Mark your calendars for January 12-13, because the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF), also known as “SoFlo Muslims,” is about to host its annual conference and bazaar extravaganza, titled “Lighting the Path.”
This isn’t your typical religious retreat. SFMF is a collection of mosques, charities, and civic action groups representing the faith’s most radical Islamist sects and movements. Its conference promises to feature hateful speeches from some of the region’s most controversial Islamist voices – including from individuals who regularly traffic in bigotry and possess alarming ties to foreign terrorists.
Since Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians, SFMF leaders and guest speakers have reacted by glorifying the jihadists and rallying for the destruction of Israel. The group’s open endorsement of terrorism comes as hotel chains across the U.S. are closing their doors to extremist organizations, particularly those that sympathize with Hamas or maintain links to the terrorist regime in Gaza.
Even as Marriott-owned hotels in Virginia and Arizona have cancelled Islamist fundraising galas in the aftermath of October 7, the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center has laid out the welcome mat for SFMF, with plans to host the organization for the second year in a row.
Established in 2017, SFMF is an umbrella organization covering many of the state’s most extreme Islamic institutions. Member organizations belong to a diverse range of competing Islamist theologies, from the Muslim Brotherhood and its lesser-known South Asian cousin, Jamaat-e-Islami, to Deobandi revivalists and even Shi’a Twelvers. Despite the theological differences, Federation members overcome these sectarian divisions through shared theocratic and supremacist goals.
Mark Cherry, the general manager at the Marriott in Coral Springs, sat down on December 29 with local activists – including this author – to discuss SFMF’s troubling history. He learned about Federation groups like Masjid Jamaat al-Mumineen in Margate, Florida, which promotes texts labeling Jews and Christians “enemies,” advocating executions for gay people, glorifying female genital mutilation, and sanctioning domestic violence against women. Mr. Cherry also learned about SFMF’s connections to foreign terrorist organizations through members such as the Darul Uloom Institute (DUI), a place of worship for Al Qaeda terrorists implicated in multiple terror plots.
Despite the evidence, the general manager would not commit to canceling SFMF’s conference. “It’s beyond my ability to make a judgement on,” Cherry said, pointing to the Marriott’s contractual obligation to host the event.
However, standard language appearing in Marriott International’s “general terms and conditions for events” appears to provide a legal pathway to withdraw from booking contracts for “justified reasons.” For instance, when the hotel reasonably believes that “the function endangers … the security or the image of the hotel in public,” or “if the booking might prejudice the reputation of the Hotel.”
Without a doubt, SFMF stands to tarnish the Marriott’s image as a global hospitality leader. As public awareness of rising antisemitism grows in the aftermath of October 7, Federation members have engaged in overt displays of hatred aimed at Jews and Israel.
For instance, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is an SFMF member organization that was embroiled in a 2007 terror finance trial involving Hamas. Earlier this month, the White House disavowed CAIR after a video emerged showing CAIR founder and executive director Nihad Awad celebrating Hamas’s murder of Israeli innocents.
“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege – the walls of the concentration camp – on October 7,” Awad said. “And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land,” he added.
Besides this episode, SFMF holds rallies in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group banned from Florida universities for its declared alliance with Hamas. SFMF shared images from an October 29 “March for Palestine” in Fort Lauderdale, which showed participants holding signs in support of Palestinian “Resistance,” i.e. Hamas, calling for Israel’s destruction, and even depicting Adolf Hitler.
What’s more, SFMF President Samir Kakli invited participants to attend a November 1 “teach-in” where SJP and other radicals planned to discuss “Resistance in All its Forms,” an apparent endorsement of violence against Israel. Just three days following Hamas’s terrorist operation in southern Israel, Kakli co-wrote an op-ed in the Palm Beach Post declaring that, “Violence will almost always be met with violence,” to justify Hamas’s attack as a response to Israeli “occupation,” which he called “the root cause of this conflict.”
While SFMF’s grand bazaar offers a chance for locals to immerse themselves in Islamic culture, with 30 vendors hawking handcrafted jewelry, modest apparel, and exotic foods, the Federation’s conference will provide an altogether different experience. Billed as an opportunity to discuss “social issues,” the topic of Israel and Gaza promises to receive special attention. For example, attendees are encouraged to participate in a poetry contest titled: “Within Our Hearts: Gaza.”
However, it is the scheduled lineup of radical speakers, from Islamists to anti-Israel activists, which promises to transform the conference into a platform for hate-mongerIng against Jews and Israel. Several keynote speakers have dedicated themselves since October 7 to advancing antisemitic tropes and half-baked theories regarding Israel.
First, there’s Lobna Mulla from the Salafist-aligned Yaqeen Institute. In recent weeks, she’s been plastering her social media with maps erasing Israel and posts glorifying masked Hamas terrorists. Then, there’s Naima Khan-Ghany, previously axed from committees she served on at the Broward County School Board due to her ties to radical groups and history of anti-Semitism.
Yasemin Kanar, a social media influencer, recently voiced eyebrow-raising statements about Hollywood being controlled by “Zionist Jews,” who, according to her, are spreading “pedophilia.” She even praised Hamas for how it treats its Israeli hostages. The conference also boasts Shafayat Mohamed, founder of the aforementioned Darul Uloom Institute, who is notorious for claiming that gay sex causes natural disasters. He, too, was kicked off of Broward County boards for his vile rhetoric.
“This Florida gathering of Hamas sympathizers and hatemongers cannot be and should not be allowed under any circumstance,” said Deepak Ganju, the founding director of the Kashmir Hindu Foundation and a resident of South Florida.
Ganju, who attended the meeting with the Marriott’s management, rejects the notion that canceling SFMF’s event would amount to censorship. “It is not free speech to encourage radical elements of Hamas and its sympathizers. Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center management should cancel and stop hatemongers who abet violence from using its premises,” he said.
The Israel-Hamas conflict, precipitated by the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, has unmasked many of the terrorist regime’s most strident supporters, who live in the West and enjoy the freedoms of expression and assembly. However, as the American public becomes more conscious of Islamism’s popular appeal, there is a growing intolerance for these hateful ideologies.
Corporations, nonprofits, and institutions of higher learning are finally paying a price for failing to stop the proliferation of anti-Jewish bigotry and other forms of extremism. What price is the Marriott, with its thousands of international locations, willing to pay as it hosts the region’s most extreme alliance of Islamist organizations?
Joe Kaufman is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Chairman of the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative.
Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor contributed to this report.