches in Irving, Texas, responded to requests for comment about his support for CCF.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism. Prior to his current position, he worked at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) for 16 years.