The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which touts itself as a leading grassroots Muslim organization, stood with American law enforcement last week in condemning violence and distancing itself from the actions of five of its young, American mosque attendees. These would-be terrorists traveled to Pakistan, intent on killing American soldiers whom they saw as waging a war on Islam.
Leaders at the Alexandria-based ICNA mosque expressed shock at the men's decision to give up bright futures for jihad. "The teachings of this mosque are the Koran, moderation, tolerance and peaceful interaction with our neighbors and other faiths,' said Essan Talawi, a guest imam at the mosque where the five men attended and were active members of its youth group."
Youth group director Mustafa Abu Maryan said extremism and violence are not part of the mosque's teaching. "We have always focused on community, community, community," he said.
ICNA issued a declaration saying, "Extremism has no place in Islam, and ICNA works tirelessly to oppose extremist and violent ideology." This concern marks a dramatic reversal for ICNA. Faced with a similar episode 12 years earlier, the group honored a member who travelled across the world to wage jihad in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
ICNA's 1997 Southeastern Regional Convention honored Lawrence Nicholas Thomas (aka Jibril Abu- Adam), an American citizen and convert to Islam, who was killed while fighting alongside terrorists in Kashmir. Jibril had travelled to Pakistan and trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (the Righteous Army), which was later designated by both the U.S. Treasury and UN as an Al Qaeda support organization.
After training at the LeT base, Jabril Abu-Adam and his unit went to Kashmir and ambushed Indian troops. Less than three months later, he was killed while attacking an Indian army post. At the November 1997 event, a plaque was presented to his family which read: "In recognition of Jibril Abu-Adam (also known as Lawrence Nicholas Thomas) for his devotion to His Creator and his ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his fellow Muslims in Kashmir."
ICNA's magazine, The Message, also saluted Abu Adam in a December 1997 article entitled, "Actions Speak Louder than Words." The article glorified the death of Muslim fighters, claiming "they lay peacefully where they fell and took on the appearance of being asleep, whereas the corpses of the fallen enemy began to decompose and became distorted, disfigured." It also detailed Abu-Adam's life, and praised his dedication and decision to wage jihad:
"By age 19, he decided to dedicate himself to jihad. However,' Jibril asserted, 'the duties to my family are on a personal level while the duty to my Ummah (Muslim community) is the top priority.' Pointing in the direction of Kashmir, he said, 'I have to help these people. I am just waiting for the snow on this mountain to melt. Then I will cross over into Kashmir, Insha'Allah.' The snow melted. On 26 October 1997, at the village of Doda in Kashmir, there was a skirmish. Thirty-four Indian soldiers were killed, and four Muslims became shaheed (martyrs). Allahu Akbar! Among those who became shaheed was Jibril, Insha' Allah. (It is reported from reliable sources that Jibril was responsible for killing 17 of the 34 Hindu fighters)."
In addition to honoring Abu Adam's personal decision, the article exhorts other Muslims to follow in his path. The article begins with this statement:
"The Qur'an urges Muslims to seek knowledge and then to act on the knowledge they acquire. It also says that the person who merely obtains knowledge without taking actions is like a donkey carrying books, i.e., such knowledge becomes a burden that benefits no one. For one young man, knowledge became a source of inspiration that led him to take actions that can benefit everyone."
The article glorifies jihad and martyrdom, going to great length to describe the miracles Allah provides for his soldiers. Among the points noted in the article, were statements such as, "It is quite evident that Jibril's struggles were motivated by devotion to Allah (SWT). Clear signs that the conflict in Kashmir is jihad are numerous," and, "It is recounted in authentic hadith that on the Day of Judgment, each shaheed can intercede with Allah for seventy of his family members."
This is not the first time that an ICNA publication or speaker has portrayed violence as admirable or has encouraged followers to fight in Jihad. At the July 2001 26th Annual Conference, ICNA's president Zulfiqar Ali Shah led the following chant:
· Shah: "Our way, our way, is jihad, jihad." (In Arabic: Sabilnah, Sabilnah; al-jihad, al-jihad")
· The crowd: "Al-jihad, al-jihad."
· Shah: "Our way is al-jihad." (Arabic)
· The crowd: "Al-jihad, al-jihad."
At a rally prior to the conference, Shah continued to advocate violence in Kashmir. Significantly, the five young jihadis who prayed at the ICNA center may have tried to link up with Jaish-e-Mohammed, a group dedicated to liberating the Kashmir region from India. Shah advocated supporting the Mujahideen of Kashmir to the large, public audience, saying:
"Whether they are brothers in Palestine or Kashmir, they belong to the Muslim ummah and we are united with them in their struggle. We stand for them and we are for their support and for the victory in Muslim [sic]. Let's give a big takbir for our mujahideen brothers and sisters in Kashmir
... My brothers and sisters, nobody can eliminate or destroy the nation whose children are ready to die for the sake of what they stand for, the nations who love death more than they love life, nobody can perpetrate injustice upon them."
At its 2000 conference, Tayyib Yunus, leader of the ICNA youth branch known as Young Muslims, urged ICNA members to send their children to fight in jihad:
"The youth is very important, as parents, for us to facilitate the youth. And, we all want to see our youth to succeed to become doctors, to become engineers; but how many of you can actually say that you want to send your son to Jihad, to Chechnya ? How many of you can actually say that? [Takbir! Allahu Akbar!] How many of you can actually say that you want to send your child [He begins to sob] Takbir! Allahua Akbar! Takbir! Allahua Akbar! [He cries uncontrollably now, after a delay, he begins to speak again] How many of you can actually say that you want to send your youth to fight in Jihad or to send them to Azhar or to these Islamic Institutions to become educated?" [Emphasis added]
Now that young men associated with one of its centers have taken to battle, ICNA officials scratch their heads and wonder where the group came up with such radical ideas. As past president Dr. Muhammad Yunus noted in a 1991 article in the Message International:
"[T]he ultimate purpose of Jihad is to establish an Islamic system of government and to establish the truth of Islam in state and society." An endeavour that is not restricted to certain countries but the ultimate goal is to establish Islam all over the world and to bring about a world Islamic revolution, because the message of Islam is for all mankind."
ICNA's goals include a pledge "to seek to obtain the pleasure of Allah (SWT) through working for the establishment of Islam in all spheres of life." With that as a goal, and its past glorification of jihadism, the claims by the group's officials that they can't figure out what motivated five young members to forfeit their futures for jihad appear especially dubious.