Fighting for legitimacy, a U.S.-based Indian American Muslim organization has insisted that a Newsweek article characterizing it as Islamist and terrorist-tied amounts to a "smear campaign."
In a December 7, 2020, op-ed, the Middle East Forum identified the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) as one of several U.S. Islamist organizations receiving COVID relief funds despite links to extremists. A single sentence devoted to the Muslim advocacy organization accused IAMC of being "anti-Hindu" and possessing alleged ties to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a designated terrorist organization in India.
That was enough to provoke IAMC's fury. It vociferously denied these accusations, drafting two letters and a press release calling the opinion piece "defamatory" and "patently false," However, the truth is that the Newsweek article barely scratched the surface of IAMC's ties to notorious Islamist ideologues, anti-Hindu bigots, and terrorist sympathizers.
Headquartered in Chicago, IAMC claims to be "dedicated to safeguarding India's pluralist and tolerant ethos," and in doing so works with Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, and even Hindus belonging to India's dissident left. Yet, its leaders have a history of spouting repugnant anti-Hindu slurs and mocking Hindu traditions.
This includes IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed, who penned the Newsweek rebuttal. Ahmed previously accused India's Hindu leaders of being drunk on "cow urine" to cure themselves of the coronavirus. IAMC Advocacy Director Ajit Sahi quoted a similarly offensive message on social media, writing: "'Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.'"
In June, Facebook flagged a post from the official IAMC page as "cruel or insensitive" because it showed a pitchfork-wielding Hindu man kneeling on the necks of Dalits and Muslims. IAMC's clumsy homage to the George Floyd murder prompted outrage on Twitter, with one user calling it "targeted hatred against Hindus."
Besides IAMC's naked anti-Hinduism, there is no denying that the organization has forged allegiances with Islamists, including extremists with ties to murderous terrorist groups.
Consider the case of Asim Ghafoor, a fixture at the nonprofit's early conventions. As a lawyer and lobbyist, Ghafoor represented the Saudi-based Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a UN-designated terrorist organization aligned with Al Qaeda. He was also the "spokesman" for the Global Relief Foundation (GFR), another designated terrorist group which funded the Taliban.
More recently, IAMC featured former Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari at an October event titled "Reclaiming India." Ansari has advocated for Sharia courts to be established in every district of India, and he was also seen attending an event organized by the Popular Front of India, which Indian law enforcement accuses of operating terror training camps and manufacturing bombs (Ansari later denied that he or his staff had knowledge of PFI's participation).
Hailed as "sheroes" for taking part in violent protests in New Delhi, activists Ladeeda Farzana and Ayenna Resha were welcomed as guest speakers at IAMC's Indian Independence Day celebration. Farzana's social media contains images of gun-toting Muslim women and a chilling warning about Islam's jihadist history, while Resha called India a "fasist [sic] country" in 2015 for hanging convicted terrorist Yakub Memon.
Others who have graced IAMC events include non-Muslims such as Indian activist Harsh Mander, another guest speaker at IAMC's Independence Day celebration. Mander has signed numerous mercy petitions in Indian courts, seeking clemency for a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant who took part in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and a Jaish-e-Mohammed conspirator involved in the 2001 Indian Parliament
Despite denying links to SIMI, IAMC clearly sympathizes with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, SIMI's former parent organization. Although JIH claims to have moderated over the years, it continues to seek "the reconstruction of society and the formation of State" in accordance with Islamic principles.
IAMC produces fawning news briefings and social media posts promoting JIH activities, even referring to it as a "savior" to Indians. Sufia Salim, IAMC's vice president in 2017, has shared at least 30 posts from the official Facebook page belonging to the more extremist Jamaat-e-Islami branch in Pakistan.
On November 18, JIH National Vice President Mohammad Salim Engineer appeared at an IAMC event, despite his history of homophobic statements. Speaking for JIH in 2018, Engineer decried the Indian Supreme Court decision to decriminalize homosexuality, calling it a "filthy experiment" that would harm women and lead to "anarchy" and pedophilia.
Ironically, JIH opposes the criminalization of "triple talaq," the practice of instant and irrevocable divorce in some Islamic communities which often leaves women destitute and without any legal recompense.
As it happens, JIH founded the outlawed student group SIMI in 1977. IAMC denies having links to the terrorist group, arguing that when SIMI's founder Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqui appeared at its first annual convention in 2003, he had left the youth group long ago and rejected its radicalism.
However, SIMI's extremism did not start when it was banned by the Indian government in 2001. According the the Hindustan Times, "SIMI's founding principles stated that the Koran was its constitution, that jihad, or a holy struggle to protect Islam, was its path and martyrdom its desire."
Despite this, Siddiqui wasn't the only former SIMI leader to appear at IAMC functions. The nonprofit featured Syed Rasool Qasim Ilyas in a video presentation on genocide in India. He formerly served as SIMI's national president, but left the group in 1985, three years after JIH severed relations over concerns about SIMI's growing extremism.
"SIMI was involved in subversive activities since its inception and [Ilyas] was one of the leading lights of the organization," a senior police officer told Outlook India.
Rather than standing as a force for pluralism and tolerance, as its mission statement declares, IAMC is a source of polarization and sectarian strife for America's South Asian diaspora. With other groups around that do not tolerate hate and sectarianism, Americans must not be fooled into thinking that IAMC represents American Muslims of Indian descent.
Benjamin Baird is Deputy Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum