On March 16, popular American-Pakistani lecturer Yasir Qadhi was the featured speaker at the seventh annual “Atlanta’s Benefit Dinner” for ICNA Relief — the Islamic Circle of North America (INCA)’s humanitarian aid branch.
Qadhi's eloquence and ostensibly uplifting message against religious extremism have made him a star in the American Muslim community. However, upon closer inspection, Qadhi’s true Islamist nature rears its ugly head — in both words and affiliations. And it is hardly surprising that ICNA Relief should feature Qadhi as a keynote speaker — ICNA, after all, is the American branch of the Pakistani extremist organization Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The two seem made for each other.
Qadhi’s own extremism started early. As a Master’s student at the Islamic University of Madinah, in 2001, Qadhi delivered a viciously antisemitic talk: “As for 80 to 90 percent of the Jews in our times, they are Ashkenazis, i.e. Khazars, i.e. Russians. … Look at them — white, crooked nose, blonde hairs… These are not a Semitic people,” he said.
Qadhi then told his audience to read Hoax of the Holocaust, which he called “a very good book.” Later, Qadhi called his rant against Jews a youthful indiscretion, and professed his appreciation for Jews. Yet in the same year, Qadhi also defended notorious Holocaust denier David Irving.
Though he has insisted otherwise, Qadhi’s extremist sympathies are not solely confined to his youth. In October 2016, Qadhi defended the Taliban to a commenter on Qadhi’s Facebook page, writing: “The Taliban might have had strange beliefs and customs (from your perspective), but it was their country that was falsely invaded, and they did what every single nation would do. Fight back. Sadly, some American politicians have far more blood on their hands than the Taliban and Al Qaeda combined…” (These views are likely congenial to ICNA, which, in 2000, promoted the websites of the Taliban and other terror groups on one of its own websites.)
In March 2017, Qadhi wrote about convicted Al Qaeda fundraiser Babar Ahmad on Facebook, saying: “Honored to know Babar Ahmad as a friend.” In July 2014, Ahmad was sentenced to twelve-and-a-half years in prison for providing material support to terrorists. Ahmad, who pled guilty to the charges against him, was the operator of the website Azzam Publications, which raised money and recruited fighters for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In March 2016, Qadhi wrote: “I was honored to perform hajj one year with Babar Ahmad.”
Qadhi has also spoken on behalf of high-profile terrorists before. They include Aafia Siddiqui, an Al Qaeda operative who was sentenced to 86 years in prison for attacking US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan. In July 2014, Qadhi accused the US of torturing Siddiqui and called on his followers to sign a petition to repatriate Siddiqui back to her native Pakistan.
Qadhi has also endorsed Ali al-Tamimi, who was given a life sentence for his role as the spiritual leader of the so-called Virginia Jihad Network, a group of violent pro-Pakistani radicals whom al-Tamimi had told to go overseas to attack US troops.
In October 2008, Qadhi decried the Bush administration’s incarceration of al-Tamimi, claiming he was “innocent.” Qadhi also said al-Tamimi was a mentor to him, writing: “I personally owe a lot to Sh. al-Timimi, and I can say (with pride) … [that] he played an instrumental role in shaping and directing me to take the path that has led me to where I am today.”
As if all that were not enough, this past May, Qadhi was videotaped embracing and kissing radical British cleric Haitham al-Haddad. About Jews, al-Haddad has stated: “I will tell you the truth about the fight between us and Jews who are the enemies of God and the descendants of apes and pigs.” Al-Haddad also praised Osama bin Laden following his death, and has called homosexuality a “criminal act.” He is also a supporter of female circumcision ,and has argued that, “A man should not be questioned [by the authorities] why he hit his wife, because this is something between them.”
Last month, Qadhi announced his new position as Global Ambassador of Human Appeal — previously Human Appeal International (HAI) — an entity that describes itself as “an international relief and development organization,” which “sends aid and saves lives.” Yet, in July 2008, the Israeli government banned Human Appeal, describing the group as being “part of Hamas’s fundraising network” and “responsible for raising very large sums for Hamas activities.”
According to a leaked document from the US State Department: “In 2003, there were indications that HAI was sending financial support to organizations associated with Hamas and that members of its field offices in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya had connections to al-Qa’ida associates.”
On the other hand, Qadhi’s work with a Hamas-linked charity is likely a selling point to ICNA Relief, whose own financial support for Hamas is considerable. ICNA Relief was the top donor and partner to Pakistani charity Al Khidmat Foundation (AKF), which in August 2006 took a delegation to Damascus, Syria, to hand-deliver $100,000 to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at his residence. And in July 2014, parent organization ICNA was the co-sponsor of a pro-Hamas rally held in Downtown Miami, Florida, where rally goers repeatedly shouted “We are Hamas” and “Let’s go Hamas.”
ICNA’s ties to violence are yet more profound. In November 2013, ICNA’s former board member, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, was sentenced to death in absentia for the murders of 18 prominent Bangladeshi intellectuals, committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Khan had served as a death squad leader for al-Badr, then the paramilitary wing of the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami. In September 2016, Yasir Qadhi lamented the execution of one of Khan’s 1971 death-squad colleagues, Mir Quasem Ali, who was convicted of murder and torture. Qadhi wrote: “I was very saddened to hear of the execution of Mir Quasem Ali yesterday.”
ICNA dinner’s theme was “Changing the World From Home.” Will the changes that ICNA envisions relate more to the eloquent and uplifting Yasir Qadhi? Or to the Yasir Qadhi who spouts bigotry and supports terrorists and death squad leaders?
Given ICNA and Qadhi’s radical histories, the answer cannot be any clearer.
Joe Kaufman is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.