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September 20, 2021 12:02 pm

American Islamists Pay Tribute to Bin Laden Sympathizer

avatar by Abha Shankar


Israelis read about the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in the newspaper on May 03, 2011. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Just days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, American Islamists hosted a memorial ceremony for a hard-line Kashmiri separatist leader who had reportedly sympathized with the attacks’ mastermind Osama bin Laden and called him a “martyr.”

Soon after US Navy SEALS killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a 2011 raid on his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, Syed Ali Shah Geelani called on Islamic clerics to pray for the slain terrorist.

“Muslim clergy should organise funeral prayers in their mosques for peace to the soul of Osama bin Laden,” Geelani said. “Osama [bin Laden] was not just a person but also an ideology against occupation of Muslim lands by foreigners. Western countries must realise that suppression of Muslims in their lands will result in resistance.”

Geelani, who spearheaded the Kashmir separatist movement for over three decades, died on September 1.

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He was closely affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JI J&K), and his mentor was Jamaat-e-Islamic (JI) founder and Islamist ideologue Syed Abu Ala Maududi.

In addition to holding different leadership positions, Geelani, 91, also served as the organization’s “Amir-e-Jehad (Head of Jihad).”

These connections were all well known. But they didn’t give the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)’s social justice arm pause about co-sponsoring the Geelani memorial.

ICNA described Geelani’s death as “a great loss to this Ummah [global Muslim community]” and called him “a symbol of determination and courage against illegal Indian rule in Kashmir.”

The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) issued a statement calling Geelani “the great defender of the rights and freedoms of the Indian-besieged and -occupied Kashmiri people.” Geelani, it said, was a “‘symbol of resistance’ to the government of India’s brutal and draconian policies of oppression in Jammu and Kashmir.”

J&K has been a source of tension between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence from British rule in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim the state in its entirety and have fought multiple wars over it.

In his life, Geelani advocated pan-Islamism and J&K’s merger with Pakistan. He famously told a cheering crowd in Srinagar in 2008: “Secularism won’t work here, nationalism won’t work here, provincialism won’t work here. … The only thing that will work is Islam. … Because of the relationship of Islam, we are Pakistani and Pakistan is ours.”

Pakistan has used terrorism to bolster its claim on J&K. In July 2020, Pakistan conferred its highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, on Geelani for his “selfless and relentless struggle and sacrifices” in advocating for the “right to self-determination” in J&K.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), described as the “largest Muslim organization” in the US, issued a press release describing Geelani as “a bold and relentless leader, a visionary, an intellectual, and an advocate for justice and human rights in Kashmir and around the world.”

ISNA has been tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and its conferences routinely feature rhetoric in support of terrorist groups and other radicalism.

Geelani was on the cover of ISNA’s bi-monthly flagship publication Islamic Horizons in March, describing him as “the heart of Kashmiri resolve.” The issue included several stories on Geelani, including one penned by his granddaughter Ruwa Shah.

Shah’s father and Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmad Shah was arrested by India’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in 2017, and accused of receiving funds from Pakistan, including for funding terrorism.

In 2013, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) announced it would revoke the ISNA Development Foundation’s charitable status for raising funds that it believed may have reached Kashmiri terrorists. Corporate records show that ISNA-Canada was the “Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)” until October 2014, when it changed its name to “Islamic Society of North America Canada.”

In 2018, CRA suspended ISNA-Canada for a year, amid concerns that it may have “provided resources” to Kashmiri terrorists. A year earlier, ISNA’s Islamic Services of Canada’s charitable status was revoked for the same reason.

If high-profile Americans paid tribute to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the condemnations would have been swift and unequivocal. Geelani may have done a lot that American Islamist organizations agree with. But he was a hard-line separatist with known terror ties, who considered Osama bin Laden a heroic figure. The open mourning and praising of him says a lot about those organizations.

A version of this article was originally published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism, where the author is a contributor.

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