Saturday, May 18, 2024

California Assembly Looks to Honor State’s Most Radical Islamists

NewsCalifornia Assembly Looks to Honor State’s Most Radical Islamists

On July 13, the California State Assembly introduced a resolution commemorating August as “American Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month.”  House Resolution No.52 (HR 52) honors the “cultural traditions” of some 1 million Muslim Americans who call California home, and the charitable contributions that Muslims have bestowed upon “people of all faiths and backgrounds in California.”

So far, so good. However, the bill follows this introduction with a praiseful list of “prominent Muslim figures who continue to make significant contributions to the State of California and the United States.” With few exceptions, the state’s honorees hail from Sunni Islamist backgrounds, possessing alarming track records of bigotry and extremism, and even fostering disturbing links to foreign terrorist groups and jihadist movements.

The Clarity Coalition, a pro-freedom group that includes Muslim leaders from around the world, including in California, opposes HR 52 and is calling on legislators to significantly revise the resolution. Yasmine Mohammed, a human rights campaigner and the co-chair of Clarity, believes the bill “ignores many secular and reformist Muslims in California in favor of uplifting Islamists instead.”

“A bill like this would betray the brave and tireless work of reformers and celebrate the extremists that tyrannize Muslim communities,” Mohammed added.

Former State Assembly Member Bill Quirk first introduced legislation honoring California Muslims in 2016. The inaugural bill made sweeping statements about the “rich history” and “invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in California and across the country,” without identifying any specific community members.

Later iterations of the legislation named specific Muslim achievers, while mostly straying from controversial public figures. A Nobel Prize winner, an Academy Award-winning actor, a county judge, and a saber fencer were honored in multiple bills between 2017 and 2022.

Last year, Quirk retired, and sponsorship of the annual resolution celebrating Muslim achievements was passed to Assembly Member Eloise Reyes (D-50), an influential Democratic leader from the lower chamber. Reyes removed the familiar list of honorees, who were selected from a diverse set of professions and charitable undertakings, and replaced them almost exclusively with Sunni Islamists.

Perhaps the most notorious Islamist institution to appear in the 2023 resolution is the California branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA), which the bill praises for its “legal services and advocacy” on behalf of Muslims and other minorities. In a 2007 trial, CAIR was listed as an unindicted conspirator involved in fundraising for Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, and a total of seven senior CAIR employees have been convicted or deported for serious terrorism-related offenses.

A June 2023 Investigative Project on Terrorism report documents a culture of anti-Semitism at the so-called civil advocacy organization, providing dozens of examples of overtly bigoted statements and anti-Jewish tropes from CAIR staff. Leaders of the California branch feature prominently in the report.

For example, CAIR-CA Director Hussam Ayloush has equated Israel’s military to ISIS on multiple occasions and called for Israel’s “murderous” government to be “terminated.” Zahra Billoo, who leads the San Francisco chapter, has repeatedly bashed “apartheid Israel,” while warning against cooperation with mainstream Jewish American community groups, which she calls “polite Zionists.”

In 2008, federal prosecutors referred to a second group identified in HR 52, the Muslim American Society (MAS), as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.”

Along with CAIR, the United Arab Emirates designated MAS as a terrorist entity in 2014, citing the groups’ links to violent Muslim Brotherhood factions responsible for death and destruction throughout the Middle East.

The resolution also offers praise to Ismahan Abdullahi, the national director of MAS’s civic engagement efforts, for “strengthening Muslim and refugee communities” in San Diego. Yet, Abdullahi has advocated for convicted cop-killer Jamil Al-Amin, defended the supremacist Black Panther Party, and has lionized Muslim Brotherhood icon Mohamed Morsi, whose brief and despotic reign as Egypt’s president was characterized by brutal crackdowns and torture of non-violent protestors.

Next, Reyes’s bill commends the Institute of Knowledge (IOK), an Islamic seminary influenced by a blend of Salafi and Deobandi teachings – two of the most hardline and radical sects within Sunni Islam. The resolution recognizes IOK’s “spiritual and scholarly leaders and professionals who embody an upright and noble character.”

On the contrary, IOK is staffed by extremists. Furhan Zubairi, the seminary’s Dean of Academics, justified slavery at a 2019 conference, arguing that Islam has “regulated but not banned slavery,” while Westerners are “cultured to think that freedom is one of the greatest ideals of human life.”

IOK instructor Ahmed Billoo (brother of the aforementioned Zahra Billoo) has endorsed suicide bombings and prayed for the massacre of Israeli Jews. “Oh God, reduce their numbers, exterminate them, and don’t leave a single one alive,” he wrote in 2019, adding the hashtag “#Zionists.” The post was “liked” by Mohammad Omair Siddiqui, Billoo’s colleague at IOK and a former MAS official, as well as at least two CAIR-CA employees.

The State Aseembly’s resolution also honors ICNA Relief, the domestic charity wing of the Islamic Circle of North America. ICNA is widely accused of acting as a front for Jamaat-e-Islami and importing its violent and theocratic ideology to North America. Jamaat-e-Islami is an anti-Western Islamist movement founded in Pakistan and complicit in the mass killing of Bangladeshi intellectuals during their country’s 1971 war for independence.

Addressing a joint ICNA-MAS conference in June 2022, ICNA president and former chairman of ICNA Relief Mohsin Ansari promised his organization would not “justify LGBT issues,” and would say, “‘No’ to those perverted attitudes which the world has accepted.” While Ansari served as chairman of Helping Hand for Relief and Development in 2017, ICNA Relief’s sister charity, the humanitarian group was exposed for collaborating with Pakistan’s Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

As written, HR 52 honors a radical subsection of the state’s Muslim population, Sunni Islamists who share a bigoted disdain for Jews, LGBT, and the American way of life. Just as important as the Islamic groups and individuals listed in the legislation are those Muslim communities that are left out of the nearly 1,300-word resolution.

Where are the Shi’a Muslims? A 1993 article printed in the LA Times traces the settlement of Shi’a families, then numbering 30,000 in Southern California alone. Many escaped “political and religious persecution in their homelands” before settling in the state, where they were often overlooked next to larger minority communities.

The legislation fails to mention the Ahmadiyya, a pacifist, reformist sect that has flourished in Southern California. Ahmadi Muslims are the most persecuted Muslim community in the world as a result of their unorthodox beliefs, and they are represented in towns such as Bay Point, Chino, and Milpitas.

There is no place for reformist or secular Muslim leaders in California’s latest Muslim American resolution. HR 52 fails to provide a representative sample of California’s Muslim leaders. Instead, it serves to divide communities, legitimize extremism, and undermine mainstream and moderate Muslim voices.

California residents who oppose the draft resolution can locate their assembly member by visiting this website and entering their addresses. Don’t let the California Assembly uplift the state’s most radical Muslim voices at the expense of moderates and reformers.

Benjamin Baird is the Director of MEF Action, an advocacy project of the Middle East Forum.

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