From the East Coast through the American Heartland to the West Coast, a rapidly growing and extremely popular Islamic studies program is bringing Wahhabi extremism and Muslim Brotherhood activism into mosques and Muslim student groups throughout North America. The Al-Maghrib Institute features motivational-style speakers, aggressive marketing, savvy use of the Internet and slick multi-media presentations as part of their for-college-credit courses leading to an Islamic Studies degree offered at mosques in at least thirteen cities:
College Park, Maryland
New Brunswick, New Jersey
San Francisco Bay area, California
Detroit, Michigan/Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Toronto, Quebec, Canada
Al-Maghrib also ran onsite seminars in Columbus, Ohio during 2006. In addition to the courses they offer, the Institute sponsors a site selling Al-Maghrib audio and video course lectures, EmanRush Audio, and Khutbah.com, which provides texts of sermons and articles delivered by Al-Maghrib instructors and staff.
The staple of Al-Maghrib’s course offerings are the double weekend seminars held at their permanent sites. Locations of upcoming seminars, including one held this past weekend in Atlanta, are provided on the Al-Maghrib website. In addition, the Al-Maghrib instructors are in high demand as motivational speakers at Muslim organization events all over the world. The Institute is also active amongst the 150 chapters of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) located at universities all over the US and Canada. The MSA is one of the front groups operated by the international Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Maghrib staff are also regular fixtures on several Islamic satellite television networks.
The organization’s Wahhabi-influenced extremism, rabid anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials, and militaristic preaching of jihad even have other Muslims expressing concern about the radicalizing effect of Al-Maghrib’s preaching and programs.
Al-Maghrib’s educational courses are accredited by the American Open University, which in turn is accredited by Al-Ahzar University in Cairo – the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and largest radical Islamic organization in the world. The courses offered by Al-Mahgrib count only as course credit for the AOU’s Bachelors in Islamic Studies degree, the only English language program offered by AOU.
A review of the course summary for the Islamic Studies degree program shows that the reading is dominated by Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabi theologians and theorists. In particular, the AOU program requires reading of Sayyid Qutb’s, In the Shade of the Quran, the text for AOU’s 113 Analytic Tafseer I course. Qutb, the leading Muslim Brotherhood thinker executed by Nasser in the 1960s after an assassination attempt, has been described as “Bin Laden’s Brain” due to the extensive influence Qutb has had in justifying terrorism and jihad and laying down the theoretical principles that al-Qaeda was built upon.
Another Muslim Brotherhood theorist prominent in the curriculum is Sayyid Sabiq, who wrote his book, Fiqh-us-Sunnah, at the request of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. The two volumes of Sabiq’s work are the sole text for AOU’s 141 Fiqh of Worship I course. In the majority of AOU’s required reading for their Islamic Studies program, which Al-Maghrib offers course credit for, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and those influenced and approved by the Brotherhood figure prominently.
Bilal Phillips is another name that appears repeatedly on AOU’s and Al-Maghrib’s reading lists. Phillips has recently gained notoriety as one of the radical preachers secretly videotaped as part of the Undercover Mosque investigative program aired last month on England’s Channel 4 (Robert Spencer reviewed this program for FrontPage in his article, Islamic Prejudice, Islamic Denial).
In the Undercover Mosque program, Bilal Phillips was videotaped explaining during a lecture the acceptability of forced Islamic marriages for prepubescent girls:
The Prophet Mohammed practically outlined the rules regarding marriage prior to puberty, with his practice he clarified what is permissible and that is why we shouldn't have any issues about an older man marrying a younger woman, which is looked down upon by this society today, but we know that Prophet Mohammed practiced it, it wasn't abuse or exploitation, it was marriage.
After the Undercover Mosque program aired, it was severly attacked by Al-Maghrib instructor Yasir Qadhi, who launched into a 15 minute tirade defending the extremist speakers secretly videotaped by Channel 4 at the beginning of his regular Islami Q&A program on the Islam Channel satellite network. After Qadhi’s video defense aired, Bilal Phillips himself followed his friend’s lead and also aired a defense on YouTube.
But the Muslim Brotherhood influence is not the only troubling aspect to Al-Maghrib’s programs and message. In fact, all six of Al-Maghrib’s instructors have degrees from Saudi institutions controlled by the extremist Wahhabi sect:
- Muhammad Alshreef, the founder of Al-Maghrib Institute and a Canadian citizen, graduated from the Islamic University of Medina in 1999 with a degree in shari’a. The University of Medina was founded in 1961 by the ruling Saud family specifically for the propagation of Wahhabism worldwide.
- Yasir Birjas, a Palestinian, graduated from the Islamic University of Media as the 1996 class valedictorian. He subsequently worked for a “relief charity” in Bosnia.
- AbdulBary Yahya and Yasir Qadhi both obtained degrees from the Islamic University of Medina.
- Mohammed Faqih obtained his initial degree from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences (IIAS) in Fairfax, VA, and then graduated from the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden’s alma mater and haven for Muslim Brotherhood teachers who fled persecution from the Nasser regime in Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s. Sayyid Qutb’s brother, Mohammed, was a long-time instructor in Jeddah and was one of bin Laden’s primary mentors, as was Abdullah Azzam, the founder of Al-Qaeda. The IIAS was operated by Saudi diplomats as a branch of the Saudi Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University until it came under pressure from the US government when the diplomatic visas of 16 school’s instructors were withdrawn by the US, according to a report in the Washington Post; after the Saudis withdrew their support in 2004, the Institute was closed and searched by the US government for its links to terrorism.
- Waleed Basyouni attended the Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the academic heart of Wahhabi Islam, where he obtained a Bachelors and a Masters Degree. According to Basyouni’s DiscovertheNetwork.org profile, he studied under Sheikh Abdelaziz bin Baz, who author Gilles Kepel identifies as “the principal Wahhabite ideologist” in his book, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (p. 210).
Al-Maghrib instructors have come under severe public criticism by other Muslims for attacking and declaring heretic other mainstream Sunni scholars who do not hold to the Wahhabi version of Islam preached by the organization’s speakers. In fact, in 2006 a boycott of Al-Maghrib’s was called for when Yasir Qadhi declared a recently-deceased and universally revered Islamic scholar, Sheikh Alawi al-Maliki, a polytheist on one of Al-Maghrib’s online forums:
While it is the general policy of Al Maghrib not to quote individuals, I make exceptions in certain cases - this being one of them. Alawi al-Maliki is one of the most revered of modern Sufi personas - to speak evil of him is tantamount to apostasy in the eyes of many of his followers. For them, he is the leader of the awliya of Allah. Yet, it is no exaggeration to state that he was one of the most active proponents in our times of blatant acts of shirk (polytheism-ed.). . .
All Islamic traditions identify “shirk” as the gravest offense possible, and therefore, making Qadhi’s pronouncement a de facto condemnation to Hell for al-Maliki. But as soon as the boycott was called for, however, Qadhi’s post was removed from the Al-Maghrib’s forum without any explanation or apology.
The curriculum areas taught by Qadhi, particularly the Light of Guidance and Light upon Light courses, are dedicated to pronouncing as heretical the non-Wahhabi Sunni schools of theology, particularly the Sufi movement. These are some of the most popular seminars taught by the Institute; in fact, the Light of Guidance seminar was taught by Qadhi this past weekend in the Atlanta area.
But the concern over Al-Maghrib’s teachings extend much further than their Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabi influences. Anti-Semitic diatribes and Holocaust denials are regular themes preached by Al-Maghrib’s instructors. Institute founder Muhammad Alshareef expressed his thoughts on Muslim-Jewish relations in an article he published entitled, “Why the Jews are Cursed” (curiously, this article is not available on Al-Maghrib’s Khutbah.com website). As noted by the Militant Islam Monitor, in Alshareef’s article he expounds on the anti-Semitic canard that the international media is owned and controlled by Jews, and thus, biased against Muslims:
When I was in high school, studying in journalism class, our teacher had placed on the wall a statement that I spent many days contemplating. It simply said, "Freedom of the press (speech) belongs to those that own the press!" Who owns the press? Well, you can believe me when I say that it is not the god fearing beloved of Allah.
The remainder of Alshareef’s article recites a litany of accusations against the Jewish faith, blaming them for a wide range of iniquities, including changing the words of Allah, making blasphemous statements, and murdering the Prophets. He concludes his essay by decreeing that Muslims should not ally with Jews, should not imitate them and proscribing Muslims from ever marrying Jews or Christians.
But Muhammad Alshareef holds no monopoly on anti-Semitism amongst the Al-Maghrib faculty. In a speech entitled “What Have You Done for the Deen of Allah”, Waleed Basyouni identifies the behavior of Jews during Muhammad’s era as the reason that Jews do not and cannot know Allah:
Seven years the prophet and his companions suffered from the Jew in Medina. Seven years, the Jew try to destroy this, a new Muslims' country. . . . They try everything. They try to kill him. . . . They try to make deals with the Kufar, so they could attack Muslims. They support the hypocrites. They start everything. Seven years, suffering from them. He went outside Medina to one of the Jews' city, full of money, full of farms, gold, foods. They went out from Medina, they are poor.
In a September 2002 report published by FrontPage, the Saudi Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies cited Mohammed Fiqih’s alma mater, the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies, as “the largest source of Saudi hate literature in the Washington area.” The report also quotes Saudi Institute Director Ali al-Ahmed on the IISA’s enforcement of Wahhabi segregation of the sexes, including separate back door entrances for female students:
IIASA is beyond reform. It practices religious and gender apartheid. Female students are not allowed in the library except for four hours each week, when men are not around. Classes are segregated and women are taught through closed-circuit television.
According to a May 2006 report by David Ouellette, in a detailed exposition of the Quran’s Surah Yusuf [complete audio mp3 file] by Alshareef’s colleague Yasir Qadhi, he draws from the anti-Semitic tract, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to explain that Jews are not racially Semitic, and therefore, do not have any right to make a claim on their Holy Land. Citing a book denying the Holocaust, he informs hearers that:
All of these Polish Jews which Hitler was supposedly trying to exterminate, that’s another point, by the way, Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews.
Holocaust denial seems to be a regular fascination for Qadhi. In December, Yasir Qadhi sent an email message to the AlifBaaTaa email list (Qadhi’s email subsequently has either been removed or is no longer available for public viewing; link is to Google cache) with a link to an article authored by Alexander Baron, one of the invited speakers to the recent Tehran Conference on the Holocaust hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At this international Holocaust denial-fest, Baron presented a paper entitled, “The Nazi Gas Chambers: Rumours, Lies and Reality – One Researcher’s Views”. In his post, Qadhi offered no other comments about the article other than to provide the link, apparently in agreement with the content of Baron’s analysis.
The teaching of aggressive militaristic jihad is also a common theme in Al-Maghrib’s courses, which rely on commentaries by 13th Century theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and Wahhabi sect founder, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. One seminar taught by Muhammad Alshareef is his review of the jihadist exploits and military campaigns of the first four “rightly guided” caliphs, Conquest: History of the Khulafaa’. The militaristic themes for this course are evident in the one minute video trailer for the seminar.
The triumphalist vision of Islam as the inevitable sole world power and the justification of militaristic conquests under the banner of jihad are also repeated in the Al-Maghrib course, Islam Invulnerable: The Making of the Modern Muslim World. Tracing the rise of Islam as a global power from the initial Islamic invasions and occupations of the Near East, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, it glories in the triumphs of the Ottoman, Safavid, Qajar and Mughal Empires and provides its unique spin of the present Israeli (“Zionist”)-Arab conflict. The Crusades and European “imperialist” and “colonialist” efforts in recent centuries are denounced, while Islamic conquests undergo “narrative reinterpretation” to explain the difference between the two.
Al-Maghrib instructors also regular speak with other extremist preachers advocating for terrorism and violent jihad. In a FrontPage article last March, “The Visiting Jihadist”, Joe Kaufman revealed that Institute instructor Abdulbary Yahya was scheduled to speak at an event with Ibrahim Dremali, an advocate of suicide bombings and had led crowds in burning Israeli flags and chanting, “With jihad we’ll claim our land, Zionist blood will wet the sand.” The event was sponsored by the University of Central Florida’s Muslim Student Association and paid for with Student Government Association funds. Dremali and Yahya had previously shared the podium at the 2005 Texas Dawah Convention, which also featured Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
The connections between Al-Maghrib staff and terrorist supporters sometimes don’t lead far from home. In 2004, Muhammad Alshareef’s father, Helmy Elsherief, was detained in Egypt and interrogated regarding his associations with known terrorists. As Alshareef explained in a personal appeal published on the Al-Maghrib online forum, Elsherief was held because of his pre-9/11 work with “charities” in Pakistan that are known to have been al-Qaeda front organizations. Elsherief was eventually released by Egyptian authorities.
In particular, Elsherief was an associate of Ahmed Said Khadr, a top al-Qaeda financier, the top al-Qaeda agent in Canada, and a close personal associate of Osama bin Laden – a fact conveniently never mentioned by Alshareef in his personal appeals. After leaving Canada, Khadr’s entire family, identified by Daniel Pipes as “Canada’s First Family of Terrorism”, lived with bin Laden in his Kabul compound. Ahmed Khadr was killed in a firefight with Pakistani security forces in October 2003, which also injured and disabled his youngest son, Abdul. His second youngest son, Omar, is presently imprisoned as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay after killing a US medic with a hand grenade in 2002 during a battle in Afghanistan.
The extremist messages preached by Al-Maghrib and their associates have also landed instructors themselves in trouble with US authorities. This past August, the Houston Chronicle reported that Yasir Qadhi complained during a public meeting at Rice University with government officials that he was on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watch list and consequently is regularly detained when entering the country. In addition, according to an announcement issued by the Al-Maghrib Institute’s staff, instructor Yaser Birjas was arrested and detained by US authorities in 2005 due to problems with his immigration visa.
In the span of just a few short years, the Al-Maghrib Institute has quickly established itself as one of the premiere Islamic instructional programs in North America, as attested to by its 13 mosque-based affiliates and their regular appearances at Muslim Student Association events. Audio and video lecture series, an impressive Internet presence and regular satellite television programs by Al-Maghrib faculty extend their influence even further. Furthermore, the Institute’s instructors are in high demand as event speakers for Islamic organizations all over the world.
Al-Maghrib’s rapid rise should cause concern, however, as its Wahhabi and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired messages of religious extremism, racial bigotry and advocacy of jihad and militancy are being spread like cancer in Muslim communities throughout the US and Canada. And this ideological cancer spread by the Al-Maghrib Institute potentially threatens Muslims and non-Muslims alike as its popularity and radicalism continues to increase.
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