The Illinois legislature has repeatedly earmarked $150,000 to a mosque notorious for its ties to Hamas, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. For reasons that are unclear, the money has not made its way into the mosque’s coffers. Still, the money keeps being earmarked — it’s happened every year since 2021. Legislators in the state are reluctant to reveal who keeps putting the money for the mosque into the state budget for approval. It’s described as a “member-driven initiative,” but no one is willing or able to say who the member was, nor have they said why the money has yet to be disbursed to the mosque. To make matters even more opaque, no one from the office of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has responded to repeated queries about the line item in the budget.
One fact that is indisputable is that Illinois budget office records show annual appropriations of $150,000 to the Bridgeview Mosque Foundation since FY21. The appropriation is for “a grant to the Bridgeview Mosque Foundation for costs associated with community preservation and educational purposes.”
The people working to make the money available to Bridgeview have good reason to stay quiet, because simply put, the mosque, which was founded in 1954, became a hub of support for radicalism since the 1980s when supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the mosque and began placing hardline Islamists in leadership positions. Since then, Bridgeview has rallied in support of jihadis and given money to organizations successfully prosecuted for the “intentional funding of terrorism.” Additionally, a number of the mosque’s leaders have worked or volunteered for these organizations.
In 2002, the mosque hired Kifah Mustapha as an imam. As documented by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the imam had previously worked as a fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation. The Holy Land Foundation trial documents listed Mustapha as an unindicted co-conspirator. Mustapha remained an imam at the Mosque Foundation until 2014.
Imam Mustapha also volunteered for the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), another organization implicated in the Islamist campaign to fund Hamas. Another Bridgeview leader, Rafeeq Jaber who served as president of the Mosque Foundation from 1995-1997 also served as president of the IAP from 1996-1998. He served again from 1999 until 2005 when the organization shut down. Jaber and the American Muslims for Palestine are currently being sued for continuing the operations of the IAP and HLF under a new name.
In 2003, the FBI reportedly investigated the mosque for “terror-related money laundering,” and in 2005 the Family Bank and Trust Co. closed the mosque’s bank accounts due to its funding of a group tied to Osama bin Laden. In the 80s, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor recruited men from the mosque “for the U.S.-backed Afghan war against the Soviet Union.”
The mosque’s current principal imam and director is Sheikh Jamal Said who, according to the Chicago Tribune, grew up “inspired” by the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2008, Said was listed as an un-indicted co-conspirator in a federal lawsuit against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), an organization found guilty of sending over $12 million to Hamas. Sheikh Said “was in charge of approving the donations” from the mosque to the Holy Land Foundation, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
Further demonstrating the mosque’s Islamist identity, Sheikh Jamal Said raised $50,000 at a mosque event for the “legal defense” of Sami Al-Arian who the US later deported to Türkiye in 2015 for his leadership in the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Oussama Jammal, former mosque president and current board member defended the effort, saying, “We raised for his legal defense. That’s allowed under U.S. law.” In Türkiye, Al-Arian has made friends with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and called the United States “our enemy” at an Istanbul conference in 2018.
Last year, two Illinois congressional candidates, Justin Burau and Thomas Lynch, decided against participating in a candidate forum hosted by the Mosque Foundation due to its history of terror support.
Despite all this, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said the mosque was committed “to spiritual, educational, and universal values,” and said he was “honored to join the commemoration of the Mosque Foundation’s 40th anniversary” in 2021.
“For the past four decades, the Mosque Foundation has served the spiritual, religious, and communal needs of area Muslims by means of nurturing their faith, upholding their values, and fostering the well-being of the surrounding community through worship, charity, education, outreach, and civic engagement,” said Senator Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-IL) in a 40th anniversary congratulatory letter to the mosque in 2021.
It’s bad enough that Illinois politicians legitimize and mainstream Bridgeview Mosque with praise like this, but it’s even worse that lawmakers are trying to throw money at the institution. It’s time for people to start talking about what’s really going on in Springfield.
Susannah Johnston is Focus on Western Islamism’s investigative reporter.