(CNSNews.com) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wants "all people of conscience" to contact their members of Congress to voice support for an imam whose past statements on Israel and Zionism have drawn fire after he was asked to delivered the opening prayer at the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.
CAIR says Irving, Texas-based Imam Omar Suleiman has been "targeted by a smear campaign by Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian groups" after being invited by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) to deliver the opening prayer.
The prayer itself was not controversial, but Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said the invitation was a "bad call," given Suleiman's record.
"It is totally unacceptable that Speaker Pelosi had Omar Suleiman give the opening prayer yesterday in the House of Representatives," Zeldin said in a statement on Friday.
"He has a long, documented history of comparing Israel to the Nazis and calling them terrorists, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting violence calling for a Palestinian intifada and the end of zionism, and far more. This was a terribly bad call."
House Republicans criticized what they called a "disturbing shift against Israel by House Democrats."
CAIR, which calls itself the nation's biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, noted that Suleiman had – in his "nondenominational prayer" – "condemned violence against worshipers of all faiths and called for peace and unity." (The full prayer appears below).
But, it said, in the following days "some right-wing media outlets and partisan organizations with a history of Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian activism attacked Imam Suleiman for his past criticism of the Israeli government's human rights abuses against Palestinians."
Ekram Haque, acting executive director of CAIR's Dallas-Fort Worth chapter, accused "anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian groups" of having "launched a smear campaign against yet another person of color and American Muslim leader in the hope of maligning and marginalizing our communities."
In a Dallas Morning News editorial, Suleiman, who is founder and director of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, wrote that since giving the prayer he had been "attacked online and threatened with violence."
He said the "hate" directed at him "is similar to the hate that led to" the killings of Muslims in Christchurch last March, Christians in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, and Jews in Pittsburgh last October and in San Diego last month.
Suleiman did not dispute that he has said "anything regretful in the past" but denied ever having been anti-Semitic.
In the op-ed he did not mention Israel by name, but described his parents as "displaced Palestinians due to the occupation," referred to "the Palestinian catastrophe," and said that he had been "taught early on to not let championing the Palestinian cause descend into anti-Semitism in private or in public."
On his Facebook page on 28 December 2013, Suleiman posted, without comment, the four-finger symbol ("rabaa," named for a mosque in Cairo) used by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. Five months earlier, the Egyptian military had ousted the Muslim Brotherhood administration of Mohammed Morsi.
Other controversial social media postings by Suleiman were compiled two years ago in a column by German-Israeli freelance writer Petra Marquardt-Bigman. Some follow:
--Facebook post, May 15, 2018: "Apartheid Israel, with American funding and cover, continues to terrorize with impunity."
--Facebook post, 10 August 2015: "Want to know what its [sic] like to live under Nazis? Look no further than how the Palestinians are treated daily by apartheid Israel. Sickening."
--Twitter post, 30 October 2014: "A third intifada is near insha'Allah."
--Facebook post, 3 August 2014: "How symbolic: 2 books buried in the rubble of a destroyed home in Gaza: One about Moses and the other about Muhammad (peace be upon them both). The Zionists are the enemies of God, His Messengers, sincere followers of all religions, and humanity as a whole."
--Twitter post, 24 July 2014: "God willing on this blessed night as the 3rd Intifada begins, the beginning of the end of Zionism is here. May Allah help us overcome this monster, protect the innocent of the world, and accept the murdered as martyrs. ameen."
Suleiman has some 1.35 million followers on Facebook and 282,000 followers on Twitter.
Suleiman's House of Representatives prayer on May 9:
In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful; our sustainer, our guide; ever present, never unaware, infinitely able, Your servants in Your loving care; guide us to pure convictions that inspire in us the courage to match those convictions.
We pray for peace, not war; love, not hate; benevolence, not greed; unity, not division. And we commit ourselves to not betraying our prayers with actions that contradict them.
Let us be for truth, no matter who or for is against it; and justice, no matter who or for it is against; and hope, no matter what obstacles lie ahead.
Let us not be deterred by the hatred that has claimed the lives of innocent worshipers across the world, but emboldened by the love that gathered them together to remember You and gathered us together to remember them.
Let us not be overcome by the darkness of evil nor the slumber of indifference that turns human beings into hashtags and neighbors into enemies. Let us be the light that we seek from You.
Guide the deliberations of our Members of Congress to just decisions, and guide our Nation to the abode of reconciliation. May we honor one another, glorify You together, and inspire the world to be better. Amen.