Since the first meeting of the Continental Congress, the United States legislature has hosted religious leaders from various traditions to offer a prayer at the start of open sessions. On May 9th, Texas representative Eddie Bernice Johnson invited a popular imam to give the opening invocation. Ordinarily, the presence and prayer of a Muslim religious leader wouldn't be cause for concern, but the specific imam Rep. Johnson chose certainly is: notorious Islamist and homophobe Omar Suleiman.
With over a million followers on Facebook, and almost three hundred thousand on Twitter, Suleiman is certainly influential among American Muslim youth. But, given his extremism, his influence should not be broadened or encouraged—especially not in the halls of Congress.
For instance, Suleiman supports a theocratic legal system, calling for a "righteous khalifa [leader of a caliphate]" so that Sharia [Islamic law] can be implemented "in totality...on a state level", and insisted that Sharia practiced "on a societal level" would be a "righteous system."
Accordingly, the seminary Suleiman founded and leads, the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, maintains a YouTube channel with videos of other popular Islamists justifying the practice of using whipping and cutting off limbs as punishments.
Moreover, Suleiman has applauded the protracted periods of Arab violence against Israeli Jews known as the intifadas, writing, "God willing on this blessed night as the 3rd Intifada begins, the beginning of the end of Zionism [the Jewish national self-determination movement] is here." Unsurprisingly, he has even dabbled in anti-Semitism by claiming "Zionist media" tries to silence the people of Gaza.
Suleiman has expressed his opposition to homosexuality, stating that it is a "repugnant shameless sin." He has further warned that "we will be forced to conform and watch this disease destroy our children."
Following significant public outcry that senior Democrats would give a platform to someone as extreme as Suleiman, American Islamist organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), rose to Suleiman's defense, encouraging their supporters to call their representatives in support of the Islamist cleric.
This coordinated effort seemed to work. Rep. Johnson, for example, stood by her invitation, tweeting that Suleiman has "used his voice to call for peace & justice," and "has stood hand in hand with leaders of both parties in denouncing hate, bigotry and violence."
But why are leading American politicians offering their personal support, and the legitimacy of the world's most important legislative chamber, to an extremist Islamist cleric?
Johnson may be unaware of Suleiman's anti-Semitism, or she may not care. After all, she has been happy to side with extremists in the past. In 2005, Johnson was part of a group of Congressional Black Caucus members who secretly met with the anti-Jewish preacher Louis Farrakhan..
Additionally, Johnson has a habit of hanging around with Islamists. She has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from leading Islamist operatives, including Rasmi Almallah, who served as a board member of the designated terror charity, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), and was named by federal prosecutors in 2007 as an unindicted coconspirator in the HLF trial.
In apparent return for such support, Johnson has been happy to embrace leading Islamist organizations. She has written letters endorsing the terror-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); and just a few weeks after Suleiman addressed the House, Johnson was honored by CAIR at its "American Muslim Ramadan Congressional Appreciation Iftar."
Johnson is not alone in her dismissal of Suleiman's bigotry. Representative Rashida Tlaib, who has been happy to share stages with him at events sponsored by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherood-founded Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), also tweeted her support of Suleiman's congressional appearance.
Tlaib's Islamist connections are deeper than Johnson's. She is apparently closely linked to Hezbollah supporter Abbas Hamideh, founder of Al Awda, a group of which the Anti-Defamation League states "in its early days openly supported terror groups targeting Israelis." Tlaib has invited CAIR leaders into her office; and one of Tlaib's top fundraisers, Maher Abdel-Qader, has a long record of trafficking in anti-Semitism.
The larger issue here is the acceptance, whether through ignorance or shared values, of Islamists such as Suleiman in the capital's halls of power. These fundamentalists are not spreading blind hatred, but a specific hatred designed to serve a larger purpose: to normalize anti-Semitism and other bigotries, and to advance the Islamist agenda under the cover of a Democratic Party platform.
Moderate Democrats must not welcome extremists such as Omar Suleiman to Congress; they must actively protest him, his congressional cheerleaders and those deep-pocketed Islamist organizations that stand behind him.
Harry Onickel is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum