A Michigan mosque and imam praised by politicians has served as a key institution for the interests and agenda of the Iranian regime for decades.
Since the early 1990s, Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi has presided over the Islamic House of Wisdom (IHW), an Iranian Shi'ite mosque in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. In recent years Elahi has publicly presented himself as a moderate, progressive Muslim devoted to serving the community with blood drives, COVID-19 vaccinations, and welcoming people of all faiths to his house of worship. He even serves as a police chaplain for the city of Dearborn.
Elahi seems popular, with his work apparently winning the attention of Vice President Kamala Harris, Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Congressional representatives, and state and local officials.
Yet behind the façade of friendly community organizing, Elahi has worked as an Iranian regime operative and maintained decades-long friendships with Iranian leadership, tightly associating himself with a regime responsible for the deaths of at least hundreds of Americans. The regime has remained under some form of U.S. sanctions since 1979, and the U.S. Department of Defense calls it "the leading source of instability in the Middle East."
Elahi appears to be leading a double life, maintaining lengthy friendships with Iranian leadership and promoting hardline Islamist thought, while at the same time promoting himself as a loving member of his Dearborn Heights community.
Before moving to America, Elahi served as the head of "political ideology" for the Iranian Navy in the 1980s, according to both a U.S. government-commissioned 1987 Rand report and a CIA report. A since-deleted biography page at Elahi's mosque describes his appointment to the position. The post details Elahi's founding of the Cultural Research Center "to explain the spiritual motivations of the martyrs." A since-deleted resource linked to on IHW's website notes that martyrdom is a "goal of Shi'ite Islam."
According to a report commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace, Elahi came to the United States in 1991 on a four month visa "to inspect American branches of Hizbullah (Tehran's network of agents) and to reinforce Tehran's influence on Shi'ite communities."
IHW's website boasts pictures of Elahi meeting in 2005 with Fadlallah, who advocated suicide bombings during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s. In fact, some consider Fadlallah "the inventor of the modern suicide bomb." When Fadlallah died in 2010, Elahi publicly mourned him as a "great scholar" and "a man of great wisdom, knowledge, leadership, and spirituality."
Elahi also claims lengthy friendships with at least three of Iran's recent presidents. In 2013, he offered high praise for the election of Hassan Rouhani (President of Iran 2013-2021), who Elahi said he had known for thirty-seven years and "admire[d]...his ethical character and moral values." During his term, Rouhani poured billions into funding terror, arrested thousands of political dissidents, and allowed physical and psychological torture of prisoners.
In January 2017, upon the death of Iran's former President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Elahi wrote a Facebook post describing him as a "great hero, a shining star in the sky of wisdom," followed with multiple pictures of himself with Rafsanjani during his presidency.
Presumably Elahi's admiration for Rafsanjani includes his views on Iran's weapons programs: "If one day, this Islamic World is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything."
After praising the late president in January, Elahi traveled to Iran in March 2017 and met with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, whom he called a friend of "almost thirty years." They had an "extremely friendly conversation" in his office about Khatami's eight years as president and discussed memories of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the regime's founding figure.
Khatami, while less bombastic than former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, made his hostility to the "Zionist regime" clear: "If we abide by the Koran, all of us should mobilize to kill." Khatami later took credit for developing Iran's nuclear technology.
In 2005, when then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be, "wiped off the map," Elahi defended the remarks.
While Elahi decries "gun violence" in the West, he praises Iranians with violent ideals and violent histories. In 2020, U.S. forces killed Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, "the Iranian regime's primary liaison with Islamic terrorist groups across the Middle East." Elahi protested his killing and asked President Donald Trump to apologize and lift sanctions.
Elahi's mosque seems no less troubling. IHW presents itself as a friend of Americans and offers the holistic services expected from a healthy religious institution: care for the displaced, employment help, foster care, family counseling, education, and spiritual guidance. It also prominently promotes interfaith dialogue.
But IHW's website has also taught extremist ideas. Its online library has openly contained extremist texts and was publicly available on its website until July of this year. When Focus on Western Islamism contacted Elahi about it, the mosque apparently tried to delete the evidence.
Web archives show the library page as seen in July. It encouraged readers to read resources advocating the subjugation of the world under Islam, fighting Jews and Christians, upholding martyrdom as a Shi'ite goal, denigrating women, and prescribing the death penalty for apostasy.
One article offering information about jihad, linked to on IHW's website, says "It is these People of the Book whom we are to fight until they pay the Jiziyah (tribute). When they have humbled themselves before us and submit to paying the Jiziyah, we are to fight no more."
Another linked resource demeans and derides Jews: "Why does the chief advisor of land distribution have to be a Zionist Jew? ... Should a government which does not submit to the laws of Islam rule over the Muslim masses? You tell me, your excellence!" Yet another IHW resource calls Jews "more murderous than the Pharaoh, greater worshippers of wealth than Qarun and more deceitful than Balaam."
Despite Islamic House of Wisdom's promotion of Islamist resources and Elahi's support for Tehran, Elahi reportedly received an invitation to a vaccination event in July 2021 featuring Vice President Harris.
In 2021, Michigan's Governor Whitmer participated in an IHW prayer service. The Mayor of Dearborn Heights, Bill Bazzi, fundraised for IHW, saying "We do need to support the Islamic House of Wisdom financially" and Imam Elahi has "an open line to us both" – a reference to himself and Dearborn Heights Council Chair Dave Abdallah, who formerly served on the board of IHW.
Neither political office responded to requests for comment when asked about IHW's radical Islamist record.
Elahi did initially respond to FWI's inquiries. In an email, he referred to himself as "a man of interfaith and dialogue." When asked by FWI about his past in the Iranian navy, his praise of Iranian leaders, and his online library that "calls for subjugating Christians and Jews under Islam and recommends the death penalty for apostasy," he stated that he "didn't like the tone of your email" and that "many of the stuff u mentioned sound strange to me and i would be very curious to know about." He did not comment further.
Elahi's remarks appear designed to make him sound guileless, as if there were some simple mistake about his views. Yet, U.S. government records and web archives of his own website show a man and a mosque rooted in the values of the Iranian regime. With his praise of ideologies and regimes antithetical to Western values, he can hardly claim innocence, even as leading American politicians lend their credibility to his institution.
Susannah Johnston is the investigative reporter for Focus on Western Islamism (FWI).