When five young men disappeared from comfortable lives in America last fall and showed up in Pakistan hoping to wage jihad against American troops, all eyes shifted to their community mosque and youth group for answers.
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a leading Muslim American organization which oversaw both the mosque and the youth group, claimed no connection to the radicalization that drove these young adults to seek violence. In the wake of this story, other national Muslim organizations announced plans for anti-radicalization programs. But no such announcement came from ICNA, perhaps because such a campaign would stand in direct contradiction to the education that ICNA requires of its members.
Literature that is required reading for ICNA members and that is provided at its conferences prominently features a host of radical scholars and an ideology that casts the practice of Islam as incompatible with the West. As members advance into deeper stages, they are required to master more strident texts, ICNA bylaws show.
In addition, the group's extremism, which has included glorifying the death of another young Muslim American convert in a Pakistani jihad, and its admitted links to the radical Pakistani organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, continue unabated. Jamaat-e-Islami has pledged itself to conquering all spheres of human life, including economic, political, and social, throughout the world. As Houriya Ahmed, a researcher at the Centre for Social Cohesion in London puts it:
"The irony of groups like ICNA is that they take advantage of democratic values to spread a message that is monolithic, anti-democratic, and isolating. They want to implement Sharia law in place of Western government… Organizations like ICNA are also smarter than their parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Whereas the Pakistani group openly preaches its intolerant views, this group presents a smoother message in line with American values. However, its ideology and aims actually contradict democratic values and law."
ICNA averages between 10,000-12,000 people at its national conferences. It continues to portray an image of moderation to the public. With such a large following, a very active youth program, and thousands of members, ICNA could serve as a positive force for tolerance and peace. ICNA's spokesperson, Malika Rushdan, recently challenged accusations of radicalism on national television:
"And I'd like to mention that the Islamic Circle of North America is a mainstream, national, non-profit organization that has been actively working for 42 years in the United States. We are partnered and funded by the Department of Homeland Security and work closely with many federal organizations such as FEMA… and I invite everyone to go on to our website, icna.org, to learn more about our mission."
However, internal ICNA records describe a long-term campaign to change the country. In a 2003 introductory manual provided to potential members of its youth group, youth leader Azeem Khan wrote that the purpose of the group was "educating, training, and developing the Muslim youth to be Islamic workers for Iqamat-ad-Deen in North America." Khan then defined Iqamat-ad-Deen as "the Establishment of Islam in its totality," so that "He [Allah] may make it prevalent over all religions" in North America.
ICNA's charter goes into even more detail. It explains that ICNA wants Islam to be the dominant force in all spheres of life, including the political and economic, with the practical realization of this form of Islamic rule in an Islamic Caliphate:
"The goal of ICNA shall be to seek out the pleasure of Allah (SWT) through the struggle of Iqamat-ud-Deen (establishment of the Islamic system of life) as spelled out in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)… This Deen [religion] encompasses the internal, external, individual and collective aspects of human life whether it pertains to beliefs, rituals and morals or to economic, social or political spheres…The ideal and the best practical model of Iqamat [establishing] of this Deen [religion] was established by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the rightly-guided Caliphs."
Moreoever, as prospective ICNA members achieve various stages of membership, they must complete extremist reading lists, join a buddy system to monitor their progress, complete detailed individual report forms tracking their religious progress, and take pledges of their loyalty in ICNA's stated goal and methodology.
Making Islam the Basis for Government
According to a publicly available "Reading List for Members" on the ICNA Sisters web page, entry-level members must complete an education course replete with extremist literature. These items include Towards Understanding Islam, by Jamaat-e-Islami founder, Syed Abul Ala Maududi. Maududi was a Pakistani theologian whose books were recently banned by Bangladeshi authorities for their extremist content.
His organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, has identified itself with the global struggle to form a renewed Caliphate over all of humanity. He also famously preached that Muslims, "Wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God."
In Towards Understanding Islam, Maududi also presses for violence:
"This supreme sacrifice of life [because of Jihad] devolves on all Muslims. If, however, a section of Muslims offer themselves for the Jihad, the community as a whole is absolved of its responsibility. But if none comes forward, everybody is guilty. This concession vanishes for the citizens of an Islamic State when it is attacked by a non-Muslim power. In that case everybody must come forward for the Jihad…In all such cases, Jihad is as much a primary duty of the Muslims concerned as are the daily prayers or fasting. One who shirks it is a sinner. His very claim to being a Muslim is doubtful. He is a hypocrite whose 'Ibadah [worship] and prayers are a sham, a worthless, hollow show of devotion."
Other books on the "Reading List for Members" were written specifically for and by ICNA. The Commitment was written by Shamim Siddiqi during his time as ICNA's Director of the Dawah and Publications Department. It calls for Muslims to reject Western law in favor of Islamic law, or Sharia:
"Allah (SWT) had ordained a complete guidance, Al-Islam, to follow. It governs each and every aspect of human life. It must be followed in its entirety. Allah's authority must be accepted in every walk of life. Only Allah's given code of conduct (Shariah) should be practiced. Then only the demands of Iman [faith] in Allah are fulfilled."
"Islam denies all authorities other than Allah. It denies the concept that while in the church/mosque/synagogue, one worships Allah and when outside, he obeys Caesar and man-made laws. There is no diarchy in Islam. Such duality of a character is clearly hypocrisy and it is totally forbidden in Islam."
Siddiqi also writes that it is an obligation for American Muslims to establish an Islamic state in their adopted country. This requirement reiterates the stated goal in ICNA's charter, which Siddiqi articulates in the following way:
"This concept becomes a challenge to the society where a Muslim proclaims that he is obedient to Allah alone, that he will accept only Allah's laws, that he denies the authority of any other than Allah. The Batil [falsehood], the dominant forces of the time, have never accepted such a declaration in the past, nor will they accept it today or tomorrow. It brings confrontation with the evil forces of the time. They counteract this challenge and let loose all kinds of atrocities against Muslims. A Mumin [believer] has to sustain through this process of trial and tribulation. It may continue throughout his life. In this process either he succeeds in establishing Allah's Deen [religion] in the society where he lives or lays down his life for the cause. In either way he is successful in the sight of Allah. This trial is inevitable. It comes to test the claim of a Mumin as to whether his Iman is truthful, or his commitment to Allah is false."
Siddiqi also notes that the purpose of this renewal of Islam is the destruction of Western civilization:
"If we become true Mumin [male believer] and Mumina [female believer], organize ourselves as Jama'ah [an organization] and struggle for the establishment of His Deen [religion] on earth, the Batil [falsehood] forces will, Insha Allah [God willing], evaporate like morning due [sic]. The entire secular world is like the house of [a] spider and the weakest house as Allah (SWT) ordains is that of [a] spider. It cannot stay before the will of Allah, if we become His true soldiers, the Mujahideen Fi Sabil Allah [warriors in the path of Allah]."
Finally, Siddiqi notes that a Muslim has an obligation to stand up and establish Islam in his respective society. However, such a goal would be fulfilled by joining ICNA, an organization intent on the establishment of Islam over American society:
"It would be a crime to remain indolent for Islam and be the integral part of the BATIL [falsehood] society. A Muslim in the USA or elsewhere has only three options:
i- He or she must stand up and exert his or her best to establish the Deen [religion] of Allah on self, in his or her family and in the society where he or she has settled down for good;
ii- He or she must Join the Jama'ah [organized group] which is struggling to establish Allah's Deen [religion] in this country where he or she resides:
iii- He or she joins the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) which has the sole objective to struggle for Iqamatuddin [the total establishment of Islam] in America."
The next level of ICNA membership is designated "Members of the General Assembly [MGAs]," which requires a more intensive educational platform, as well as a new pledge. MGAs are held to a higher ideological standard than regular members, with the privilege of sitting in on meetings of the Majlis-e-Shura, or governing board, and expanding the inner circle of those who identify with ICNA's ideology. At this level, prospective MGAs must vow that:
1. "I have thoroughly studied the aqeedah [belief], goal, methodology and program of ICNA. After its proper understanding, I affirm that the establishment of Allah's Deen in this world is the goal of my life. I am joining ICNA for the achievement of this very purpose. I have no other objective in mind except the attainment of Allah's pleasure and the success in the Hereafter.
2. I have studied the Charter and By-laws of ICNA and do hereby pledge that I shall fully abide by its discipline, insha-Allah."
Additionally, prospective MGAs must complete the "Reading List for MGAs," including radical texts by Maududi (Islamic Movement, Dynamics of Values, Power and Change), Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase), and Syed Qutb (In the Shade of the Quran). Maududi's Islamic Movement, Dynamics of Values, Power and Change lays down the nature of the global Islamic movement in the context of faith and jihad. Qaradawi's Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase is a manual for becoming part of the global Islamist perspective and a theological platform for any aspiring Jihadist. Syed Qutb's In the Shade of the Quran is his classic commentary on the Quran, including theories which pit Muslims against non-Muslim governments.
Qutb serves as a major inspiration for leading global terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. The "Reading List for MGAs" is not the only ICNA document to recommend Qutb. He is also required reading for members of their youth group, Young Muslims.
The membership guides don't simply promote reading radical books: They single out extreme and violent sections of the text for members to study in more detail. A Tarbiyah [education] guide located on ICNA's website in 2003, quoted whole passages of Yusuf al-Qaradawi's Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase. For example, the guide states the tasks of being part of the global Islamic Movement include the use of violence as a means to an end:
"There is the Work of Struggle (Jihad)
It would be aimed at liberating Muslim land, fighting the forces that oppose the Islamic Call and the Muslim Nation, and preserving the freedom of the Muslim will and the independence of the Muslim decision."
Another section of the guide cites Fathi Yakan's To be a Muslim, which encourages Muslims to see Western civilization and Islam as competing entities:
"In order to establish Islam functionally in the world the Islamic movement must strive against the thoughts and philosophies left over from colonialism, whether of European socialism or American capitalism, until the Ummah or Muslim community can recover its independence and genuine identity. From the very inception, the Islamic movement has been almost obsessed with the need to purify Islam from the garbage of unlawful innovations and superstitions, and to introduce it to the people of the world in a pure form worthy of its excellence and greatness above all contending religions and ideologies."
In addition to underscoring the ideology through its literature, ICNA conferences have also reinforced the message of extremist Islamist thinkers. For example, ICNA's west coast branch hosted a "Leadership Development Seminar" in 2003 with a number of radical sessions. One, called "Gone but Not Forgotten: Imam Hassan al-Banna and Mawlana Mawdudi," was dedicated to honoring the founders of worldwide extremist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami. The program notes that, "This session will explore the two gigantic Islamic figures of this century that revived Islam and attracted millions of youth across the globe."
Likewise, a session at ICNA's 2005 national conference, entitled, "The Making of the Proper Muslim from the Perspectives of Al Banna and Al Mawdudi," featured similar sentiments. Speaker Abdool Rahman Khan, a member of ICNA's leading Shura Council, promoted the narrative of America trying to destroy Islam. This concept is the very same narrative that has influenced dozens of young men to take up violence against the United States in the name of defending Islam. Khan stated:
"The Western powers had influenced the feeble-minded Muslims all over the world and used their literary rhetoric to demean and to demolish anything and all legitimacy of Islam, something that is still continuing up until this day."
Not every ICNA member will be radicalized to the point of violence, and most won't try to travel across the world to fight American troops. But the shock and surprise officials express when it does happen should be viewed in context with the organization's stated goals and teaching. ICNA's insistence that it preaches moderation and tolerance appears contradicted by its own records.