What do you get when you mix a group described by federal prosecutors as "the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America" with a group identified as the American front for South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami? The Muslim American Society-Islamic Circle of North America (MAS-ICNA) annual convention: A multi-day, 20,000-person Islamist conference featuring hateful speaker after hateful speaker -- taking place right in the heart of downtown Chicago.
Founded in 1993 in Falls Church, Virginia, the Muslim-American Society claims to work for a more "virtuous and just" America while striving for "liberty, and justice." ICNA, meanwhile, trumpets the work of its subsidiary humanitarian charities and its involvement with "many national interfaith organizations for the betterment of society." But, while MAS and ICNA's "About Us" pages are full of encouragingly progressive platitudes, a quick look through the speakers' roster for the 2018 MAS-ICNA convention (held from December 28-30) is enough to show that MAS and ICNA are not the paragons of tolerance they pretend to be.
Among the dozens of extremist speakers at MAS-ICNA was Georgetown professor and Islamist convert Jonathan Brown, who came under fire in February 2017 for his speech defending Sharia-sanctioned rape and sex slavery.
Imam Omar Suleiman was also invited. He describes homosexuality as a "disease" and a "repugnant shameless sin," and claims that women who are too close with their brothers are likely to commit incest.
Deobandi-educated hate preacher Abdul Nasir Jangda describes the Jews of Mecca as "really bad people" who were "very hateful, very spiteful," and "the enemy," and he also advocates for the murder of apostates and adulterers. At the MAS-ICNA convention, Jangda spoke about "Change in the World".
Islamic school instructor Hussain Kamani -- he calls Western society "filth," complaining that "[w]e are surrounded by filth ... our environment is full of this filth, everywhere we turn" -- delivered a lecture titled: "Anatomy of a Sound Heart" at the convention.
And Islamist darling Linda Sarsour -- despite her friendly relationship with the notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, her claim that "the Jewish media" is responsible for her bad press, and her public praise for convicted terrorist mastermind Rasmea Odeh -- gave a speech in Chicago about "Standing Firm in Justice".
Brown, Suleiman, Jangda, Kamani, and Sarsour are mainstays of MAS-ICNA conferences, but there were new faces there this year as well. One plenary featured Chicago's Turkish consul general, Umut Acar, who delivered a message from Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself. Acar's remarks condemned Western "Islamophobia and cultural racism," but conveniently avoided mentioning Erdoğan's crackdown on political opponents and journalists.
Though such revisionism, and Turkey's participation in MAS-ICNA, outraged some members of the Muslim community, neither are new phenomena at MAS-ICNA. At MAS-ICNA 2016, Erdoğan's daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar used her keynote address to defend her father's regime, denying that democracy and press freedoms are under assault in Turkey.
MAS-ICNA's embrace of such illiberal and intolerant figures is not limited to their joint conferences -- a cursory examination of recent MAS and ICNA solo events proves such speakers are featured by the groups regularly. For instance, ICNA Canada's annual October Carry the Light conference hosted imam Siraj Wahhaj. Wahhaj fundraised for the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) -- an al-Qaeda-connected charity later designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. ICNA, the interfaith champion, seemed not to care that Wahhaj called for violent jihad against non-Muslims at BIF's fundraising event. Said Wahhaj:
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.
No less extreme was another ICNA Carry the Light speaker: Lord Nazir Ahmed, a member of the British House of Lords. Ahmed has a rich history of anti-Semitic statements and associations with extremists. On Pakistani television, he hasblamed Jews -- "who own newspapers and TV channels" -- for exerting pressure on the courts in the case of his 2008 conviction (he pleaded guilty) for dangerous driving after he collided with a parked car, killing the passenger. Ahmed has even participated in trips to meet with Hamas leader Ahmad Bahar, a senior Hamas terrorist who calls for the killing of Jews worldwide.
MAS solo events are similarly chock-full of bigoted speakers. At the recent annual conference planned by MAS-Los Angeles, the group organized a Skype lecture from prominent Kuwait-based Muslim Brotherhood leader Tareq al Suwaidan. Al Suwaidan is so entrenched in the Brotherhood that in 2013, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal fired him from his position as director general of Riyadh-based television channel Al-Resalah on account of his Brotherhood involvement. Undaunted, al-Suwaidan posted pictures of himself with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al -- whom he described as "my brother" -- and with notorious Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yousef Al Qaradawi.
MAS-LA even hosted Laila Al-Arian. The daughter of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) board member Sami Al-Arian, Laila is a producer at the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera news network. She has vociferously defended her father as simply an "activist" and a victim of the "pro-Israel lobby" even though the presiding judge in his 2005 trial concluded that Sami Al-Arian was indeed a leader of the terrorist PIJ.
As unthinkably extreme as speakers at these three conferences were, such events are hardly isolated incidents in MAS or ICNA's histories. Instead, their conventions have shown us (for the umpteenth time) that MAS and ICNA -- rather than encouraging justice or interfaith teamwork in American society -- are exclusionary Islamist groups condoning bigotry. It is time for the world to wake up and listen.
Samantha Rose Mandeles is the Coordinator for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. Martha Lee is a writer for Islamist Watch.