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Interfaith and extremism

At the 2020 World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service on January 5, held in Naperville, Illinois, representatives of many faiths came together to celebrate multiple faith traditions.

Representing Chicago’s large Muslim community was The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) executive director Abdullah Mitchell

CIOGC is the umbrella organization for Islamic centers and mosques in Illinois that has been a longtime interfaith dialogue participant, working together with four local Christian denominations and two Jewish organizations on interfaith dialogue in Illinois.

But CIOGC’s interest in interfaith is about more than just community cooperation.

Consider the questionable ties of CIOGC interfaith co-chair Azam Nizamuddin.  Nizamuddin serves as the general counsel for the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).  According to a federal judge, there is “ample evidence” of NAIT’s ties to a Hamas fundraising network led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  According to reporting by the Chicago Tribune in 2004, NAIT also played a key role in helping Muslim Brotherhood supporters seize control of a local Chicago mosque, transforming it into a center for extremist preaching and support for Hamas.

In addition, Nizamuddin leads the interfaith initiatives at the Islamic Foundation, Villa Park, Illinois, and Downtown Islamic Center in Chicago, all of which are also CIOGC members.

Nor is Nizamuddin alone, but rather much of CIOGC is made up of individuals and groups linked to that same Muslim Brotherhood terror support network, including CIOGC co-founder and former NAIT Chairman Bassem Osman, whose name appears on documents submitted as evidence at federal trial as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Other CIOGC members with Islamist ties and even terror links include American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)The Muslim American Society (MAS)Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)Islamic Relief USA (IR-USA)Helping Hands for Relief and Development (HHRD)The Universal SchoolMuslim Legal Fund for America (MLFA)MECCA Center, and the Mosque Foundation.

Many people struggle to understand why Islamist groups, including several founded for the purpose of supporting anti-Israeli terror would be willing participants in interfaith dialogue events billed as bringing together many religious groups together in peace and harmony.

For Islamist groups, though, participating in interfaith dialogue provides opportunities.  First, it helps to whitewash extremism and spread misinformation regarding the threat opposed by Islamist terror.  Secondly, by reaching out to church communities, Islamists are able to promote their political issues and policies, the best example being the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Take for example recent efforts by the CIOGC member American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) to promote BDS among Chicago-area churches.  AMP has strong ties to the Hamas support infrastructure in the U.S., according to expert testimony before the U.S. Congress.  AMP currently faces a lawsuit from the estate of David Boim, an American teenager murdered by Hamas in 1996.  The lawsuit documents extensively AMP’s role as a successor to the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), which the U.S. government established at trial as an organization the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood established in order to support Hamas.

AMP education coordinator Tarek Muhammad Khalil spoke in November at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago annual convention in favor of resolution G-182, coined as “Freedom of Speech and the Right to Boycott,” which is a direct response to proposed state and federal legislation targeting the BDS movement.  Legislation opposing BDS has been a hot-button political issue for Chicago-area Islamists.

The document posted on the Episcopal Church website notes:

[T]he 182nd Convention of the Diocese of Chicago calls upon the President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, and the Congressional delegation of the State of Illinois to oppose legislation that penalizes or criminalizes support for nonviolent boycotts on behalf of Palestinian human rights as infringements of First Amendment[.]

Certainly, the use of church conventions to push controversial politics is nothing new, nor is it reserved for abuse solely by Islamists.  But Islamists seek to take advantage of such divisions, promoting their agenda while America’s faith communities hollow out their moral credibility. 

Churches and synagogues engaged in interfaith dialogue with Islamic organizations must vet their partners better and disengage from dialogue with radicals who seek to use other faith communities to push divisive and harmful political projects.  Groups like CIOGC and AMP are involved in interfaith dialogue not to promote harmony and goodwill among all faiths.  Church leaders need to wise up and reject these wolves in sheep’s clothing.

By Rev. Hesham Shehab- January 15, 2020