Synopsis: Islamists Throw Off Their Progressivist Shackles: Over the past few years, some Islamists deemed the spread of progressivist ideas among American Muslims a clear threat to the Muslim ummah. A growing number of Islamists now furiously denounce figures such as Ilhan Omar for dancing at gay rights parades and appearing to distance herself from aspects of sharia law. Some Islamists have taken this logic a step further: rejecting not only Leftism's influence but touting the Right as a natural home for Western Muslims while working to effect close collaboration and the beginnings of some ideological concordance between the two groups.
Largely unnoticed outside of Islamist circles, a new generation of American Islamists is increasingly upset that their leaders in the West so hastily backed the progressivist rhetoric and activism around all sorts of modish issues.
Some, for instance, have noted that the Black Lives Matter movement may violate Islamic moral values and that Islamic leaders would come to regret this over-reliance on the Left.
Yasir Qadhi, one of the most important Muslim voices in the Western world, has lamented the fact that Muslim student groups' progressivist activities were leading them into "sinful" ideas such as "Queer Muslims" celebrations.
Qadhi observes the dilemma that American Muslims face:
The groups that identify with Trump's racism and bigotry generally would agree with many aspects of our morality and ethics. And the groups that want plurality and diversity and would welcome us (even if only for the token diversity) aren't too keen on our exclusivist moralistic values and concrete ethical framework.
At the very least, the Left should be rejected, claim some leading Islamist commentators. Mobeen Vaid, a prominent commentator on American Muslim politics, notes:
For years now, one of the major criticisms I've made of Muslim leaders and activists is that they have inappropriately thrust young Muslims into far-left activism by making use of progressive vernacular and rhetoric and mostly remaining silent on aspects of Islam that contradict progressive pieties. No one wants to lose "allies," it seems.
Some take a more cynical stance. Writers at Mukashafat, a Muslim American blog, have suggested that these progressivist-leaning Islamists will "[struggle] in the Biden era.":
Donald Trump is gone from the White House, but let's face it: The Donald was good for business for the Islamist groups who claim to represent us. No more Muslim travel ban. No more urgent federal civil rights lawsuits... And perhaps not as many donations to CAIR.
Whether Islamists' embrace of the Left was genuine or not, across American Islam, a growing number of activists and purist-minded imams began to argue that such a tight embrace has nonetheless radicalized Islamists' own children into believing that issues such as transgenderism, "LGBT" rights, gender "pronoun" obsessions and even the right to abortion are all somehow acceptable within Islam.
One of the leading voices in this outcry is Daniel Haqiqatjou, a social media activist and preacher. Haqiqatjou has built an enormous following online, with hundreds of thousands of Western Muslims following his work denouncing the activities of "compassionate imams" who once openly identified as Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood, but who now, Haqiqatjou wails, embrace feminists, homosexuals, transgender activists, among other apparent affronts to Islamic sensibilities.
Haqiqatjou reserves particular anger for Muslim politicians such as Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and her involvement with transgender causes and other "kufr" ideas.
When we interviewed Haqiqatjou in May 2022, he explained that Muslims like him are portrayed by conservatives as aiming to take over the government and "establish a Sharia state."
The actual threat to Americans, he claims, is that "their children have become... atheists... their sons degenerates, and their daughters are prostituting themselves." Moreover, their lives "have no meaning or purpose," all due to "the dangers of liberalism."
Haqiqatjou's online publication, Muslim Skeptic, has recently brought on commentators from the Deobandi sect – an important hardline strain of Islam. One of Haqiqatjou's partners, a Deobandi named Yasir Nadeem Al Wajidi, regularly posts praise of Haqiqatjou for his work "refuting and dismantling atheism and liberalism in the Western world." Wajidi's 1.9 million followers on Facebook have given Haqiqatjou and other critics of "progressivist Islam" a powerful boost.
Some Muslim commentators have dubbed Haqiqatjou and other critics as part of the "akh-Right" – a play on the Arabic word for "brother" and the much-discussed phenomenon of the Western "alt-Right."
The dissent is not limited to American Islamists such as Haqiqatjou. European Islamists, such as Mohammad Hijab (who has otherwise been busy egging on the recent anti-Hindu violence in Britain), have published videos warning Yasir Qadhi and others to end this tolerance of "LGBT."
These purists are having an effect. As one online Muslim commentator noted, after watching the leading American imam Omar Suleiman, who graduated from hardline Salafi circles, take part in an "interfaith" protest against federal immigration policies: "I was appalled by the free mixing, holding hands/linking arms, lack of personal space with the opposite gender, the open use of pagan rituals such as anointing and libation."
In the face of an "akh-Right" campaign, Suleiman later apologized.
Much about modern Western Islamism is curiously non-clerical. The divisions dividing radicals into all these various factions revolve around Western political arguments, rather than Islamic theological matters. Figures such as Daniel Haqiqatjou often launch into diatribes about the supremacy of Islam and the iniquities of those who ostensibly dilute the faith, but he and his crowd do not issue fatawa and shy away from purely theological discussion.
A significant shift is occurring. Officials of major Islamist organizations such as the Islamic Circle of North America, a branch of the South Asian Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami movement, have now, after years of silence on the matter, suddenly taken to committing publicly that their organizations will not sanction "perverted attitudes" towards "LGBT" issues.
Canadian Islamist Siraaj Muhammad, head of the popular Islamist website Muslim Matters, recently wrote on his social media of his previous despair at Muslims having to "remain silent" as "progressive muslims" pushed "LGBTQ identities," abortion and gender identity issues. But he is now hopeful for change:
It's been deeply encouraging to see leaders give video talks, khutbahs [sermons], programs, and khatirahs [reminders] pushing back on these issues. I hope inshaAllah we continue to divorce ourselves from the progressive and centrist left, politically, intellectually, and emotionally, and likewise not run to the far right either, but to ground our priorities on our community's priorities.
A growing proportion of American Islamists is beginning to reject the Left. More interestingly, some, it seems, are even now embracing the Right.
The Lure of the Right
A small but growing number of activists across the Muslim community, many of whom espouse openly Islamist ideas, today advocate for an alliance with the American Right. It is American conservatism, a growing number seem to believe, that better fits with Islamic ideas about family and faith.
The Mad Mamluks, a popular Islamic podcast series that frequently promotes Islamist ideas, has discussed this phenomenon repeatedly, with its hosts noting:
I understand why Muslims as a group of people may feel like they may have allies on the Left, and they may feel alienated from the Right, even though, in a lot of ways, at the core, by moral values, the Right is probably closer to the way we view society.
Another popular program, The Deen Show, has run events with a number of Conservative activists, include Brenda Lebsack, a prominent campaigner against the imposition of teachings about "transgender" politics in American schools. Lebsack warned her new Muslim audience that far-Left transgender advocates are "going after Muslim youth."
Lebsack has also been invited to mosques, such as the Islamic Institute of Orange County, where she discussed "what Muslims need to know" about the "teaching of transgender ideology in California schools." She shared a stage with radicals such as Mustafa Umar, a prominent Islamist imam involved in a recent campaign to boycott Muslim groups that partner with the American Jewish Committee.
Some activists are working, it seems, to generate a long-term plan for alliances with conservatives.
Ismail Royer, for instance, a former convicted jihadist who now works for the multi-faith Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., has called for an Islamic alliance with conservative Christian movements to oppose threats such as gay marriage and abortion. Royer warns that the "progressive Left" is working to "change Islam" and has claimed that Biden is working to have his administration "stocked" with "left Muslims" who "consider orthodox Sunnis as extremists."
Royer also supports libertarian activists' efforts to allow parents to redirect their "state-funded education dollars to the education providers of their choosing." Citing conservative and libertarian campaigns to give parents greater control over their child's publicly-funded education, Royer declares: "Take your kids out of public school and put them in Islamic school."
Then there is Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, founder of the Lamppost Education Initiative and the head of Zaytuna College's Islamic Law Council. He has urged American Muslims to join him in a "new political vision" that rejects "neoliberalism" and paints conservatism as a more natural home for American Muslims, even if Trumpism is hostile.
These days, Ali's Twitter feed comprises many dozens of Tucker Carlson clips and comments about the follies of anti-capitalist and anti-racist protest movements.
Some Islamists sound positively Trumpian. Abdullah Yousef, a Muslim American writer, declares:
A lot of Muslims are under the impression that when they side with the Democratic party, including their hoaxes and ideologies (including the COVID regime tyranny), that they're with the majority. They could never be more wrong. The sick people they imitate for American approval are the real minority, and do not represent the will and wants of the majority that continues to grow larger the more the left humiliates itself. I'm paying very close attention to the 2022 midterms to see if my people here are changing overall for the better, as indicated somewhat by the 2020 election where Muslim Republican votes doubled compared to 2016.
The most extreme Islamists even regard the "far-Right" as suitable allies. In February 2022, Daniel Haqiqatjou, the leading Islamist voice against the evils of progressivism, found himself in close agreement with Mark Collett, a prominent British neo-Nazi whom Haqiqatjou invited onto his YouTube channel.
Both warmed to each other over shared fears of liberalism, secularism and the perceived threat of the Left. As we wrote at the time, the conclusion of the meeting appeared to be that "Collett the white nationalist would apparently not mind an Islamic theocracy in Europe, so long as it is a 'white ethnostate.' Haqiqatjou the Islamist, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by the idea of a white ethnostate in Europe, so long as it is Islamic."
Islamist outreach to the American Right is not just a domestic affair. The Islamist Qatari government has put a great deal of effort into working with Republican congressmen.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has become a particularly keen advocate for the regime, attending its events in Doha, coordinating billions of dollars of Qatari investment in his home state of South Carolina, and echoing the regime's negative talking points about the politics of the Gulf, especially regarding Saudi Arabia.
Even if Graham's political alignment did not matter to the Qataris, other signs indicate that Doha regards the Right as an important target more broadly. In 2019, the Middle East Forum uncovered Qatari monies finding their way into conservative media coffers, buying conservative columnists and multiple pages of the Washington Times.
For many years, the Qatari regime even attempted to build a conservative media outlet, named Rightly, overseen by officials poached from Conservative outlets such as Fox News.
Meanwhile, outlets such as Middle East Eye, which works to advance the Qatari regime's interests, have employed prominent conservatives such as Peter Oborne, a leading Right-wing British journalist. Oborne refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as a "great movement," defends terrorist financing groups such as Interpal, and, in his book in defense of the Iranian regime, he writes: "One of the greatest theologians of all time, [Ayatollah] Khomeini's teaching contained insights which went far deeper than anything the rationalists and materialists of the United States could imagine."
Pakistani Islamists have also sought to work increasingly closely with the American Right. In 2020, a Houston Islamist network tied to the Pakistani regime brought Republican Congressman Jim Banks, along with his Democratic colleague Sheila Jackson Lee, to address a webinar organized by open supporters of terror. The hosts were the Pakistani, along with leading Islamist Ghazala Habib, a Houston-based activist who runs a global network of Islamist and Pakistani operatives in coordination with the Pakistani regime.
Habib served as the official "representative" of the late Kashmiri jihadist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and well as Asiya Andrabi, head of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, which, The Economist notes, "supports terrorists" and advocates jihad.
Habib also appears to be a leading member of "Muslim Americans for Trump."
Habib's partners in Houston includes Islamist activists such as Sajjad Burki, who runs the FARA-registered U.S. branch of Pakistan's PTI, which ruled Pakistan for years under Prime Minister Imran Khan. Burki recently met with Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen, to warn him that "more Pakistani Americans may vote Republican because of Joe Biden's stance towards Pakistan."
American Islamist PACs are also increasingly funding Republican coffers. The Pakistani-American Political Committee, or PAKPAC, is the chief lobbying organization and election financier for Pakistani interests in the United States; and is closely connected to a number of American South Asian Islamist activities. PAKPAC has contributed to the finances of many Republicans' election campaigns.
Another, the Islamabad-aligned American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee (APPAC), works closely with Senator Lindsey Graham, whom it describes as a "longtime friend and supporter of APPAC." A variety of Turkish regime proxies have also given significant amounts to Graham's re-election campaigns.
Whether the growing Islamist embrace of the Right simply serves the geopolitical interests of foreign Islamist regimes, or whether it is the corollary of growing Muslim dissatisfaction with the spread of progressivism at home, conservatives cannot have failed to notice the new opportunities that Islamist alliances could bring.
Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.