Note: Scroll down to see IPT Research Director Abha Shankar discuss her investigation into ICNA June 10 at the South Asia Minorities Alliance Foundation Program "Combating Religious Radicalism in South Asia and Beyond."
Most religious groups exist to provide fellowship for their members and help them with spiritual needs.
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) stands apart, both for its close ties to South Asian Islamist radicals, and for its overt and repeatedly stated ambitions to convert the world to Islam, a new report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) finds.
ICNA has been described as "openly affiliated" with the Sunni revivalist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). In addition to advancing a rigid interpretation of Islam, the Islamist movement has provided an ideological platform and recruiting base for South Asian terrorist groups.
In many ways, ICNA's ideology echoes the JI, which was created in 1941 by Islamist ideologue Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in Lahore, Pakistan, which was then part of British India. Muslims, Maududi preached, "wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to the rule and make laws from those who do not fear God. You must also provide leadership to God's servants and conduct the affairs of their government in accordance with God's law, remaining fully conscious of living in God's presence and being accountable to Him in the Hereafter. The name of this striving is Jihad."
ICNA, in turn, was set up to establish "Iqamat Deen," the Islamic system of life, in North America with the ultimate goal of founding a global Islamic state or Caliphate.
"Wherever [the] Islamic movement succeeds to establish true Islamic societies, they will form coalitions and alliances. This will lead to the unity of the Ummah and step towards the reestablishment of Khilafah [Caliphate]," writes former ICNA President Mohammad Yunus in the August 2000 issue of the organization's flagship publication, The Message International.
A 2010 Member's Hand Book published by ICNA's Tarbiyah (Education & Training) Department, reported earlier by the IPT, recognizes that achieving an Islamic super state is a gradual process and involves several stages.
Maududi attended ICNA's inaugural public event held in 1974 at Columbia University.
"Jamaat-e-Islami and affiliated theocratic extremist groups pose an immediate and ongoing threat to stability and secular democracy in South Asia, leaving religious minorities at grave risk of continuing violence," says a resolution introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
It specifically names ICNA and its charitable organizations, ICNA Relief and Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), as JI's "domestic affiliates" and calls on the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and related agencies "to halt all partnerships and funding arrangements" with them.
Helping Hand reportedly has ties to U.S.-designated Kashmiri jihadist groups, JI Pakistan and its affiliate chapter in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir.
The IPT report details ICNA's entrenched ties with the Muslim Brotherhood infrastructure in the U.S., which continue today.
Its national conventions are organized and co-sponsored with the Muslim American Society (MAS), which was created in 1993 as the Brotherhood's arm in the U.S. They feature radical speakers who advocate jihad, advocate on behalf of Kashmiri separatists, and call for the elimination of Israel.
ICNA's leadership sees dawah [Islamic proselytization] as the organization's key purpose to establish Islam in the United States. ICNA's proselytization arms, Why Islam and GainPeace, promote dawah ostensibly "to provide accurate information about Islam," and in so doing, "dispel popular stereotypes and persistent misconceptions about Islam and Muslims." But the true mission of these groups is clearly laid out in the works of the head of ICNA's Dawah and Publication's wing, Shamim Siddiqi, which is win converts in order "to make Allah's Deen dominant on this earth."
ICNA also promotes proselytizing to non-Muslims in a deceptive way. A 2010 Member's Hand Book published by ICNA's Tarbiyah (Islamic education and training) Department states that "Why Islam is a subdivision of the Dawah [proselytizing] Department" that "works to promote Islam among non-Muslims." But it instructs ICNA members to give non-Muslims a different mission of Why Islam. They are not to be told that they are being invited to join the faith. Rather, Why Islam "was created after the unimaginable event of 9/11 ... to educate the American public with accurate information of Islam and to clarify any misconceptions our community may have about Islam and Muslims."
Over the years, ICNA's bimonthly publication, The Message International, has published numerous articles and editorials, including by ICNA members, that exhort jihad, defend terrorists and other radicals, attack U.S. and Western foreign policy, advocate on behalf of Islamists and Islamist movements, and engage in inflammatory rhetoric against Jews and Zionism.
The magazine has featured interviews with senior JI leaders in which they support JI's goal to establish a global caliphate and praise ICNA's role in the "advancement of Islamic ideology." Its 1997 issue published an exclusive interview with the now-U.S.-designated terrorist Syed Salahuddin, lauding the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander as the "undisputed leader of the mujahideen struggling to liberate the territory of Kashmir from brutal Indian occupation." Another article in the same issue salutes Jibril Abu-Adam, an American citizen and convert to Islam, who was killed while fighting alongside Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in Kashmir. Although there has been a toning down in the magazine's rhetoric in recent years, it continues to peddle anti-American propaganda and feed into the Muslim victimhood narrative.
ICNA's leadership has glorified jihad and martyrdom and advocated JI's Islamist ideology as a panacea to problems afflicting the global Muslim community. The fact that a former senior ICNA leader was a top commander of Al-Badr, JI Bangladesh's militant offshoot, only reaffirms the close ties ICNA shares with the Islamist movement.
In 2016, ICNA's former vice president and leader of its New York chapter, Ashrafuzzman Khan, was tried in absentia by a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal and sentenced to death. Khan allegedly participated in the abduction and murder of 18 Bangladeshi intellectuals during the country's 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
Despite ICNA's open propagation of JI's Islamist ideology in North America and ties to South Asian jihadists and radical extremists, U.S. government officials continue to engage the JI outpost and its affiliates that also receive millions of taxpayer dollars from federal agencies. ICNA reportedly received a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security in 2016 and more than $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief work in 2016 and 2018.
ICNA's propagation of an Islamist ideology and grand ambition to establish a global caliphate make it something far different from a mainstream religious group. While it doesn't advertise its agenda, its affinity for Maududi and the JI, its embrace of radicals and its documented plan to try changing society ought to give people pause before engaging in outreach and providing millions of tax payer dollars in funding to ICNA and its affiliate groups. The recent Banks resolution calling for ending all partnership and funding to ICNA and its charitable fronts is a step in the right direction.
Read the full IPT report on ICNA here.