Obama’s Dubious Mosque Choice
Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB) on Wednesday, his first visit to a US mosque since becoming president.
ISB leaders have amassed a record of support for radical Islamic causes over the years, including endorsing the Chechen jihad and Palestinian suicide bombings. Its former imam was active in a charity later linked to terror financing of groups including Hamas and the Taliban, and for providing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to Osama bin Laden.
More recently, a resident scholar described homosexuality as a threat to societal health, in stark contrast to the president’s views on the issue.
It’s safe to assume the White House vetted the ISB and found it an acceptable venue for a presidential appearance despite this history. And that is not surprising. The Obama administration has repeatedly embraced contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, repeatedly meeting with its officials during and after the Arab Spring while ignoring secular democracy advocates. It praised the early tenure of Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi when he briefly served as Egypt’s president. The administration also helped a Brotherhood delegation skip routine screening by US Customs and Border Protection upon landing in America.
And, as we reported in December, a White House meeting aimed at standing by the Muslim-American community featured representatives of Islamist groups, including some with consistent records of opposing US law enforcement counter-terrorism efforts.
ISB officials have worked closely with one of those groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In 2014, two ISB officials joined with CAIR in a news conference blasting Israeli military actions in Gaza. The conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, started when Hamas operatives kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens and continued its incessant campaign of firing rockets with the hope of killing Israeli civilians.
But Hamas’ murders and ongoing efforts to carry out more were never mentioned by the CAIR and ISB officials. Instead, they blamed Israel when raids aimed at rocket launchers and other Hamas targets inadvertently killed and injured civilians.
ISB President Muhammad Jameel recklessly invoked “genocide in the name of self-defense” and said that, “as an American I am ashamed to stand here.”
Abid Husain, the ISB’s general secretary, joined Jameel in calling for the US to pressure Israel into opening Gaza’s borders, ending an embargo that was enacted to stop the flow of weapons and materials used to make them.
“The US government must not remain silent about Israel’s indiscriminate assault and unjust use of force,” Husain said. “The right of a nation to defend itself does not extend to unrestrained aerial bombardments of civilian populations and must be condemned.”
Far from genocide, which is the systematic elimination of a people, and from an indiscriminate attack, Israel campaign against Hamas “went to extraordinary lengths” to minimize civilian casualties, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Israel dropped leaflets and called residents of buildings targeted for bombing in hopes the residents would heed the warnings and seek safer locations.
After the conflict ended, Dempsey sent a team of senior officers to learn from Israeli military leaders and study the tactics in Gaza to minimize civilian casualties. “In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties,” he said.
Another ISB official, resident scholar Yaseen Shaikh, sermonized against homosexuality as a mental disorder and “something which we despise.” The talk is dated May 2013, just weeks before he joined the ISB.
The Quran says “harm them” to those who engage in homosexuality, he said. “What does this mean? If it was not an aberrant act, if this was not a despised act, why would Allah … say, ‘Harm them’? Allah then says, ‘[Several Arabic words],’ ‘If they repent and they reform and they transform themselves and change, then let them be.”
Mohamad Adam El Sheikh was a regional representative for the Islamic Africa Relief Agency (IARA) in Baltimore the same time that he was an ISB imam and director.
An archived ISB action alert says that the “Islamic Society of Baltimore was recently visited by an IARA representative who brought the attached pictures of atrocities committed by Russians against the Muslims in Chechnya.”
Although links to several pictures from the Chechen jihad are still available on ISB’s archived web page, the actual pictures are no longer accessible.
“Despite all of this, by the grace of Allah, the Mujahidin in Chechnya have been able to defend themselves and remains a formidable threat to heavily armed Russian Army. However, it is also our responsibility as Muslims all over the world to help them in their Jihad effort,” the action alert added.
The action alert further solicited donations “to help the Refugees and Mujahidin in their struggle.”
In 2004, El-Sheikh justified Palestinian suicide bombings, saying they are acceptable when “certain Muslims are to be cornered where they cannot defend themselves, except through these kinds of means, and their local religious leaders issued fatwas to permit that.”
Another page on the ISB’s archived “Official English Site” links to a feature on the “Jihad in Chechnya” on the Azzam Publications website. Azzam publications was an al Qaeda-tied website that was “one of the most well-known supporters of jihad, or holy war, on the internet.” The site is replete with material promoting jihad and martyrdom operations and includes a photo and link to a biography of Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam.
Just after 9/11, the ISB hosted speakers who would become prominent advocates of jihad, including American-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a 2011 US drone strike. Awlaki’s online sermons remain some of the most watched and most effective terrorist recruiting material online.
Another page from ISB’s archived website links to the homepage of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi. Qaradawi has issued fatwas or religious rulings in support of terrorism and described suicide operations as “heroic martyrdom operations.” In a 2004 fatwa, Qaradawi called abducting and killing Americans in Iraq is “a [religious] duty.”
At a 1995 conference held by the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) in Toledo, Ohio, Qaradawi called for the “conquest” of Europe and America through Dawa, or proselytizing. “We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America! Not through sword but through Dawa,” he said.
The ISB’s leaders have had connections with radical Islamists and espoused extreme viewpoints throughout its history. Like a lot of mosques, it continues to segregate men and women during prayer, something American-Islamic Forum for Democracy President Zuhdi Jasser called “gender apartheid.”
During an appearance on Fox News Monday, Jasser said he was insulted by the president’s choice of the ISB. He said it continues an administration policy of working with Islamist groups and ignoring Muslims like him who stand against theocracy.
“It’s disgraceful that this is one of the mosques — or the mosque — that he’s picked to be the first visit,” he said. ISB’s website looks like “a covert operation. There’s no name on it. It basically has pictures of individuals, but no names.”
For an event that was expected to focus on tolerance, diversity and inclusion, Obama made a puzzling choice in the ISB. Its leaders sympathize with terrorists, hate homosexuals, and treat women as less than equal.
Steven Emerson is the Executive Director the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) where this article first appeared.