Partnering with the enemy: Why mainstream U.S. religious groups are cozying up to the ‘Wahhabi lobby’ — and why they should be taking a closer look

Posted: May 17, 2008 in "Religion of Peace", America, Source: Marylou's America

By Marylou Barry

What is ISNA, and why do U.S. religious groups want to partner with it?

First, a little background…

The Islamic Society of North America, the largest group of its kind in this country, devotes several pages of its extensive Web site to its “partners,” the secular and religious organizations with which it claims to “dialogue” – and whose established reputation, understandably, could help ISNA earn some badly needed credibility points.

Co-founded in 1981 by now-imprisoned felon Sami Al-Arian, ISNA serves as an umbrella for numerous Wahhabi Muslim groups in North America. It receives funding from the Saudi government and has been identified by the U.S. State Department as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also spawned Hamas. According to the New York Times it represents a third of the mosques in the United States, although Shia sources claim that 80 percent of U.S. mosques are currently under Saudi control. As long ago as 2003, terrorism expert Stephen Schwartz testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security that ISNA already was operating at least 324 mosques in the U.S. through the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).

ISNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas funding trial of 2007. In a separate case in 2005, Al-Arian, who also co-founded the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, pleaded guilty to conspiring to fund that group rather than face eight charges of terrorism. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, he was connected through PIJ to as many as 100 deaths, including those of two Americans. But Al-Arian is not the only ISNA figure whose past could use a credibility fix.

More principal players
ISNA National Director Sayyid M. Syeed refuses to answer questions about what ISNA is doing to fight Islamic extremism, certainly not an unreasonable question in the aftermath of 9/11. Instead he complains that those inquiries remind him of “Nazism” and “Hitlerian persecution.” He once threatened a reporter with being “hurt” and “pained” if she continued writing articles about Saudi hate literature being distributed in U.S. mosques.

Ingrid Mattson, current ISNA president, is a European-Canadian ex-Catholic married to an Egyptian. She denies that Wahhabi Islam even exists despite the fact that history books and the Internet are laden with evidence. She has taken a cue from Mahmoud Abbas and his denial of the Holocaust, it would appear, and the elephant in the living room sits down for tea.

Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the ISNA Board of Directors, has held leadership roles in at least two organizations raided by the U.S. government on suspicion of terrorism. He also served as religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, Calif., when Adam Gadahn was a member. He is on record threatening the United States with violence for supporting Israel. Siddiqi advocates wife-beating, the implementation of Sharia law in the United States, religious intolerance, suicide bombing, and violent jihad to “liberate Palestine.” He now lectures as a speaker at ISNA events.

While purporting to oppose violence, ISNA has posted religious verses on its national Web site which incite violence and command the murder of non-Muslims. At least as of this writing, those verses remain posted. They won’t come up in a keyword search, but you can see them here.

In the event of their removal, screenshots of them can be downloaded, thanks to the foresight and dedication of investigative journalist Joe Kaufman of Americans Against Hate, who has captured and archived many such documents from ISNA and other Wahhabi sources. To view them, go here and here.

So, who is lying?
With a lineup and a history like that, one has to wonder why American religious organizations would want to partner with ISNA in the first place.

Or do they?

Its religious partners, ISNA’s Web site says, consist of the following organizations:

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
  • National Council of Churches
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • United Methodist Church
  • Unitarian Universalist Association

Of the eight groups listed, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the Unitarian Universalist Association did not respond to a short e-mailed questionnaire about the alleged partnerships. However, a search of their sites turned up no reference to any partnership with ISNA.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond either, but an article on that site revealed that dialogues with ISNA have been going on at least annually since 1996.

Two e-mails to the National Council of Churches were returned with error messages, but the NCC Web site acknowledges a partnership with ISNA.

Wayne Rhodes, spokesman for the United Methodist Church, denies his denomination’s involvement. “The partnership with ISNA is specifically with the United Methodist Northern Illinois Annual Conference,” he explains. “The partnership is not with the entire denomination, per se.”

Without using the word “partnership,” Jay T. Rock, Coordinator for Interfaith Relations for the Presbyterian Church (USA), acknowledges maintaining relations with ISNA and working with it on “particular projects of education, dialogue and cultural exchange.”

“We also maintain relations with many other Muslim organizations in the United States,” he says, “including African American and immigrant, Shiite and Sunni, religious and public policy groups.

“We are familiar with the charges of such linkages that have been brought against the Islamic Society of North America,” he adds, “but in the course of 10 years of relationship with the organization, we have not seen any evidence that such charges are true.

“It is nonetheless accurate to say that we do not knowingly get in bed with terrorist organizations, nor with those who support such organizations.”

Is “bigger” always “better”?
Creating some controversy when he signed on with ISNA in December 2007 was Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

On Jan. 2, The Jewish Week published an open letter from 10 Muslim moderates entitled “Attention Rabbi Yoffie: Please Speak to Moderate Muslims.” In their letter they express dismay with the URJ’s decision to ally itself with ISNA, and they ask Rabbi Yoffie to reconsider.

One of the signatories to the letter is Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, an internist and nuclear cardiologist, writer and public speaker, former U.S. Naval officer, and true moderate Muslim.

“I also wrote a letter to Rabbi Yoffie, which was ignored by the URJ,” Dr. Jasser says. “and if Rabbi Yoffie wants to have a dialogue with Muslims, there are moderate Muslim organizations to choose from. And if Rabbi Yoffie has difficulties determining which organizations are moderate, we compiled a handy guide that would make his task a lot easier.”

On Jan. 25, with no indication that it had taken Jasser up on his offer, the URJ issued a response in The American Muslim magazine, mouthpiece of the Muslim American Society, another group with Muslim Brotherhood ties.

In that response, Rabbi Mark J. Pelavin, URJ Director, Commission on Interreligous Affairs of Reform Judaism, lists three reasons for URJ’s decision: ISNA’s size relative to that of independent moderate groups; ISNA’s efforts in interreligious work, including the fact that it maintains an office in Washington, D.C.; and ISNA’s invitation to URJ to speak at its convention.

“Of course none of that would matter,” he adds, “if we believed that ISNA were, in the words of the letter ‘apologists for violence, or proponents of restrictions on freedom under the pretext of religion.’ We don’t.

“As Rabbi Yoffie said in his sermon at our recent Biennial Convention, ISNA ‘has issued a strong and unequivocal condemnation of terror, including a specific condemnation of Hizbollah and Hamas terror against Jews and Israelis. It has also recognized Israel as a Jewish state and supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’”

Check it out for yourself
So, when Saudi-funded, Wahhabi-trained Muslim apologists tell you something, how do you know if it’s the truth or taqiyya (permissible lying to non-Muslims to further the spread of Islam)? Are Rabbi Yoffie and Mr. Rock even aware of the concept of “taqiyya”? Do you suppose that the radicals they “dialogue” with include an explanation of and apology for taqiyya in their presentations, just to keep the playing field level for poor dhimmi infidels? Might this not be a valid point to dialogue about?

Taqiyya aside, don’t actions speak louder than words, especially words uttered by people trying to garner your support or approval? Isn’t what these people say in their mosques in Arabic at least as important as what they say in your press conferences in English, and shouldn’t the two bear some resemblance to each other?

Have Mr. Rock and Rabbi Yoffie never thought that some people who condemn terror might be doing so only because they have redefined the word in their minds to exclude their own actions? Has it not occurred to them that those who play games like that with semantics might not make such good partners after all?

As national security expert Steven Emerson told The U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in his testimony in April of this year, American outreach efforts to the Muslim world have been disastrous. This, he says, is because “we continue seeking partners among those who foster anti-American sentiment and who facilitate, rather than rebuke, radical Islamist ideology.”

Any readers who would like to investigate self-proclaimed “moderate” Muslim leaders for themselves before deciding what to believe, can start by clicking in the margin of Muslims Against Sharia, a blog to which Dr. Jasser is a frequent contributor. Links there have individual and group names arranged into three handy categories: Prominent Moderate Muslims, Prominent Ex-Muslims, and Islamists Claiming to Be Moderates. Reasons for the classifications become apparent at the link destinations.


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