When Abdul El-Sayed announced his candidacy for governor of Michigan last year, many were concerned about his links to Islamist organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (his father-in-law, Jukaku Tayeb, is a CAIR-MI board member) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA), of which he was an active member in college. However, he was careful to always present himself in public as committed to American pluralism; and I held out some faint hope that despite his considerable family connections to Islamism, El-Sayed himself could indeed be a proud Muslim without being an Islamist.
Now that the campaign is over, however, El-Sayed appears to be dropping the mask. The Islamic Center of Detroit just announced that El-Sayed will be appearing at the Muslim Revival Conference 2018: Reconnect. There, he will share the stage with several other speakers, some of whom are benign; but others are overt Islamists with shockingly bigoted views that should be rejected by anyone claiming (as El-Sayed did) to be a Progressive.
Headlining the conference is Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial. Wahhaj's extremism has continued since then, with repeated statements in support of extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and other radical groups. In an undated speech he gave while raising money for Al-Qaida front group Benevolence International Foundation, Wahhaj repeatedly called for declaring jihad and said, "I pray one day Allah will bless us to raise an army and I'm serious about this. We were very close, recently. We had made intention to raise an army of 10,000 men in New York City.... Help your Muslim brother if he's oppressed or if he's the oppressor."
Wahhaj also expresses racial and religious bigotry. In other speeches, he has said, "Woe to the Muslims who pick kafirs [non-Muslims] for friends. Woe, woe, woe to the Muslims who take kafirs as friends. Kafir will take you away from the remembrance of Allah.... Take not into your intimacy those outside of your race. They will not fail to corrupt you." Wahhaj has also called homosexuality "a disease of this society."
Another speaker, Suleiman Hani, is a hardline cleric who writes that "'Freedom of speech' is a facade of a tool that is used inconsistently by those in power." It is used, he claims, to stifle "objective discussion" of the "Holocaust and Jews." Those who question the Holocaust, he claims, are "labeled as Anti-Semites, or 'inciters of hate speech.' " Hani also promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories – he notes"the very strange collapse of building 7" and "the arguments about the actual perpetrators of 9/11 (and the plethora of evidence on both sides of the debate)."
Hani frequently presents shows on Huda TV, an Islamic television station that hosts prominent extremist clerics. He also warns Muslims against looking at women, claiming that "lowering your gaze" will provide "insight" – the "opposite of that is the blindness which Allah attributed to the homosexuals."
Majed Mahmoud, an instructor at the AlMaghrib Institute, is a public Wahhabi who has "completed a TV series with channels such as Huda TV and Peace TV." The president of Peace TV is Zakir Naik, who was banned from the UK in 2010 for extremism. Peace TV was sanctioned by UK regulator Ofcom in 2012 for broadcasting that former Muslims should be killed, and that it was the duty of Muslims to kill those who insult Muhammad. Peace TV was also banned by India in 2012 for inflammatory content, and by Bangladesh in 2016 after inspiring a terror attack.
Nor is Islamism the only form of illiberalism welcomed by the "Reconnect" conference. Speaker Ubaydullah Evans attacked fellow Islamist Hamza Yusuf last year for daring to discuss social issues within the black community as a white man, claiming that his being white "precludes the possibility of his being able to make such comments with integrity." He further stated that "the ontological fact of whiteness" prevented Yusuf from understanding the significance of what he was saying, and that despite all of his accomplishments, "he-is-still-white" [sic].
Abdul El-Sayed is a political rock star in the Muslim community (and his newest photo is suitably glamorous). For him to lend his credibility to such a pack of bigots and conspiracy-mongers is alarming; and it lends weight to the concerns that his public commitment to religious pluralism was a façade all along.