Across the world, Islamists longing for a caliphate increasingly look with admiration to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - who is popularly described as the "true leader of Ummah [Muslim believers]" - and his AKP's increasingly obvious agenda of reviving a modern version of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, on the heels of the recent Turkish regime decision to convert the historic Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque, a leading pro-regime magazine proclaimed an Islamic caliphate, with Erdoğan at its head.
Members of one prominent Islamist family with ties to the United States are active participants in Erdoğan's neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist venture. The patriarch of the family is a globally-known activist named Yusuf Ziya Kavakçi. In a recent interview, Kavakçi called on the Islamic world to better contribute to the "Islamization of America" and declared: "there's only one thing America needs, and that's Islam."
The whole family appears to be working for these ideals. Three of Kavakçi's daughters, along with two granddaughters, serve the Turkish regime in one capacity or another.
Elif Kavakci works for First Lady, Emine Erdoğan, as a fashion designer. Ravza Kavakci Kan, serves as an AKP deputy chairman for the city of Istanbul. His oldest daughter, Merve Kavakci, became a professor at George Washington University and Howard University, as well as a consultant for the U.S. Congress. She is also the current ambassador of Turkey to Malaysia. In addition, his granddaughter, Mariam Kavakci, was appointed as an advisor to Erdoğan, while another granddaughter, Fatima Gulham Abushanab, was hired as an international relations specialist for the regime.
Considered one of the most influential Muslims in the world, Yusuf Ziya Kavakçi moved his family from Turkey to Texas in 1988 following a visit to the United States and a subsequent invitation from the Islamic Association of North Texas (IANT). Also known as the Dallas Central Mosque, this Muslim place of worship was "[previously] considered to be one of the most active centers of Hamas activity in the United States and hosts the leadership and members of ... the primary conduits for Hamas activity and fundraising in the United States."
In recent years, alongside other Turkish scholars, Kavakci has defended Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yousef al-Qaradawi — the Islamist theologian who has made repeated calls for the deaths of Americans, Christians, and Jews, and was named a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.
Kavakçiwas also a former Shura Council member of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Spectacularly, his affiliation with ISNA is oft-overlooked when touting his many achievements — which is likely an effort to downplay his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization. Reportedly, Kavakçi has even referred to himself as the "official Spokesperson for Islam of the U.S. Department of State."
As a resident scholar and imam, Kavakçi went on to serve IANT for 25 years. He was founder of the IANT Quranic Academy (IQA) in Richardson, founding dean of the Suffa Islamic Seminary in Dallas, as well as founder and president of the Islamic Tribunal. The esteemed Islamic author and scholar moved back to Turkey in 2013 at the age of 75.
While his family has maintained substantial connections to the Turkish regime, the former Texas-based imam has left a considerable mark on the spread of Islam throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond.
Interestingly, the Kavakçi bellwether and his family who is invested in the regime clearly share Erdoğan's ambitions of an Islamic takeover — both here and abroad.
In 2015, the retired professor attended a conference at Gaziantep University in Turkey as a speaker. He suggested that Muslims have been looking for Turkey to be their leader, compelling "the Islamic world [to] come together around Turkey's leadership" through efforts of discipline, forward-thinking, and "strategic thinking."
As mentioned above, five years later, in an interview published in the summer of 2020, Kavakçi honed in on exactly the kind of strategic thinking he may have had in mind.
"The world, especially America, needs Ottoman, Turkish and Islamic knowledge and wisdom" — and according to the Islamic scholar, "the Islamic world is not contributing to the Islamization of America." He argues, "there's only one thing America needs, and that's Islam."
"There must be an ability to think strategically in the Islamic world," he adds, perhaps unknowingly invoking the vision and "strategic minded[ness]" of the Bloody Sultan for America. Kavakçi admits, it is a long-term investment, suggesting "a 100 to 150-year program strategy ... of spreading Islam in America should be initiated."
The distinguished imam considers America to be "soft" on Islam, thereby calling upon all Muslims to participate in what he would label the "Strategy of Islamization of the USA." This is particularly concerning because of the increasing ties between the AKP, organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and politicians within the United States. There are a growing number of Turkish names emerging on the boards of Islamic NGOs. The attendance of AKP officials at Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) events, for example, is also noteworthy.
Couple a "soft" America with powerful influencers for Islam, and one can see the beginnings of a long-term strategy. Include the demands of CAIR in a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration, and there awaits an unavoidable recipe for disaster. Islamists will continue to assert greater control over American communities, finding more and more avenues to disseminate extremist ideologies right under the noses of unsuspecting citizens.
J.M. Phelps is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.