The Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW) is an Islamist stronghold in the heartland of evangelical Christianity, potentially promoting anti-Western and anti-Semitic ideologies among Muslim Americans.
Wheaton, Illinois, boasts of 73 churches and is home to Wheaton College, which is dubbed the "Harvard of Christian schools" in America. This supports Wheaton's claim to be the town with the "second most churches per capita in America."
But when the First Assembly of God lost its mortgage in 2013, ICW paid $3.15 million for the seven-acre property and moved into the building, creating a hotbed for Islamic extremism in the middle of America's evangelical epicenter.
Being the first mosque ever to set roots in the town where "America's pastor" and most prominent Christian evangelist Billy Graham went to seminary, ICW raised a lot of interest in the community. On its first "Open Mosque Day," it attracted 250 people, mainly Christians and students from Wheaton College who enjoyed the hospitality of the new worship center.
"We want to present a positive image of an Islamic center ... We just want to be a good neighbor ...," ICW president and spokesman Dr. Abraham Antar told the Chicago Tribune.
Yet, Wheaton families of any religion — including the suburb's diverse Muslim community — should question the rosy image that Antar seeks to project. ICW leaders belong to Islamist organizations that stem from extremist, often violent movements based in the Middle East and South Asia.
For starters, Antar is an "active volunteer" with the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Chicago chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), two Islamist groups that have openly declared their allegiance to foreign extremists. Moreover, his wife Zahra was a speaker at a 2016 convention in Chicago jointly hosted by the same organizations.
MAS is a nonprofit with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamic socio-religious movement founded in Egypt. It promotes anti-Western conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, seeks to normalize Sharia law in the U.S., and aims to undermine U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East.
By the same token, ICNA was probed by the FBI for its links to Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the South Asian equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood. JI has been responsible for terrorist attacks throughout the region since the founding of Pakistan.
In addition to Antar, the imam of ICW, Ibrahim Dardasawi, is a frequent guest at Islamist conventions in Chicago, including events sponsored by MAS-ICNA and American Muslims for Palestine, an anti-Israel nonprofit accused of providing a "platform for anti-Semitism." For years, Dardasawi has "blessed" these conventions with his mellow voice in recitations of the Quran and Nasheeds (Islamic songs).
While Dardasawi mainly leads prayers and delivers sermons at ICW, the vice president Sheikh Omer Haqqani is more active in public outreach, interfaith relations, and youth education on behalf of the mosque. Sadly, Haqqani may not be offering mentorship that helps young Muslims at ICW integrate with the community. He is a graduate of India's fundamentalist Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, also known as Nadwa.
Nadwa was founded in 1898 in order to counter the Western "materialistic" culture on the subcontinent. The seminary's staff included prominent Islamist thinkers such as the late Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi, who spent much of his tenure advocating for an Islamist missionary movement accused of harboring terrorist links in Kashmir.
In any case, it is unclear what Haqqani teaches Muslim youth about their Christian neighbors and Islam. When asked during a podcast interview about the books he uses for religious education at ICW, Haqqani refused to answer, possibly because the mosque curriculum draws upon the same radical theories espoused by his alma mater.
In addition to its radical leadership, Wheaton's only mosque also plays host to extremist guest speakers. Locals visiting the worship center might chance upon Islamists such as Sabri Samirah, who presented a Friday sermon, or khutbah, at ICW in 2015.
Samirah is a well-known Muslim Brotherhood leader in Jordan, and the former chairman of a pro-Hamas nonprofit shuttered in 2004 because of its role in financing international terrorism. His invitation to preach at ICW further reveals the mosque's radical ideological identity. Indeed, Samirah's appearance followed 11 years of exile after he was designated a security threat by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Furthermore, Wheaton evangelists visiting ICW should be wary of the missionizing purpose behind its open mosque days. These events are often sponsored by GainPeace, an ICNA offshoot that whitewashes militant jihad in early Islamic history and misinforms non-Muslims.
In a nationwide billboard campaign, GainPeace sought to ensure Christians that Muslims honor Jesus as a respected and revered prophet. However, less public GainPeace training materials slander the Christian understanding of Jesus as rooted in paganism and "sketchy biographical material, poorly researched and compiled."
Nevertheless, there are signs that ICW's propagandist teachings may be working. From a Wheaton College professor who violated the school's spiritual principles in 2015 by declaring that Muslims and Christians worship the same god, to other faculty who delivered flowers to ICW and begged "repentance for the ways in which evangelicals have abused Muslims," the Chicago suburb remains ignorant of the Islamic center's radical agenda.
It is a pity that Wheaton Township, which boasts one of the most diverse Muslim refugee populations in the U.S., only has ICW for its Muslim immigrants, a proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. The mosque promotes intolerance, anti-Semitism, and victimhood, ultimately hindering the integration of the new Muslim generations into the American community.
To be a good neighbor and a positive influence on these refugee families, ICW should revoke its affiliation with extremist organizations and cleanse its leadership ranks of Islamist elements. Otherwise, Wheaton's newest neighbor should be exposed and discredited as a radical institution incapable of assimilation.
This article has been edited slightly from the version that appears at One News Now, where it is titled, "A wolf in sheep's clothing ... in Christianity's evangelical heartland."
Hesham Shehab is the Chicago Associate at the Counter-Islamist Grid, a Project of the Middle East Forum.