The Al-Madina Institute, according to its website, is a non-profit "educational institution of higher learning founded by a diverse group of American Muslims committed to providing Muslim communities with opportunities to seek sacred knowledge."
Al-Madina's activities certainly appear to reflect this innocuous mission statement. On May 11-13, the institute will be hosting its annual event at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. It's titled "Pearls of the Quran," and Al-Madina invites the public to "Join our leading scholars as they examine both the external and internal dimensions of the Qur'an and share their commentary and insights."
Behind this innocent façade, however, lies a more disturbing reality. Many of the event's listed speakers are prominent extremists affiliated with hardline Islamist organizations.
One of the speakers is Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In a 2012 sermon, Walid cited the Prophet Muhammad as saying that the Jews have incurred "the wrath of Allah" and that "if you trace the organizations and the main advocates and activists in Islamophobia in America, you will see that all those organizations are pro-Israeli occupation organizations and activists." Walid has also justified a massacre of Jews recorded in Islamic tradition during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Walid does not reserve his hatred only for Jews. In March 2016, Walid reportedly urged Muslims not to wish Christians a "Happy Easter." He has stated that the FBI manufactures "terrorism suspects to give the appearance that [the Bureau is] actually doing something tangible in the so called 'War on Terrorism.'" In a similar vein, Walid also accused the FBI of "going into mosques on fishing expeditions and basically cultivating and inciting people towards extremism."
CAIR markets itself as a mainstream Muslim civil rights organization. In fact, its officials have pervasive ties to extremism and terror. CAIR's founder and current executive director, Nihad Awad, once openly endorsed the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. In 2009, the FBI banned its offices from cooperating with CAIR after federal prosecutors named the Islamist group an unindicted co-conspirator during the 2008 Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial.
Al-Madina lecturer Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui is also due to speak at the conference. Maghraoui is a former member of the Fiqh Council of North America, a strongly Islamist body that deals with issues of Islamic jurisprudence. Maghraoui has defended the stoning of adulterers.
Another Al-Madina lecturer speaking at the event is Yasir Fahmy, an imam at the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB).Among the founders of ISB was Abdurahman Alamoudi, an Al Qaeda financier sentenced to 23 years in prison for his role in a plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. One of the ISB's original trustees was Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who in 2009 praised Hitler's genocide of the Jews as "divine punishment," declaring that: "Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers."
Other speakers include Islamic preacher Yahya Rhodus, a teacher at the Al-Madina Institute who once refused to condemn al Qaeda and Bin Laden; and Jonathan Brown, a Georgetown University academic who was widely criticized in February 2017 after giving a speech justifying slavery and rape under Islam.
Even Turkey's Islamist regime will be present. Another speaker, Ali Tos, is a representative of the Diyanet, Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, which has been aggressively promoting Turkish interests and supporting Islamism in Europe and America.
Al-Madina works hard to portray itself as moderate institution. In fact, it has even published several items about countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives. These efforts have served Al-Madina well. One of the articles published on its website, "Advancing the Conversation on CVE," has been widely shared by academics and counter-extremism officials.The Department of Homeland Security, significantly, even cites the article as evidence that Muslim communities are involved in "CVE-relevant activities".
Al-Madina's conference promises to be much more sinister than its innocent sounding title would immediately lead one to believe. The Institute's ability to involve itself with counter-extremism efforts and the advancement of "sacred knowledge," while also promoting some of the country's most prominent hate preachers, is a powerful example of the duplicity on which America's lawful Islamist movements rely.
Daniel Krygier is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum