On Election Day 2018, one popular Denver imam posted a video to his YouTube Channel where he discusses whether Islam permits voting in a non-Muslim country. He introduces his discussion with the following:
"We've been asked over and over about this subject. One of the sisters just sent me a text message: "Sheikh, I just found out that I voted for somebody a same sex guy, a gay guy." There is a lot of talk about it."
The imam is none other than Karim Abuzaid, former imam at the Colorado Muslim Society (Masjid Abu Bakr) who now runs the Colorado Muslim Community Center. He is also a frequent guest on international Islamic TV programs, he frequently visits mosques across the country, and his YouTube channel where he regularly uploads content has over 25,000 subscribers.
Abuzaid's ruling on the permissibility of voting was basically that voting is permitted – not encouraged – but permitted if and only if they are voting in a way which will benefit Muslims and the advancement of Islam in the US. He implores listeners to weigh the costs and benefits of who they're voting for:
"Assessing the benefits and the harm is what governs the subject. And this is why there is no white or black, black or white [...] We're living in a non-Muslim country, we're not choosing people who are gonna rule according to the book of allah. These people rule according to manmade laws. But the matter has to do with what? Will this bring benefits to you as a Muslim and as a community? Then it's permissible. "
But what if the harm is more? You're gonna bring no benefit. Actually, You're gonna bring harm. This guy who is promoting same-sex stuff, [...] and is not helping Muslims at all. This is impermissible.
To most sensible Americans, such sentiments would come off as radical and anti-Western, and rightfully so. However, Abuzaid still attempts to portray a carefully cultivate a public image of himself as a moderate.
Imam Abuzaid's record of religious extremism goes beyond his remarks during this election season. Last summer, he was the subject of some controversy when a Pakistani-American Muslim candidate for Aurora City Council, P.K. Kaiser wrote a letter to the editor to the Aurora Sentinel, a local Colorado newspaper. In it, Mr. Kaiser highlighted his concerns over Imam Abuzaid's extremist preaching and inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric. In response, several "concerned commenters" accused Kaiser of "Islamophobia" and bigotry; caving to its detractors, the Sentinel scrubbed the letter and apologized for printing Kaiser's "unedited opinion." Dismayed about the Sentinel's behavior, I wrote a piece for The Daily Caller, validating the concern over Mr. Abuzaid by highlighting previously unpublicized examples of his extremism.
But days later, the Aurora Sentinel offered Imam Abuzaid a front page story about his role in the community, in which they uncritically published his disingenuous and caveat-laced public condemnations of terrorism—which Johansson adds, is 'a simple Google search' away––while ignoring the evidence provided of Abuzaid's problematic history.
The Sentinel published some of my comments as well, but only after preemptively dismissing them with Abuzaid's dishonest condemnations.
Ironically, the Aurora Sentinel used Mr. Kaiser and myself as examples of increasing anti-Muslim bigotry. This is despite the fact that Mr. Kaiser is a practicing Muslim and that he is not the only Muslim who has expressed concerns about Abuzaid's Islamism.
In 2010, a former co-worker of Abuzaid's at the Prince George's Muslim Association (PGMA) in Maryland wrote a long letter to the Colorado Muslim Society (CMS) advising them against hiring Abuzaid. The letter cited Abuzaid's prejudice against non-Arab Muslims, as well as his enthusiasm for Salafism:
"Due to our experience with [Abuzaid] for the past four years in our community, where he served as our Imaam, we believe he will tear your community apart with conflicts, harassments, discrimination, and chaos. It is hard to believe, but this brother is not qualified as an Islamic leader and does not posses qualities to be able to lead a diverse Muslim community. Due to the lack of knowledge, prejudice against non-Arab ethnicities, and strict Salafi minhaj [outlook], he will be incapable of leading a diverse community. We only say these things as warnings from one Muslim community to another. This is only our personal opinions and Allah knows best."
The letter goes on to describe several instances when Abuzaid accused congregants who disagreed with his hardline Salafi teachings of sedition.
The CMS chose to hire Abuzaid anyway, but would come to regret their decision. In 2014, after a confrontation with CMS board members for breach of contract and alienating the community with his radical message, Abuzaid resigned from CMS. He then purchased a nearby plot of land where he would open his new Colorado Muslim Community Center (CMCC) for $132K –– using funds from the Colorado Muslim Society.
What exactly goes on in the CMCC? Its website describes its mission to serve both the Muslim & non-Muslim communities by focusing on ethics, morals & family values. It is often advertised as a community recreational center in addition to being a religious center. Yet the sermons and lectures at CCMC regularly feature Abuzaid preaching in support of flogging "fornicators" and stoning adulterers, and suggesting, for example, that HIV is simply God's punishment for homosexuality.
Abuzaid also regularly hosts events at CMCC featuring other extremists as guest speakers. In April 2017, CMCC held a conference titled "Trapped" which featured one Imam Amjad Jabai who spoke on the topic of "Assimilation and Imitation." In Jabai's speech, he advised Muslims of the "dangerous trap" of assimilating into Western society. "They are targeting our children," he warned, suggesting that the American public school system is simply a tool to encourage Muslims to deviate from their Islamic identities, forcing them onto the path of the "disbeliever." "Why do we as Muslims have to follow the ways and the paths of the disbelievers?"
At the end of his lecture, Jabai told the audience a story of a girl from a Muslim country who moved to Sweden as a refugee. He disapprovingly described how she desired to integrate into Swedish society—where women have equal rights. Jabai made sure to clarify that this type of thinking is "another one of [the West's] traps," effectively warning the women in the audience not to accept Western egalitarianism.
This past February, Abuzaid hosted an event at the CMCC titled 'Refinement through Adversity" where he spoke alongside a number of other local imams – including Mr. Jabai – and another especially problematic imam, Siraj Wahhaj from Brooklyn, NY. Aside from Wahhaj's long and readily-accessible history of extremism and intolerance, he is perhaps best known for making threats in 1992 to burn down an LGBT-friendly mosque in Toronto, and for his ties to 1993 World Trade Center plotter Omar "the Blind Sheikh" Abdel-Rahman.
In spite of his promotion of extremism, Abuzaid manages to convince mainstream media like the Sentinel that he is an ordinary moderate Muslim. By paying lip service to Western sensibilities with cursory public condemnations of Islamist terrorism, Abuzaid gets away with spreading extremism when the reporters are elsewhere. And indeed, the local media buys every word he says without a moment's scrutiny. But if the community at large – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike – is interested in promoting peace and moderation, then perhaps it should begin by disavowing individuals like Abuzaid instead of endlessly offering him excuses and glossing over his extremist views.