The Department of Defense recently announced the completion of a cultural awareness training event in Kuwait, during which 40 American soldiers “gain[ed] [a] better understanding of Islam.”
No one in command seemed to think much of the fact this training was provided by the cleric Mohammed Al-Naqwi, a Salafi preacher, who apparently has no formal Islamic qualifications, and who openly espouses deeply radical views.
Admittedly, the Kuwaiti-born and UK-educated Al-Naqwi is a popular man. He is known across the Arab world as a TV personality, cleric, life coach, and motivational speaker in both Arabic and English. A cursory look at his website, where he claims to offer teachers on “the family system, youth, ethics, positive,” does give the initial impression of rather benign ideas. But his sermons and partnerships tell a very different story.
Al-Naqwi is an unabashed extremist. In May 2021, he published a video on YouTube piecing together verses from the Qur’an to justify his view on “Israeli Terrorism.” The video was published in the wake of conflict in Gaza. Using religious verses superimposed over footage of violent conflict, Al-Naqwi’s text warns that the “children of Israel” work to “cause corruption” and that “we would send against” the “children of Israel” “our servants of great might, who would ravage your homes.”
Other videos reveal a similarly, deeply hostile ideology. In one of them, Al-Naqwi warns that Muslims cannot celebrate Thanksgiving as it is proof of kufr (unbelief).
Such views are typical within hardline Islamist circles. There are many Muslims who serve in the U.S. military; are they now to understand that they cannot celebrate Thanksgiving without being guilty of apostasy?
Al-Naqwi is particularly preoccupied with women’s attire. In another published video addressing American converts, he lectures them about the importance of a woman being covered rather than simply wrapped. Perhaps concerned that his explanation wasn’t clear enough, Al-Naqwi then picks up a teacup to demonstrate that if a woman/teacup is wrapped tightly, its “curves” are still visible. When one of the audience asks Al-Naqwi whether it is frowned upon for Muslim women not to wear the hijab, Al-Naqwi tells him that these women would be “involved in sin.”
In the same video, Al-Naqwi tells his American audience that if men do not avert their gaze upon encountering women, they “will look, start imagining” and explains that this will eventually result in “kidnapping” and “raping.”
Al-Naqwi also insists that the signs of the Hour, meaning the Day of Judgement, will include women who are wearing clothes “so tight you can see literally everything in their body.”
In another video, Al-Naqwi mentions an “American guy who works in the military” and “came to Kuwait at only 22.” Al-Naqwi claims that this American was committing “sins” such as drinking alcohol or gambling and was increasingly depressed and lonely. Al-Naqwi tell his audience he then converted the solider to Islam.
In addition, Al-Naqwi has some dangerous friends. In 2018, he was listed as a speaker at a Hong Kong event alongside the infamous international hate preacher Ismail Menk.
Menk is a Zimbabwean cleric who follows the austere Deobandi interpretation of Islam, which advocates for an Islamic theocracy. Actively preaching across Europe and North America, Menk has taught that women should be stoned to death for fornication. He has stated: “With all due respect to the animals, [gay people] are worse than those animals.” He further claims they are “filthy” and worse than “dogs and pigs.” These and other controversial teachings led the governments of Singapore and Denmark to ban Menk from entering their borders.
Naqwi has also proudly shared a picture documenting his meeting to discuss projects with the terror-connected Zakir Naik, a notorious South Asian preacher from the Ahl-e-Hadith school, banned from entering the UK and Canada, who believes apostates deserve the death penalty and Jews “control America.” Indian law enforcement accuse Naik of serving to radicalize of hundreds of jihadist recruits.
Given all this, a seemingly innocuous statement Al-Naqwi made during his recent “basic primer on Islam” for American military personnel starts to look less banal. Al-Naqwi is quoted as having said that “many people fail to understand that Islam is based on two things, and on two things only: the Quran and the Hadith.”
But while all Muslims acknowledge the Quran, the same cannot be said about the different hadiths that claim to document actions and sayings of the Prophet and his companions – disagreements and disputes on their authenticity abound. In particular, Salafis obsessively insist on the absolute authority of hadiths, often using particularly hardline ones as underpinning justification for modern Salafi intolerance and extremism.
It thus seems unfortunately quite likely that the soldiers who spent time with Al-Naqwi did not leave with a better understanding of Islam. What could have been an excellent and thoughtful initiative, allowing American soldiers to better understand the culture in which they are operating, has instead illustrated the perils of improper vetting and raises questions regarding DOD officials’ decision making. Worst of all, the U.S. government has legitimized yet another Islamist preacher as a representative voice of the Muslim world.
If Al-Naqwi, whose extremism is so clearly documented on social media, was deemed a proper source on Islam, one must wonder how many other hardline clerics have been or will be given a minbar from which to educate American soldiers.