America's most prominent imam, Omar Suleiman, ended his visit to Malaysia last month by meeting with two hardline Islamist preachers. One is an open supporter of jihad. The other appears to sanction marital rape.
Suleiman heads the Yaqeen Institute, a leading Islamist thinktank, and is "resident scholar" at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Texas. He visited Malaysia to receive his doctorate in Islamic Thought and Civilization.
While Suleiman is widely praised as a moderate Muslim leader, photos published on the imam's Facebook page show him embracing Zakir Naik, a leading Indian Islamist televangelist and accused terror recruiter.
Naik is the subject of an extradition request by Indian authorities on charges of money laundering and allegations of terrorism links. Law enforcement blame Naik's preaching for the radicalization of hundreds of jihadist recruits.
Because of his extremism, Naik is banned from entering a number of Western countries, including the UK and Canada.
Nonetheless, Suleiman wrote: "I enjoyed visiting our dear Dr. Zakir Naik (Hafidhahullah) in Malaysia in his home and benefiting from him as always Al Hamdulilah. May Allah protect him and reward him for his relentless dedication to Deen. Ameen."
A second photo published by Suleiman shows him warmly greeting Zoubir Bouchikhi, who, Suleiman writes, attended his wedding in Louisiana some 15 years ago.
Bouchikhi preached in 2020 that non-Muslims are "The worst of Allah's creations, even lower than animals" and advised Muslims to renounce family members who are not sufficiently observant.
That same year, Bouchikhi declared that women may not refuse their husband's advances.
Bouchikhi, who previously served as imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, was reportedly deported in 2011 because of immigration-related offences.
In spite of the company he keeps, Omar Suleiman is perhaps the most prominent imam within American Islam, celebrated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Along with his busy schedule serving as a headline speaker at American Muslim conferences throughout the year, he has been introduced to Congress by Nancy Pelosi, and given a platform at presidential candidates' rallies.
Suleiman travels the world to advance his brand of Islamism. In April 2022, he took part in Qatar's Doha Forum, where he shared a stage with leading officials such as Senator Lindsay Graham, former Secretary of State John Kerry, Bill Gates and a variety of Islamists that included a delegation from the Taliban.
Suleiman's rhetoric has changed over the years. In years past, he excused the killing of adulterers and denounced homosexuality as a "repugnant shameless sin."
More recently, however, he has advocated for political alliances with the progressive Left, including "LGBT" movements. In lectures and essays, Suleiman and his Yaqeen Institute now promote Islam as a force for "social justice."
Suleiman's continued embrace of radical preachers such as Naik and Bouchikhi appear to illustrate that this apparent progressivism is little more than a tactic to advance an ideology that remains just as extreme, but – as he continues to be embraced by mainstream America – increasingly dangerous.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum