Last month, a new mosque called the ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Islamic Center opened in Alexandria, Virginia. ICNA, an Islamist group with origins in the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, framed its inauguration as an interfaith victory, giving thanks to the three churches that let them worship on their premises as the mosque project was completed.
The two-story mosque replaced a house that was bought by ICNA in 2000. It says the facility cost $850,000 to build and can accommodate about 150 people. Good Shepherd Catholic Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Aldersgate United Methodist Church allowed ICNA’s Northern Virginia chapter to worship as the mosque was being built
ICNA’s use of Aldersgate United Methodist Church led to a favorable segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which praised its pastor and mocked an evangelical critic. In one scene, the critic is seen saying mosques wouldn’t allow their premises to be used for Christian prayers. The correspondent joked about how embarrassing it’d be for him if the show cut to a clip of Christians being invited to a mosque.
Ironically, the clip the Daily Show showed was of Mohammed El-Filali of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, a mosque with extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. El-Filali led a chant comparing Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to Hitler at a rally in 2002. He also refused to condemn Palestinian suicide bombers in an interview with the Associated Press.
The pro-ICNA churches and the Daily Show apparently didn’t take the time to pop ICNA’s name into a search engine. If they did, it wouldn’t have taken long to find documentation of the group’s Islamist history.
Its origins lie with a Pakistani Islamist group called Jamaat-e-Islami. ICNA’s own publication said in 1996 that it was founded with the “organizational development methodology” of Jamaat-e-Islami’s founder. A former ICNA president and secretary-general, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, was indicted by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal in October for his role as “chief executioner” in at least 18 political assassinations in 1971. Khan belonged to the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.
A 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood strategic memorandum, which says its “work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within,” lists ICNA as one of “our organizations and the organizations of our friends.” The memo refers to productive meetings between ICNA and the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood “in an attempt to reach a unity of merger.” ICNA has long held its annual conferences in conjunction with the Muslim American Society, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, in apparent fulfillment of this objective.
ICNA has not abandoned its Islamist ideology since then. Its 2010 handbook laid out a five-level strategy towards achieving a “united Islamic state, governed by an elected khalifah in accordance with the laws of shari’ah (Islamic law),” right in line with the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine of gradualism. Its last conference in December featured at least a dozen Islamist speakers, including ones that have supported Hamas and have ties to the Brotherhood. Among the event’s sponsors were Turkish Airlines and the DISH Network.
ICNA and its Islamist allies understand the power of the interfaith message. Interfaith relations have become a more prominent feature on their websites and their conferences. For example, American Muslims for Palestine had Reverend Donald Wagner of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding speak at its conference. Major campaigns of activism are done with interfaith coalitions.
Another interfaith campaign ICNA is involved in is the placement of billboards in the Orlando and Daytona Beach areas that say, “Same Family, Same Message.” It directs readers to ICNA’s website, WhyIslam.org. These billboards aren’t just about making Jews, Christians and Muslims feel like they can relate to each other. It’s about dawah. The basis of Islam is that Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are part of the same family with the same message from Allah. Islam is, in this view, the way all three faiths are hemmed together.
The destruction of churches by Islamist terrorists leaves little room to misunderstand their intentions. The embrace of churches by non-violent Islamists runs contrary to the bloody images we judge our enemies by. When these scenes are put side-by-side, groups like ICNA appear to be the alternative Muslim voice we seek. To be “moderate” is as simple as condemning terrorism and shaking hands with a pastor.
If you oppose this type of interfaith engagement and say something, then the uninformed see you as intolerant, paranoid and bigoted. For most Americans, it is easier to believe that critics of ICNA are fear-mongers than to believe that these groups can simultaneously be likeable, charitable, non-violent, deceptive and Islamist.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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