This weekend, the Central Performing Arts Center in Hollywood, Florida, will play host to one of the most radical Islamist leaders in America—but few will know it.
The occasion is a conference, titled “America & The Rights of Those Who Believe in God,” which will feature Maulana Shafayat Mohamed, the supposedly moderate religious leader of the Darul Uloom Islamic Institute. In fact, Darul Uloom, a madrasa (religious school) located in Pembroke Pines, Florida, is notorious for the number of terrorists that have worshiped and taken classes there, including the so-called "Dirty Bomber" Jose Padilla and Adnan Shukrijumah, who is on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list.
At the center of it all is Maulana Shafayat Mohamed himself. Born in Trinidad, West Indies, he graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband, the largest Islamic university in India. This fundamentalist madrasa served as a prototype for another madrasa located in Pakistan, the Darul Uloom Haqqania. Scores of Taliban leaders, including Taliban head Mullah Muhammad Omar, were taught at Darul Uloom Haqqania. Indeed, it acted less as a place of learning than as an al-Qaeda recruitment center.
There is a disquieting resemblance between this Taliban terror factory and Shafayat Mohamed’s current institution, Darul Uloom. Shafayat Mohamed opened Darul Uloom on February 24, 1995, with himself as the Registered Agent. On the list of founding directors—and still a director—for the madrassa is Nashid Sabir, a lawyer for a former Darul Uloom student, Imran Mandhai. Authorities suspect that Mandhai intended to take part in a jihadist-hatched campaign of terror bombings in South Florida. Set to join him in the terror spree was Mandhai’s friend Hakki Aksoy, another Darul Uloom alumnus.
Despite his ties to terrorism, Shafayat Mohamed postures as a moderate. Interfaith activities particularly are a big part of his life. Beyond serving as president of the Hollywood Interfaith Council and co-founder of JAM (Jews & Muslims & All), Shafayat Mohamed presides over a monthly publication called Al-Hikmat Insight, which devotes an entire page to interfaith activities. In fact however, the publication, founded by Shafayat Mohamed in 1983, provides a revealing showcase of his extremist views.
Consider the cover story of the March-April 2004 edition of Al-Hikmat Insight. Headline: Muslim Leaders Split Over Jihad on America. The accompanying article delved into Russian Muslim thinking on whether or not “to proclaim a holy war against the United States.” The January-February 2004 edition meanwhile featured a “Humor” section that carried the following chilling joke, under the title “Iraqi Terrorist”: “Iraqi terrorist Khay Rahnajet didn’t pay enough postage on a letter bomb. It came back with ‘return to sender’ stamped on it. Forgetting it was the bomb, he opened it and was blown to bits.” The publication also regularly features promotions for radical Islamic institutions. For instance, the January-February 2004 edition of A-Hikmat Insight billed an event by the Universal Heritage Foundation, a Kissimmee, Florida-based outpost of Islamism. (And anti-Semitism: the UHF’s Chairman and C.E.O. Zulfizar Ali Shah has been quoted as saying, “If we are unable to stop the Jews now, their next stop is Yathrib (The Prophet's city of Medina), where the Jews used to live until their expulsion by Prophet Muhammad. That's the pinnacle of their motives.”)
Shafayat Mohamed, for his part, boasts more than a few ties to radical Islamic groups. Among them is the UHF, which he has in the past defended from criticism. In 2003, for instance, the foundation came under fire for its plan to bring Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, the chief cleric of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, to be a featured speaker at its December conference (“Islam for Humanity”). This unleashed a wave of critical coverage in the media, much of it centering on Al-Sudais’ past—not least his appeals for the murder of Americans, Jews and Christians. (He has also described Jews as “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the killers of prophets, and the grandsons of monkeys and pigs.”) Due to this negative press, Al-Sudais did not show up to speak. But Shafayat Mohamed did. According to one news report (Masquerading as ‘mainstream’), he even shared the stage with Imam Abdul Malik, an individual who has defended suicide bombings in Israel. After Malik spoke, according to the report, “the two exchanged a warm embrace.”
Shafayat Mohamed has also spoken at another UHF event, entitled “Next Generation Muslims—Education & Survival.” Other speakers included: Zulfiqer Ali Shah; ex-Congressman and notorious anti-Semite, Paul Findley; a suspected co-conspirator to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Siraj Wahhaj; and the past President of the Islamic Society of North America, Muzammil Siddiqi, who has said that the United States is “directly and indirectly responsible for the plight of the Palestinian people” and that, if the U.S. “remains on the side of injustice, the wrath of G-d will come.” In addition, Shafayat Mohamed has acted as a contact for the UHF.
Shafayat Mohamed’s connections to Islamist groups don’t end there. He has also collaborated with the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a front for Pakistan’s Qaeda-affiliated Jama'at-i-Islami movement. On September 27, 1997, Shfayat Mohamed allowed the ICNA to hold an event at his madrasa, entitled “Refocusing on our Target.” This information can be found on the now-defunct website for the Southeast division of the ICNA. The site also features a link to www.qoqaz.net (Jihad in Chechnya), an Al-Qaeda related website that the U.S. Department of Justice says contained postings “describing the need for Muslims to engage in violent attacks against infidels, appealing for financial support, and providing instructions on how to enter Islamic war zones.”
And there is other evidence linking Shafayat Mohamed to terror. For example, today, one can purchase a video that includes lectures by both Shafayat Mohamed and Raed Mousa Awad, the former religious leader of the radical Al-Imam mosque located in Sunrise, Florida. Awad also served as a fundraiser for a Hamas charity shuttered after 9/1, and is said to have overseen the conversion of “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla. Some reports suggest that Awad even paid for part of Padilla’s trip to Egypt, from where Padilla would meet up with Al-Qaeda operatives. Of course, this was only after Padilla had taken classes from Shafayat Mohamed at Darul Uloom. One can also find photographs of Shafayat Mohamed posing with Gulshair Shukrijumah, father of terrorist Adnan Shukrijumah. Shukrijumah, who taught classes at Darul Uloom, also tutored Imran Mandhai.
This April, I had occasion to confront Shafayat Mohamed about his connections to terrorists. Having received word that he was planning to conduct an interfaith panel, entitled “Interfaith Dialogue in a Post 9/11 World,” at St. Thomas University, in Miami Gardens, I decided to press him about the more troubling aspects of his past. My chance came toward the end of the event. Although armed with a lot of information to confront the imam, I focused on a couple of damning pictures that had been placed on his website, and for which he had never answered—until now. What follows is a transcription of our exchange.
Kaufman: “I was speaking with a Muslim friend of mine recently. We were discussing issues, and he had told me that he was somewhat against – or very against – things like this, like interfaith gatherings. He said the reason was that he didn’t believe that there was any substance, and that the only substance that he believed that it ever provides is that it usually goes off into or brings up things like political statements, usually anti-war statements or things like giving the Palestinians statehood. That’s what he told me he believed, and I can understand where he’s coming from.
“But I had a serious question. My question is – well, it relates to this. Many times, after 9/11, there have been radicals that have gotten involved and have actually pushed forward interfaith meetings – people that are now in prison, convicted terrorists like Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was very involved in interfaith gatherings. So I have to pose this question to Maulana, and first let me preface it with a statement.
“There was a convicted terrorist from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Clement Rodney Hampton-El. [One of] his main witnesses was someone named Gulshair Shukrijumah. Now, on your website you had a picture of yourself with this person. You also spoke at his mosque, the Al Hijrah Mosque, which has been called ‘the number two most dangerous mosque in the United States.’ And you put this [picture] right on your website.
“You also have a picture of yourself with someone named Ahmed Deedat, on the homepage of your website. This person is known for – the thing that he’s famous for is writing books and giving lectures on how Christianity is a false religion.
“And in addition to that, you’ve had four Al-Qaeda terrorists pass through your mosque, one of which the FBI is on a ‘Be On the Look-Out’ manhunt for – the son of that guy Gulshair Shukrijumah, Adnan Shukrijumah.
“Why would you put these pictures up on your website, one of someone that was a witness for a terrorist that was plotting to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the FBI building, the United Nations building and different Jewish offices around New York City, and also [allegedly] taught them how to build the bomb for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center? Why would you put a picture of yourself with that person – why would you go to that person’s mosque and give a speech there, the Al Hijrah Mosque?
“And also about the other person, Ahmed Deedat – why would you stick his picture on there, when he’s known to be an anti-Christian missionary? He wrote a book called ‘Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction?’ with an ‘fic.’ And you have [the picture] right on your homepage of your website. I would just like to know what your thoughts are on that.”
By now Shafayat Mohamed could not have been happy. Until this point, he had breezed through a three-hour talk, barely challenged by an hour of softball questions. Still, Shafayat Mohamed, a dark and towering figure, kept his composure.
Shafayat Mohamed: “Very interesting. But that answers for itself. If I have anything to hide about [the people in the pictures], I wouldn’t put myself with them on my website, where the whole world reads, everyone reads. So let’s be very clear, I’ve got nothing to hide. Those pictures were there even before 9/11... If I happen to know this woman whose son is being looked for by the American government or the world as a terrorist – if I happen to know this other person who happened to be a witness for somebody or some kind of thing, that does not justify me [being held accountable] – if I’m this rabbi and a friend of his is someone who is still at his synagogue whose in jail, does that mean that I’m prejudiced? Is the rabbi a criminal? ‘Cause I haven’t hired this radical!”
Of course, the fact that the pictures were there “before 9/11,” as Shafayat Mohamed stated, means nothing. Further, to lessen the matter by stating that Gulshair Shukrijumah was just someone “who happened to be a witness for somebody” is distasteful. After all, this person was a chief witness for a monster who was convicted for his involvement in one of the worst terrorist attacks ever in the history of the United States! And to mention 9/11 in relation to the other picture is just plain offensive. The picture of Shafayat Mohamed shaking hands with the anti-Christian bigot Deedat was taken inside the Bin Laden Center, which is located in Durban, South Africa. For his center, Deedat had received millions of dollars from Osama bin Laden himself!
Shafayat Mohamed: “You said four? There were more terrorists spotted at my institution!... Every time they picked up Jose Padilla – and I’ll tell you more on Jose Padilla – Jose Padilla was my student… I happen to be a very unique individual in the United States, because the number one guy they’re looking for [Adnan Shukrijumah] used to lead prayer in my mosque. Jose Padilla was my student. Another guy that was off to bomb the territories around [Imran Mandhai] – the guy who wanted to blow up the FPL station and all these things – used to pray there.
“But you know what? Very interesting. When the research was done on each one of them, they were all my enemies. Those were the people who were against me, who opposed me… The men who were picked up were investigated for hours by the FBI: ‘Who is Maulana Shafayat? He has the largest congregation, he’s probably charismatic, motivates his young people – Why did they pick up all these radicals at his place?’ When they checked those guys out and their history, they realized all those guys were probably men who wanted to kill me!”
Shafayat Mohamed: “My place is very diverse – the largest congregation – 7 – 800 people! Very moderate! I speak so much about interfaith – I propagated so much interfaith – brought rabbis, brought a mayor, brought Christian priests, a reverend – in the church, in the mosque, in the holy places. And these [terrorists], because they know I’m a very tolerant person, they came and hid themselves from everybody, and they were not brought to the ‘hot spots.’ You see, when a cop is looking for a crook or criminal, he will not go around the territory where the guys are doing the wrong things and should be caught; he will come to this guy from a very decent, nice area. And that’s what happened to these guys.”
“On the other hand, I had another problem. I had people who thought I was the guy who was picking them up and throwing them in jail! Just as you ask me those questions, I had people ask me the other questions: ‘Were you taking these innocent Muslims and throwing them in jail? Were you getting cameras and filming them, so [the F.B.I.] knew who they were?’ So I have that on both sides.
“But the bottom line of the answer, to cut a long story short, is that Ahmed Deedat, who is a known person who debated against Christians and Jews in the world – I lectured in front of the world – I have lectured in many countries – I had taken [the picture] many years ago. That was in 1995. Ten years ago! I met him also as an international lecturer. We had a good relationship, when the picture was taken, and I thought it was a very good picture. Now, he just happened to be a person, many years ago, who probably was financed by the Bin Laden Foundation! I don’t know – That’s what I hear! But again, you have a lot of American officials who’ve been financed by the Bin Laden Foundation, in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if they should still be politicians – That’s not my point. That doesn’t tell me that I can’t be the friend of a President or Prime Minister or Senator who had a relationship with some Saudi king who has financed terrorism.
“That’s exactly what has happened to me. I’ve had a lot of crazy guys up here, came to me, pass through me – I’ve even heard that one of the 19 hijackers prayed at my masjid. Because the thing is, if [certain] public places are known to be open for everybody, they can hide themselves through me. That’s the [whole story]; I have nothing to hide.”
I left unimpressed by Shafayat Mohamed’s performance. In his response to my questions, he made weak excuses as to why he has divisive pictures placed on his website; he spoke of the terrorists that used his institution as if they were a badge of pride; he told a farfetched story about the “radicals” wanting to “kill” him; and he made the new revelation that one of the 19 hijackers from the September 11 attacks may have prayed at his madrasa.
Shafayat Mohamed claims he has “nothing to hide.” But everything about his background suggests the opposite is true: He has much to hide, and interfaith activities, which allow him to claim the mantle of a moderate Islamic leader, have afforded him the perfect cover. In a June 2002 news story about Darul Uloom terrorists, Shafayat Mohamed is quoted as saying, “The good, the bad and the ugly can pass through our doors. We are very open.” Now all we need to know is which of the three categories best describes Maulana Shafayat Mohamed. And if it’s either of the latter, as it seems to be, the question must be asked: Who’s going to close those doors?
Joe Kaufman is the Chairman of Americans Against Hate and the host of The Politics of Terrorism radio show. Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.