On June 30th, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) will kick off their annual convention in Chicago. As in previous years, the convention's featured speakers will include exceptional community activists, journalists, academics, and religious scholars from the American Muslim community.
Unfortunately, the ISNA Convention will also be featuring several speakers with extremist histories or links—again, as in previous years. Several of these extremists are considered leaders of American Muslim community institutions (including ISNA itself), which surely places the community in something of a quandary. ISNA needs to decide if it will continue to welcome such hateful views at the very same time as it claims to be opposing radicalism, or if it will truly turn over a new leaf and allow a new, more tolerant generation of leaders to emerge.
Perhaps the worst of the extremist speakers include:
1. Nihad Awad
Nihad Awad is executive director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR was branded an unindicted co-conspirator during the 2008 trial of the Holy Land Foundation. Awad publicly supported the terrorist group Hamas as far back as 1994 and referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as "liberation movements" in an Arabic interview with Al-Jazeera in 2004.
According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, in 1998, Awad claimed that "U.S. policy is driven in part by the Jewish origin of many Clinton administration officials.... These are the same people who are pushing the United States to go to war on behalf of a third party, and they are the same people who are opposing the peace process."
This is unsurprising, as Awad was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee, which was led by Hamas operative Mousa Abu Marzook; as is known from public court records, CAIR was founded by Awad and his associates to support Hamas objectives in the United States.
2. Zahra Billoo
Billoo has served CAIR as the executive director of its San Francisco Bay Area chapter since 2009. She regularly refers to Israel as an "apartheid" state (linked tweet from 9/6/16). Billoo uses her personal Twitter account (most recently in 2015) to promote support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian and Hamas itself.
In February 2011, Billoo's CAIR chapter posted an image on their website saying "Build a Wall of Resistance / Don't Talk to the F.B.I."
3. Omar Suleiman
Omar Suleiman has been condemned by moderate Muslim activists for describing homosexuality as a "disease" and a "repugnant shameless sin." He refers to the Islamic death penalty for the "people that practiced sodomy."
In a talk titled "Fighting Zina," Suleiman claims that women who are too close with their brothers are likely to commit incest. Women, he declares, should never be alone with a man outside of her family. Further, he warns, without condemnation, that women who commit adultery risk being killed by a family member.
4. Nouman Ali Khan
Nouman Ali Khan is the founder and CEO of Bayyinah, a religious education group. Khan has attempted to justify physical punishment for adultery and fornication, and complains that counsellors and psychologists aren't allowed to tell homosexuals that "there's something wrong with you".
Khan's Facebook page includes selfies with Zakir Naik, an Indian Islamic preacher whose NGO was recently raided and designated "unlawful" by Indian law enforcement over concerns about terror ties. Naik's extremism led him to be banned from entering the UK and Canada.
5. Muzammil Siddiqi
Muzammil Siddiqi, a past president of ISNA and chair of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), has a long history of extremist activity. His mosque hosted a visit in 1992 by the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman, a leader of the terrorist group that assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 and committed the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The Blind Sheikh gave a speech in Arabic declaring that jihad was necessarily violent and that nonviolent definitions of the term were weak and cowardly; Siddiqi had the speech translated into English and publicized. Siddiqi himself said in a videotaped lecture around the same time that "jihad is the path, jihad is the way to gain honor."
In 2001, Siddiqi expressed support for laws that punish homosexuality with death.
6. Abdul Nasir Jangda
Abdur Nasir Jangda is a Texas-based cleric who studied at a Deobandi madrassah – Jamia Binoria in Karachi, Pakistan. In 2009, the BBC journalist John Humphreys reported that Jamia Binoria was "brainwashing" children into supporting terrorism. In 2015, Pakistani law enforcement raided the seminary after including it on a list of madrassahs linked to terrorist organizations.
According to detailed notes published by one of his students, Jangda has defended the use of female sex slaves within Islam. He reportedly advocated the killing of apostates and adulterers, and dismisses the concept of marital rape: "The thing to understand is that the husband has his set of divinely given rights one of which is the right to have his physical desires satisfied."
Jangda also describes the Jews of Mecca as "really bad people" who were "very hateful, very spiteful," and "the enemy."
7. Yasir Qadhi
Qadhi is one of the most prominent Islamist clerics in the U.S., and was formerly an exponent of the extremist Salafi ideology—condemning homosexuality in stark terms, and attacking democracy as illegitimate. Qadhi was also no stranger to bigotry and anti-Semitism. In 2001, Qadhi told an audience of Muslims:
"Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews. There are a number of books out on this written by Christians, you should read them. The Hoax of the Holocaust, I advise you to read this book and write this down, the Hoax of the Holocaust, a very good book. All of this is false propaganda and I know it sounds so far-fetched, but read it. The evidences [sic] are very strong. And they're talking about newspaper articles, clippings, everything and look up yourself what Hitler really wanted to do. We're not defending Hitler, by the way, but the Jews, the way that they portray him, also is not correct."
In an undated audio recording, Qadhi advocates killing homosexuals:
"...this is a part of our religion to stone the adulterer and to chop the head off of the sorcerer and so many other things, and to kill, by the way, the homosexual – this is also our religion. ... This is all a part of our religion. This doesn't mean we go and do this in America but I'm saying if we had an Islamic state we would do this."
In 2008, Qadhi expressed regret for his anti-Semitism. At the same time, however, Qadhi expressed support for the notorious British Holocaust denier, David Irving.
In addition, Qadhi had denounced Shia Islam as "the most lying sect of Islam.... Shias are allowed to lie and it is their religion to lie." When challenged on this view in the comments of the above-referenced 2008 post, he responded that "I cannot 'retract' from certain theological doctrines that I said in that clip. These doctrines were not taken from racist websites (as in the case of the Jewish comments), but from reliable sourcebooks (both Sunni and Shiite)."
In 2016, Qadhi publicly repudiated his adherence to Salafism and condemned the movement's extremism. If Qadhi's comments were genuine, this is an encouraging step, and we sincerely hope that he continues his new behavior to the point that we are convinced that his moderation is genuine.
We hope the same for ISNA. If Muslim activists and community groups choose to reject extremism, they know they cannot change the past. ISNA cannot do anything about having been founded by agents of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1981, just as Yasir Qadhi cannot make his earlier extremism vanish. However, all can choose to break with their extremist past and refocus on the needs of the broader Muslim community in the United States—living as loyal citizens while being proud of their religious heritage—or they can provide legitimacy to the extremism of figures such as Nihad Awad and Muzammil Siddiqi, who have never repudiated their earlier views or acknowledged their involvement with the Brotherhood.
ISNA must come to terms with the truth that their form of Islamism is not an alternative to Islamism of ISIS and other violent groups. All Islamism is a path into extremism—and groups such as ISIS are at the end. So long as they continue to feature Islamists at their events, ISNA exposes the Muslim community's youth to the lure of violence and hatred.