As the first Somali Muslim woman elected to the Ohio state legislature, Munira Abdullahi is expected to bring "diversity" and "new perspectives" to the Ohio House of Representatives, according to her supporters. What they don't tell you is that the 26-year-old belongs to a radical Sunni Islamist organization that uses youth indoctrination, charity, and social work to grow its political power and spread theocratic, often illiberal views.
Based on her background and career trajectory, Abdullahi could feasibly become the next Ilhan Omar — Minnesota's far-left congresswoman known for expressing radical, antisemitic opinions and consorting with various Islamist groups. Indeed, the Ohio legislator shares striking similarities with Omar, the first Somali Muslim elected to her state's legislature in 2016 and the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.
Both women fled their country in times of war and lived at refugee camps in Kenya before settling in the United States. Omar and Abdullahi each began careers as community activists before moving on to their state legislatures. They both represent districts that have transformed in recent years into Somali enclaves, where poverty, crime, and terrorist recruitment have stifled integration and development.
The pair were photographed meeting for the first time in September. Abdullahi referred to her role model as the "legendary" Ilhan Omar.
Employed and Funded by Islamist Group
Omar, who will soon be a third-term congresswoman, works closely with American Islamist organizations and is known to advance legislation on their behalf. For her part, Abdullahi doesn't just associate with extremist groups — she is a card-carrying member of the Muslim American Society, a notoriously extreme Islamist group that the United Arab Emirates designated as a terrorist organization in 2014.
In fact, MAS is the "overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America," according to federal prosecutors, or the U.S. branch of a global, pan-Islamic organization known for its violent history in the Middle East. Since 2012, Abdullahi has worked part-time as a youth director at MAS-Columbus, and she was promotedin March to the role of program manager at the national office.
Abdullahi is not just employed by MAS. She also accepted campaign donationsfrom MAS officials. In September, the representative-elect even redirected campaign funds to her employer, raising serious concerns about how she might use her public office to benefit a controversial Islamist group.
MAS officially denies belonging to an international Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) network. However, a 2004 Chicago Tribune report citing internal memos and the accounts of early MAS leaders found that members voted early on to purposefully obscure the group's ties to the broader Islamist movement.
With just 3 or 4 million Muslims living in America, the Muslim Brotherhood understands that its grand vision of establishing Islamic governments may have to wait. In the meantime, MAS prefers to "convert Americans to Islam and elect like-minded Muslims to political office," according to a former member.
Despite these theocratic goals, Abdullahi is convinced that Christian conservatives — and not Islamists — represent a threat to religious freedom in America. "They [conservatives] want to put church into state," she said during a September podcast.
"Conservatives operate on a sense where they will force you to follow their beliefs," she continued. "That's not how Islam works, and that's not how Muslims work in a country where this is not an Islamic country, so we can't legislate people based on our beliefs."
In particular, the Columbus chapter of MAS, which Abdullahi calls home, is known for its close ties to international Muslim Brotherhood figures. From its earliest years, MAS-Columbus came under the sway of Salah Soltan, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader from Egypt who sat on the Columbus board from 2000 to 2004.
Soltan has issued a fatwa (religious ruling) legalizing the killing of Jews in Egypt and has accused Jews of using Christian blood in religious rituals. During his time at MAS-Columbus, the group published a Q&A on its website claiming "the Jews have occupied Palestine, they will never remain there forever," and "the evil within themselves is beyond description."
MAS-Columbus continues to be a stopping point for Muslim Brotherhood dignitaries visiting the U.S. In January 2017, Sheikh Mohamed Jabril, the Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who was banned from preaching in his home country, visited the MAS mosque in Columbus.
Abdullahi did not respond to questions about her job at MAS or her future with the organization.
Raising Up 'Revolutionaries'
Since her November victory, the Somali American legislator continues to promote MAS activities, including a Columbus chapter event called "Reviving the Revolutionaries." Aimed at Muslim youth, the conference featured two instructors from the notorious Al Maghrib Institute, a "non-profit college" where at least five former students have been arrested for joining or supporting terrorist entities.
Abdullahi admitted she was "Very excited" for this event, which also featured Asad Zaman, the director of MAS-Minnesota and a prolific antisemite who has promoted neo-Nazi and Hamas websites. A picture from the conference shows Abdullahi seated next to Zaman.
Abdullahi's role as a youth director at MAS-Columbus would not necessarily insulate her from the organization's brazen displays of extremism. In 2019, the nearby Philadelphia chapter of MAS sparked a citywide investigation after videos emerged of MAS schoolchildren singing jubilantly about beheading Jews, serving as "martyrs," and "liberating" the Islamic holy site in Jerusalem.
Abdullahi's political ascent may have ramifications that reach far beyond Central Ohio. Just as Omar transitioned from the state legislature to U.S. Congress, Abdullahi may use her time in state government as a stepping stone to higher office.
This is "the model," according to Mohammed Missouri of Jetpac, an Islamist civic action group that celebrated Abdullahi's election victory in a press release. "Today's state legislator is tomorrow's member of Congress," he told Time, adding that Muslim lawmakers such as Omar "didn't come out of nowhere ... they spent years building community trust ... and then when they decided to run for Congress people knew who they were."
Abdullahi did not "come out of nowhere" either. She spent the last decade working for a Muslim Brotherhood proxy that is known to radicalize Muslim youth and isolate Islamic communities.
Yet if Omar's career path provides any indication of what to expect, Abdullahi may just be getting started.
Benjamin Baird is the director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.