Suhaib Webb is an American born imam with a stellar reputation. A convert from Oklahoma who studied at Al Azhar University in Egypt, Webb has crafted the reputation of a modish, open-minded preacher, whose sermons mix American slang with Quranic verses. Known as the "snapchat imam," he preaches to an extensive social media following, made up of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world.
Journalists treat him as a liberal voice of American Islam. Webb was listed by CNN as one of the top 25 influential Muslims. He is quoted by the Huffington Post as a moderate authority on the topic of prayer in the aftermath of tragedies. He was praised by the BBC after expressing support for a woman who protested against gender segregation at her mosque. And the Washington Post has described him as a "guiding spirit to young Muslims" in an interview in which Webb was noted for his "liberal views" which supposedly put him at odds with "jihadist hard-liners."
But a closer look at Webb's sermons reveal a far less liberal persona. The sermons he preaches, once the cameras stop rolling, advocate a hardline Islam at sharp odds with the views of America's historically moderate Muslim communities.
Islamist Watch has now discovered an undated sermon given by Webb, in which he denounces non-Muslims and warns of deadly consequences for those who break Islamic law.
While addressing Muslim youth about zina [adultery or fornication], Webb blames the temptation of pre-marital or extra-marital sex "on the distance from the Islamic influence … 24 hours a day you are being pounded by the ideology of the Kuffar." Kuffar, a derogatory name for non-Muslims, is a term most often employed in modern times by extreme Salafi ideologues.
Webb makes his views on zina abundantly clear: "Someone who is married and commits Zina? What is the punishment for them? He is to be stoned to death."
In fact, Webb has a long history of extremist views. He expresses a peculiar form of anti-Semitism: "Who are the people who tried to kill Issa [Jesus] and Zechariah? The Jews, the followers of Musa [Moses]. … I understand you might have some animosity to them (Jews) but try to make some dawa [outreach], you never know what might happen"
His other statements are just as worrisome. He has declared that "the men who imitates [sic] a woman and the women who imitate the men and their dress" are cursed. He has described secularism as a "radical, lunatic ideology," stating his preference for the "one religion that is absolutely equipped from the groud up to engage the speed of a technocratic world" -- specifically, only "the Islam of the Prophet's era" -- an indication of Webb's revivalist, Salafi strain of Islam.
For many years, Webb has been a frequent guest at events organized by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). He is a prominent supporter of CAIR's work, declaring that even "if they [CAIR] can't pay me an honorarium, I'll still go." Islamist Watch reached out to CAIR to ask whether it condemned Webb's extremist comments. CAIR, however, refused to provide comment.
While Webb publicly continues to cultivate a tolerant and modern image, his private statements reveal extremist rhetoric and theocratic ideals. The "snapchat imam" is not a reflection of the modern, tolerant ideal; it is merely old hatreds using new means to propagate extremism more efficiently.