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Wahhabi Prison Fellowship By: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Weekly Standard | Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On August 31, four men were charged with participation in a terrorist plot hatched in a California prison. The six-count indictment describes a conspiracy to attack military and Jewish targets in the Los Angeles area, including military bases and recruitment centers, synagogues, the Israeli Consulate, and El Al airline facilities. It also spotlights a problem that has surfaced repeatedly since 9/11: that of jihadist indoctrination in prisons and jails.

The roots of this latest alleged conspiracy reach back to 1997, when Kevin James, an inmate at California State Prison, Sacramento, founded Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), an organization promoting his radical interpretation of Islam. James required members to take an oath of obedience to him and swear not to disclose the existence of JIS. According to the indictment, James "preached the duty of JIS members to target for violent attack any enemies of Islam or 'infidels,' including the United States Government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel." James's teaching apparently found sympathetic ears. The plot was uncovered after former CSP-Sacramento inmate Levar Washington was arrested this July for a string of gas station robberies, and a search of his apartment turned up extremist literature and documents listing the addresses of intended terrorist targets.

While some Muslim advocacy groups deny that extremist indoctrination is occurring in prisons, the evidence continues to mount. Muktar Said Ibrahim, arrested in the attempted bombing of London's Underground on July 21, reportedly converted to Islam while incarcerated, as did attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid before him. And students of the case of former gang member Jose Padilla, accused of being part of a "dirty bomb" plot, consider relevant the time he spent behind bars just before his conversion.

Beyond these individual cases, moreover, it is a fact that radical propaganda has been distributed in U.S. prisons. Before it was shut down by the Saudi Arabian government in 2004, the Wahhabist Al Haramain Islamic Foundation distributed large numbers of extremist books worldwide, including to American prisons. Al-Haramain boasted offices in over 50 countries and received between $45 and $50 million in donations every year.

When law-enforcement agents raided the U.S. branch of Al Haramain, headquartered in Ashland, Oregon, in February 2004 as part of a money-laundering investigation, they seized copies of the literature the foundation had been distributing. They also made a remarkable find on one of the seized computers: a database that detailed where the group had sent its literature. It contained over 15,000 names. While not all recipients were prisoners, enough were that "Prisoner Number" and "Release Date" were standard fields in the database. The charity also regularly mailed bulk quantities of literature to prison chaplains, who distributed the books to inmates.

Some of the texts that Al Haramain had distributed to prisons deserve a closer look. Take Muhammad bin Jamil Zino's Islamic Guidelines for Individual and Social Reform, which was sent to an estimated 1,000 prisoners (an exact tally has not been made public). One of the book's themes is jihad. As early as page two, Zino states that Islam "commends the Halal [lawful] money in possession of a pious person who pays a share of it in charity and for Jihad (fighting in the way of Allah)." While some students of Islam argue that the term jihad is often misunderstood because it has nonmilitary meanings, Al Haramain's literature avoids any ambiguity: Zino forthrightly states that the term means fighting.

This advocacy of jihad is reinforced by repetition. Zino instructs his readers that children should be indoctrinated in the glories of jihad from an early age:

Teach your children the love of justice and revenge from the unjust like the Jews and the tyrants. Consequently our youth would know that Palestine should be freed and Jerusalem must be of the Muslims. They have to learn about Islam and Jihad as per the Qur'an and that the holy fighting for justice is supported by Allah the Almighty.

And he further specifies the objects and means of jihad: "The Jihad against the disbelievers, communists and the aggressors from Jewish-Christian nations can be either by spending on Jihad or by participating in it in person."

Indeed, the "Jewish-Christian nations" are special objects of ire throughout the literature that Al Haramain distributed to prisons. Virulent anti-Semitism and hatred of non-Muslim governments are recurring themes.

On a page headed "Act upon these Ahadith," the hadith being sayings and traditions attributed to Muhammad, Zino's very first injunction reads: "The Last Hour will not appear unless the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them." Zino also imputes conspiracies to the Jews. In a passage denouncing fortunetellers, he writes, "If they know the Unseen, let them talk about the secret schemes of the Jews so that we combat them."

More sweepingly, Zino denounces "belief in man-made destructive ideologies such as atheistic communism, Jewish masonry, Marxian socialism, secularism or nationalism" as nullifying an individual's adherence to Islam. This is in keeping with the views of another of the writers whose works Al Haramain reportedly sent to prisons: Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. In The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism), Philips excoriates the acceptance of non-Islamic rule in place of sharia law in Muslim lands. Philips describes acquiescence to non-Islamic rule as an act of idolatry and disbelief. "Un-Islamic government," he writes, "must be sincerely hated and despised for the pleasure of God."

The Koran, of course, was widely distributed by Al Haramain--the Koran, that is, in its Wahhabi version. As Stephen Schwartz reported here a year ago, the Wahhabi translation of the Koran is suffused with contempt for non-Muslims, particularly Jews and Christians. It contains numerous interpolations not present in the Arabic, all pushing the meaning in a radical direction. Al-Haramain distributed this volume to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 prisoners.

The Wahhabi Koran also contains explanatory material rife with calls to holy war. An early footnote, for example, states:

Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah's Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah's Word is made superior, . . . and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.

This rules out nonmilitary interpretations of jihad, insisting on "full force of numbers and weaponry." It also endorses jihad as a means of propagating Islam, and specifies that it is required of "every Muslim."

Most chilling of all is a 22-page appendix by Saudi Arabia's former chief justice Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid found in the vast majority of the Korans that Al Haramain sent to the prisons. Entitled "The Call to Jihad (Holy Fighting in Allah's Cause) in the Qur'an," this essay is an exhortation to violence.

Bin Humaid argues at length that Muslims are obligated to wage war against non-Muslims who have not submitted to Islamic rule. He explains,

Allah . . . commanded the Muslims to fight against all the Mushrikun as well as against the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) if they do not embrace Islam, till they pay the Jizyah (a tax levied on the non-Muslims who do not embrace Islam and are under the protection of an Islamic government) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.

Mushrikun refers to all nonbelievers who are not classified as people of the scriptures; bin Humaid thus advocates war with the entire non-Muslim world.

Once again, the essay appeals to the reader to volunteer for jihad:

Jihad is a great deed indeed and there is no deed whose reward or blessing is as that of it, and for this reason, it is the best thing that one can volunteer for. . . . [I]t (Jihad) shows one's patience, one's devotion to Islam, one's remembrance to Allah and there are other kinds of good deeds which are present in Jihad and are not present in any other act of worship.

There is reason to believe that the literature distributed by the Al Haramain Foundation is only the tip of the iceberg of what has reached and may still be reaching U.S. prisons. For all its impressive international presence, Al Haramain had only a handful of employees at its U.S. branch, and was just one of a number of Wahhabi charities with U.S. prison-outreach programs. The focus here is on Al Haramain's literature purely because the February 2004 raid opened a window into its program of prisoner education.

More study of radical indoctrination in prisons is warranted. Earlier this year, Freedom House, the New York-based human rights organization, released a scrupulously documented report exposing the extremist contents of literature found in the libraries, publication racks, and bookstores of 15 prominent U.S. mosques. The report is entitled "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques."

A similar sampling of the Islamic literature available in federal and state prisons--both in libraries and distributed by prison chaplains--is needed to further our understanding of whatever extremist indoctrination has occurred and is occurring. A good place to start is the California prison system, where the latest plot for jihad on our soil was apparently hatched.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (e-mail him) is a counterterrorism consultant and attorney.

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