He is a popular speaker at Islamist gatherings and hailed in the New York Times as being among a group of "leading intellectual lights for a new generation of American Muslims looking for homegrown leaders who can help them learn how to live their faith without succumbing to American materialism or Islamic extremism."
But Zaid Shakir's speeches and writings show that he believes America poses the greatest threat to global security and that his country has a brutal and genocidal legacy that informs its current policies. The Investigative Project on Terrorism shows Shakir's repeated condemnation of American history and tactics in the war on terror in a new report.
He is cagey about his views of the 9/11 attacks, stopping short of calling it an inside job, but recommending an author who makes that very argument.
"This article will not examine what actually happened on 9/11," he wrote in 2007, "although the glaring weaknesses and inconsistencies in the official narrative call for such an examination. For those seeking greater clarity concerning the events of that day see David Ray Griffin, Debunking 9/11 Debunking."
Griffin questions whether Islamist terrorists ultimately were responsible for the attacks. The Bush administration had advanced knowledge of the attacks and the collapse of the Twin Towers was most likely caused by explosives placed throughout the towers, Griffin claims.
Shakir is much clearer articulating his opinion of America's response to the attacks. "9/11 has been used by both the government and a significant segment of the Christian Right in this country, along with their allies, to launch a war on Islam," he wrote in an article republished by a website that questions the official account of 9/11. That war on Islam extends to the faith itself, "its beliefs, its Prophet, peace be upon him, and its people."
Shakir, 54, was born Ricky Mitchell and converted to Islam in 1977 while serving in the U.S. Air Force. He is among the founders of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., which seeks to become "America's first accredited Muslim institution of higher learning." The college seeks "to restore broad-based and pluralistic scholarship to its proper place as a central priority of Muslims."
On other issues related to terrorism, Shakir can be idealistic and naïve. While terrorist groups from al-Qaida to Hamas justify their violence in religious terms, Shakir believes no Muslim can be a terrorist. There's a difference between terrorism, which he said he opposes, and jihad, which he described in a 2001 speech at the Zaytuna Institute as "fighting the combatant forces of the enemies of Islam."
Some Muslims, for example, claim to be hijacking airplanes as part of a jihad. But Islam "doesn't permit us to hijack airplanes that are filled with civilian people, noncombatant people," Shakir said in the same speech. "If you hijacked a plane filled with the 82nd Airborne, that's something else."
The November 2009 Fort Hood massacre in which 12 soldiers and a civilian were killed seemed to fit that into the latter category. Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric who served as an inspiration to Nidal Malik Hasan, said the Army psychiatrist opened fire because he "could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people."
In this case, however, Shakir expressed "my deepest condolences to the families of the dead and wounded" and said there was "no legitimate reason for their deaths." It was not, he wrote, related to Hasan's radical Islamist beliefs.
"One of the great tragedies in this situation is to view the crime Major Hasan is being accused of as a specifically Muslim problem." He praised military and political leaders for making similar claims. Even so, Shakir wrote the he believes "that the U.S. war machine is the single greatest threat to world peace."
Worse than the attack was America's anticipated response, he wrote. "Little do those Muslims realize that they are encouraging elements that would bomb Afghan towns and villages with the same insane impunity that was visited on places like Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg [and] Berlin during World War II."
Similarly, last year's failed car-bombing in Times Square was not an act of jihad, Shakir wrote in a column five days later. Instead, it was "a mirror image of the godless murderous mayhem and carnage this country has inflicted on the innocent civilians of many Muslim countries."
After pleading guilty to the bombing attempt, Faisal Shahzad told the court that "It's a war. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people."
Evil and oppression carried out by the United States could lead to divine retribution, Shakir told a 2004 audience at the "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" conference in Toronto.
"If you don't stop this oppression, if you don't stop murdering people unnecessarily, if you don't stop erasing cities like Fallujah off the face of the earth, if you don't stop contaminating lands for the rest of possible life on this earth, with depleted uranium. This is a sinister, backdoor use of atomic weapons…And if these wrongs and many others aren't corrected you don't have to worry about al-Qaida…You have to worry about Allah," he said.
Read our full profile of Zaid Shakir here.