In May, Boston’s progressivist Mayor, Michelle Wu, appointed Yusufi Vali as her Deputy Chief of Staff. Vali is the former head of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), an institution once considered to be among the most radical mosques on the East Coast. Vali’s appointment appears to be yet another case of a graduate of Boston’s Islamist institutions finding a powerful foothold in Massachusetts politics.
Vali certainly has some explaining to do. He is a former trustee of the Boston branch of the Muslim American Society (MAS), one of America’s most notorious Islamist institutions and a designated terrorist organization in the United Arab Emirates.
In 2008, federal prosecutors wrote that “MAS was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.” Speakers at MAS conference have often openly glorified terrorism. In 2019, the Philadelphia branch of MAS made national headlines after it ran an event in which children sang about torturing and beheading Jews.
MAS’s Boston branch oversaw the management of ISB’s flagship mosque for many years, where Vali became executive director. Before Vali’s time, early trustees of the ISB’s first mosque, over the river in Cambridge, included Yusuf Al Qaradawi, the infamously-extreme spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and admirer of Adolf Hitler; as well as Abdulrahman Alamoudi, an Al Qaeda fundraiser who was jailed in 2004 for conspiring with the Libyan regime to assassinate the Saudi Crown Prince.
Under Vali’s watch, the ISB appeared to behave more respectably; at least, in public. Behind closed doors, however, Vali oversaw dozens of events featuring America’s most radical preachers.
In 2015, for instance, the ISB organized a conference with the Qalam Institute, One such speaker, Mufti Hussain Kamani, has, in a previous talk titled “Sex, Masturbation and Islam,” explained that a Muslim man must only fulfil his sexual desires “with his spouse…[or] with a female slave that belongs to him.” Those who commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage, Kamani also declares, must be “stoned to death.”
Kamani was joined by Abdul Nasir Jangda, who, according to detailed notes published by one of his students during his seminars elsewhere, defends the use of female sex slaves within Islam. Jangda reportedly declared: “Slavery in Islam … is vastly different and superior morally and spiritually to the atrocious, obscene, and vile Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” In addition, Jangda’s student claims, the cleric expressed support for the killing of apostates and adulterers; and claimed that a wife cannot refuse her husband sex.
Apparently not just a guileless administration, Vali appears to be, or have been, a close acquaintance of both these extremists.
In 2016, Vali oversaw the appointment of an overtly anti-Jewish “associate imam” named Abdul-Malik Merchant. On a blog run by Merchant, a variety of anti-Semitic scripture is quoted: “Oh assembly of Jews! You are the most disgusting of the creation to me. You killed the prophets of Allaah…” In various Facebook posts, Merchant published text deeming “effeminate men” to be “infections” and expressed support for keeping “gays” out of fighting sports, Merchant ‘liked’ a comment stating: “i’m cool wit sayin i don’t like fags. love what allaah loves and hate what he hates.”
Vali has never explained or renounced his close associations to such radical voices and illiberal ideas. But there is perhaps little pressure for him to do so. For the past decade, Vali and the ISB worked closely with Massachusetts’ leading politicians. And if anything, many of these politicians perhaps felt they needed Vali and his institution more than Vali needed them.
In 2016, Vali organized an event at the ISB at the ISB with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston’s previous mayor, Marty Walsh.
Americans for Peace and Tolerance produced a photo of Walsh, at the event, shaking the hand of Abdullah Faaruuq, a radical local imam who has championed Al-Qaeda operative Aafia Siddiqui (who plotted mass-casualty attacks against New York City and tried to murder federal agents in Afghanistan) as a “brave woman” and even raised funds on her behalf. Faaruuq also defended Al Qaeda supporter Tarek Mehanna as he was awaiting trial on terrorism charges. In response to their arrests, Faaruuq encouraged violence, urging Muslims to “grab onto the gun and the sword.”
Warren, of course, later ran in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, while Walsh now serves as Biden’s Labor Secretary.
Before their career advancements, both politicians had been particularly busy, from 2016 to 2019, developing their national profile by campaigning against the so-called “Muslim ban” implemented by the Trump administration. And for that, they sought to enlist Massachusetts’ Muslim leaders.
In 2017, Walsh accompanied ISB leaders to Boston’s Logan Airport to lead a protest and media photo-op against the ban. A few years later, Walsh gave Vali his first government job, appointing him the director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement.
Warren also took part in the airport protests, as well as joining with the Massachusetts branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to lead protests against the Trump administration’s travel restrictions in Boston’s Copley Square.
The Justice Department blacklisted CAIR in 2009 because of its close involvement with the Holy Land Foundation, a major terrorist financing organization.
As with the ISB, just as politicians are drawn to CAIR, so too are politicians graduating from CAIR’s ranks. The Massachusetts branch’s current executive director, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, ran for Congress in 2018, and served on the “Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women,” a state-established body, until 2020.
In 2015, Amatul-Wadud disseminated an article by her other boss, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, in which the radical cleric claimed that America was manipulated into fighting the Nazis by Jews, Wahhabism was created by British intelligence, and 9/11 was an inside job.
As with Vali, Amatul-Wadud has never renounced these views. Nor has Boston’s media apparently bothered to ask her about them.
Board members of CAIR’s Massachusetts branch have also included Nadeem Mazen, a former Cambridge city councilor and congressional candidate, and the founder of JETPAC, a Massachusetts nonprofit that works to “build American Muslim political infrastructure.”
CAIR describes JETPAC as one of its “partners,” and has been a firm supporter of successful JETPAC-trained candidates in Massachusetts, such as Boston city councilor Tania Anderson.
Massachusetts Islamist institutions have enjoyed support from Massachusetts’ governors as well. In 2019, Vali introduced an event with current Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. And back in 2010, Governor Deval Patrick addressed the mosque, as did Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey, who announced a $50,000 partnership with Abdullah Faaruuq, earmarked for “training for law enforcement.” Healey later became Attorney General and is now running for Massachusetts Governor herself.
In a reasonable world, high-ranking officials would not be able to associate so openly with extremists and help propagate their views without some degree of uproar. At the very least, the media and other politicians would at least ask a few questions about their pasts.
Not so in Boston, where a symbiotic relationship between the city’s political leaders and its Islamists has served to quash any curiosity or concern. Without more investigations and pressure from counter-Islamists, moderate Muslims and any extant sensible journalists, the pusillanimity of Boston’s leaders provides a useful blueprint for Islamists seeking election or appointment to high office in other major cities as well.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum