Akram Kassab speaks Oct. 1 at New York's Andalusia Islamic Center.
"Palestine is Al Quds [Jerusalem] and Jerusalem is Al Aqsa Mosque," speaker Akram Kassab claimed at an Oct. 1 workshop, "Palestine: The Growth & Future of Our Cause." He quoted his former boss, extremist cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi: "What would Palestine mean if it has no Jerusalem or Aqsa Mosque? Palestine without Jerusalem is like a body without a head."
Qaradawi has endorsed suicide bombings, called for Israel's elimination and the killing of Jews. He also described Muslims killed fighting American forces in Iraq as "martyrs."
"Palestine remains the cause of the Ummah [global Muslim community] Palestine remains the basis," Kassab said. He argued that "this cause has to be based on a religious nature," because "your enemy is speaking to you from a religious perspective, so if you don't speak to him from a religious perspective then you are the loser."
"When the other side comes in and...sanctifies the Torah, the Sabbath and Moses," he added, "and you are not sanctifying the Quran or Muhammad... and you are not sanctifying the Ka'ba [Islam's most sacred site in Mecca] and don't sanctify Friday [Jummah], this is a flaw."
The workshop was sponsored by the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) at the Andalusia Islamic Center in New York.
The Islamic Center is a department of the Muslim American Society (MAS)'s New York chapter and also runs an Arabic weekend school for children. MAS also was listed as a workshop co-sponsor.
Kassab also spoke at an another event AMP co-sponsored with MAS on Sept. 30 titled, "Working for Palestine in America: Challenges and Opportunities." There, he made similar calls to "liberate Al Aqsa from those who occupied it."
"Jerusalem is a creed; Al Aqsa is a creed and the love of Palestine is part of our worship," Kassab said, adding that "on loving the people of Palestine and the residents of Al Quds, we love its food, its soil and its mujahideen [holy warriors] and fighters."
AMP is accused in a federal lawsuit of being a spinoff of a now-defunct player in a Muslim Brotherhood-created Hamas support network in the United States. The group routinely sponsors conferences that serve as a platform for Israel bashers and openly approves of "resistance" against the "Zionist state." It is also one of the principal advocates of the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state.
MAS was established in 1993 as the Brotherhood's arm in the United States.
Given his hosts' connections and ideologies, it's little surprise that Kassab, with his close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and a history of lauding Hamas, should feature as a speaker at the events.
Kassab worked as Qaradawi's secretary before assuming his current position as an imam at the MAS-affiliated Masjid Dar Al Dawah.
Kassab also co-founded the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) with Qaradawi. IUMS has a long history of supporting Hamas and calling for Israel's destruction.
Kassab also is a former sharia researcher for Qaradawi's Islamonline.net and director of the Qaradawi Students' Association. A 2010 online CV published by Al Jazeera lists one of his books as "Zionism and Its Danger to Humanity" and mentions his membership in the pro-Hamas Islamic National Conference.
Qaradawi died Sept. 26 in Doha, Qatar where he was living in exile following the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Tributes flowed in from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Islamists around the world, including in the United States.
In a farewell speech for Qaradawi published Oct. 4 on his YouTube page, Kassab described him as one of the Muslim world's "greatest scholars, one of its imams, a mujahid of its mujahideen, a thinker of its greatest thinkers and a diligent researcher among its finest researchers." He also called Qaradawi an "imam [Islamic leader] of his era and the faqih [Muslim theologian] of this epoch."
AMP leaders also posted glowing obituaries for Qaradawi.
Executive Director Osama Abuirshaid cited an Islamic hadith accompanied by the statement, "May Allah have mercy on the deceased of the Ummah (nation), its scholar, the laborer, the Mujahid, professor Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and may He compensate (our loss) with good."
"Qaradawi exemplifies the role of the revolutionary scholar that stood in opposition to political foes and movements (chief among them Zionism and reactionary Arab regimes)," Taher Herzallah, AMP's outreach director, wrote in a Sept. 26 Facebook post. Qaradawi "embodied the activist scholar that we so desperately needed and continue to need ... but also a man who was ready to engage in revolutionary struggle against colonialism and imperialism."
MAS too issued a condolence statement describing Qaradawi as "a staunch opponent of imperialism and political oppression faced by the Muslim world."
The Bronx Muslim Center – MAS's New York chapter – posted live video of Qaradawi's funeral in Doha that showed senior Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal in attendance.
At a Sept. 30 sermon at the Bronx Muslim Center, Herzallah vilified Zionism, calling for its end.
"Zionism is evil, Zionism is bad, Zionism needs to end, Zionism is a scourge on our ummah," he said. "Zionism is a thorn constantly hurting our ummah, a blade that keeps cutting into our ummah. This is undisputable. We've seen the effects of what the state of Israel means to the rest of the ummah."
Herzallah also mentioned Qaradawi's influence on western Muslims. "You can ask any cleric here or any Islamic institution in this country on the influence that Qaradawi had on the thoughts, political and institutional models in this country, all of are based on the opinions of Sheikh Qaradawi."
Extremist Rhetoric & Praise for Hamas
Kassab participated in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla that violently tried to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. The voyage ended with nine people dead after passengers attacked Israeli commandos with knives, metal bars and other weapons as they tried to take control of ship. A Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report on the Mavi Marmara incident describes Kassab as someone "[e]xtremely hostile to Israel and [who] gives fiery speeches."
The report quotes Kassab justifying his participation in the flotilla: "In my opinion, the role of theologians is not to limit themselves to studies and education and fatwas, and their field of action is not limited to the mosques and study groups, and their weapons are not limited to pens and sheets of paper. What must be emphasized is their role in everything linked to jihad, and they have to leave their mosque pulpits and mihrabs (depressions in mosques pointing to Mecca] [sic] for the battle zones and leave their pens and papers for shells and gunpowder."
A YouTube video of Kassab's speech describing the incident introduces him as "one of the heroic participants of the freedom flotilla which was attacked by the Zionists the aggressors, the usurpers."
In the video, Kassab thanked IUMS "who tasked me for this mission so that the scholars would have a role." And he added: "A role with the pen and a role with the jihad in the field. And I hereby stress on these words because we have to leave the field of speaking to go to the field of actions. And I repeat once again, Al Aqsa will return God's willing, Al Aqsa will return, Al Aqsa will return."
"By God it was a battle in every sense of the word," Kassab said describing the clashes between flotilla passengers and Israeli soldiers. "I swear by God that the movies we see with bullets flying, we saw it with our own eyes."
Kassab also invoked the Battle of Uhud, in which the Muslims led by Islam's prophet Muhammad lost to the pagans, in describing the "martyrdom" of a former classmate at Egypt's Al Azhar University at the hands of Israelis troops.
The crowd responded to Kassab's speech with fanatic cries of Khaybar, Khaybar ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa yahud ["O Jews of Khyber, the army of Muhammad is returning."] The chant is used as a battle cry against Jews and refers to their massacre by Muslims during the Battle of Khaybar in 628 CE.
Kassab detailed a subsequent trip to Gaza in a 2012 Palestine Information Center article where he met with the "stationed mujahideen" and "the heroic leader Ismail Haniyeh, the man who combined both the knowledge and politics, the pen and the sword, the podium and the gun, the man who carries the weight of the ummah's worries."
He praised the bravery of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. "They didn't live in ivory towers, leaving their people to starve and suffer from despair and deprivation," he wrote. "But they meet bullets with their bare chests and they would starve as their people do, and exert efforts as their people do." He also lauded both "martyred" and living Hamas leaders such as Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, Said Siam, Mahmoud al-Zahar, Sami Abu-Zuhri "[who] have given up their sons [and family] to martyrdom."
After an Egyptian court sentenced former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to death for his role in a 2011 jailbreak, Kassab responded with a post on Facebook: "Getting rid of the military judges and killing them is a shariah duty and a human necessity and a revolutionary desire."
In a 2013 speech following the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, Kassab called on the crowd to wage "jihad for the sake of God with money, life, time [and] efforts" against Egypt's military leadership.
AMP National Board Chairman Hatem Bazian and Executive Director Osama Abuirshaid also spoke at the New York events.
"In the United States, Israel now is known as an apartheid state," Bazian falsely claimed. "Israel is violating Palestinian rights...[and] committing actual genocide against the Palestinians." He called on the audience "to continue to amplify and speak on those terms in order for us to continue to have an impact on the [Israeli-Palestinian] debate."
Abuirshaid said his "main mission in life is to continue to fight for justice in Filastin, for the liberation of Filastin, for the return of all Palestinians to Filastin." He said he was "not for kicking out and excluding or murdering anyone just because of their religion ... there is nothing in our history that makes us ashamed because it is us only Muslims who guaranteed the rights of all minorities, of all religions, of all people in Filastin [and] only under us, Jews were worshiping freely in Filastin and in Jerusalem."
AMP and MAS events have in the past showcased Israel hating and Hamas supporting extremists. The New York events prove to be no different.
Research analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.
Abha Shankar is the IPT research director.
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