Sam Westrop for New Age Islam
09 May 2020
Omar Suleiman rarely talks about da’wah – the Islamic duty of
proselytization. He never talks about Islamist designs for an Islamic state. Instead,
America’s leading Islamic cleric speaks about broad political change, employing
the language and ideas of progressivism. In fact, Suleiman, president of the
Yaqeen Institute, is not just a preacher; he is an activist, found often in
front of TV cameras, speaking before Congress,
or being arrested on Capitol Hill at protests
against the Trump administration’s policies.
success is surprising. Suleiman is one of a number of popular clerics who
emerged from a network centered around the AlMaghrib Institute, a
Salafi-founded organization dedicated to a hardline strain of Islam. Its own
extremism is incontrovertible. Founder Muhammad Alshareef once wrote a
paper titled "Why the Jews Were Cursed," in which he claims Jews
control the media and murder prophets. Other leading AlMaghrib clerics include Abdullah Hakim Quick, who calls for the killing of homosexuals
and urges God to “purify” Al-Aqsa from
the “filth of the Yahud [Jews],” and “clean Afghanistan and Iraq” from
the “filth of the Kafiroun [unbelievers].”
rhetoric has at times been just as extreme. Around 2014, he was busy beseeching
the ummah to rise up and act against the forces that threatened Islam.
He praised a newer generation of
“awakened” Muslim youth, and lauded the piety and commitment of the people of
Gaza. And he criticized those who were “too lazy” to boycott the “Zionist regime,”
claiming such activism by a committed few had already cost the Israelis over 8
his fame grew, his tactics changed. Whereas once Suleiman excused the killing
of adulterers and denounced homosexuality as a “repugnant shameless sin,” today
he is an ardent advocate for political alliances with
the progressive Left, including “LGBT” movements. In lectures and
quasi-academic essays, Suleiman and Yaqeen now promote Islam as a force for “social
of talking just about refugees from Gaza or Syria, Suleiman is today also found
at the border with Mexico – equipped with journalists and their
cameras – to embrace non-Muslim emigrants and loudly protest the Trump
rather than remain just a regular fixture on the Islamist conference circuit,
Suleiman today finds himself introduced to Congress by Nancy Pelosi, and given a platform at Bernie Sanders’ campaign rallies, to talk
about the “promise of America … an America that resists the forces of bigotry …
the forces of greed … that distract us from corrupt billionaires.”
Suleiman is both the Left’s talking-point and its talking-head. He is no longer
issuing parochial calls for an awakened Muslim youth, but he has become part of
a broader hard Left movement that claims to be building a utopia for all.
yet this same Omar Suleiman continues to serve as the star of Islamist circles.
He remains a key figure at the AlMaghrib Institute, where his colleagues
continue to express bigoted, radical Islamist ideas.
Suleiman with another popular AlMaghrib preacher, Abu EesaNiamatullah – one of
the leading Islamic clerics in the United Kingdom, and a current featured
AlMaghrib events. Niamatullah also has a history of extremist statements. He
once said of Jews, “Look at them today,
look at the way they massacre. They blow up babies like as if it’s a computer
game. They have no humanity, no morality, no ethics.” He has warned Muslims of the “inherent
weakness of democracy,” adding that the people could be trusted to choose
because they are “animals,” far removed from the “noble” theocracy of the Sharia.
Niamatullah has not embraced the political Left. In fact, the British Left -
even under the radical, Islamist-friendly influence of people such as
Jeremy Corbyn – has no Omar Suleiman; it has no Linda Sarsour or Ilhan Omar.
The British Left enjoys significant grassroots Muslim support, but it lacks
Islamist-leaning stars in its ranks. Why?
Europe, the clerics and activists from Salafi and other Islamist movements face
a rather different set of circumstances. Islamism is more deeply-rooted among
European Muslims, the fastest growing demographic in Europe - constituting 6% of England’s population
today, over 6% in Germany and 9% in France.
European Left may want Muslim support; but many European Muslims - whether Islamist
or not - do not necessarily need the Left.
clerics from Salafi and other Islamist circles know this all too well.
Consequently, in contrast with their colleagues in the U.S, the overt
radicalism of Salafi rhetoric in Europe has persisted, with little pressure for
it to be toned down or intertwined with the language of the Left.
recent talk by Niamatullah, on the “Rise & Fall of the West,” he explains that Islam has
always been at war with the ‘West,’ which, he claimed, is doomed to fall, just
like other empires before it.
West will collapse, Niamatullah argues, because Western countries have embraced
ideas that contradict Islamic values – including rampant “consumerism”, the
perversion of the “natural state between a man and woman” and the rejection of
the “institution of marriage.”
this liberalism and corruption, Niamatullah claims, have decimated Western
birth rates. Because of this, he argues, Muslims will eventually be embraced by
Europe, because Europe will come to regard Muslim commitment to Islamic values
as their only chance for redemption. Muslims, Niamatullah argues, “work hard,
have family structure … Massive shoutout to the Muslim immigrants coming here and
… breeding like rabbits. … We are saving the West.” For Europe to save itself
fully, he concludes, its peoples must “taste the consequences of their
criminality,” so that they may then “turn back” to Islam and its laws.
Almaghrib’s clerics in Europe talk openly of an Islamic-led future; its clerics
in the U.S. – claiming to represent a (relatively) much smaller Muslim
population - speak more diffidently, and
with progressive motifs, about the need
to “diversify the face of [our] institutions,” and impart the Islamic “vision”
to “the next generation [of Muslims].” Clerics such as Suleiman do not speak
grandiosely of America as a future Islamic state. Instead, they focus more
practically on securing future Islamic influence.
is typically known for its absolute dogma. Any changes in behavior or religious
belief have, in the past, been quickly denounced by Salafi clerics as dangerous
innovations – to the extent that many Salafi groups spend more time aiming
their vitriol at other Muslims regarded as deviant, instead of at non-Muslims.
In fact, Niamatullah himself has been the subject of such attacks himself from
traditionalist Salafis in the U.K.
these modernist Salafis - arguably now the leading Islamist force in the U.S. -
have deviated far further from the Islamist orthodoxy than most could have ever
expected. It is one thing to offer
differing expectations for the advancement of Islamic influence, adapted to the
circumstances of each country; it is a bold change indeed for Islamist clerics
to call for partnerships with ‘LGBT’ groups and other progressive movements –
against which these very same extremists have spent decades inciting hatred and
significant is this ideological shift, that some American Islamists are now
publicly warning Muslims against working with
Suleiman, Yaqeen and other modernists. Many argue that these clerics and
movements are in fact no longer Salafi. Indeed, some of the modernists have
publicly shunned the term. One prominent colleague of Omar Suleiman, Sheikh
Yasir Qadhi, claims to have left the Salafi
movement but not its theology. As for Suleiman, while once he appeared to belong to the Hanbali
school of thought (from which Salafism derives), he now rejects all Islamic
ideological labels; instead encouraging Muslims to “sleep peacefully
while others waste their days and nights trying to ‘figure you out.’”
does all this mean for everyone else - for the politicians, journalists,
moderate Muslims and the American public? American Islamism is changing fast.
Flexible, modernist Salafism is one prominent, confusing example of a rising
Islamist force, but there are others. Islamism is, as Suleiman
promised, ‘diversifying’ in ways that few previously thought it could.
the rhetoric of Abu Eesa shows, it is vital that we are not persuaded to regard
these changes in tone as evidence of moderation. If these modernists are not
challenged, Suleiman and other besuited radicals will continue to convince
politicians and the media that they are the reasonable, progressive face of a
new American Islam. The hope that moderate or reformist Islam finally gains
back some control over America’s Muslim communities will diminish further, and
the extremism and radicalization that has plagued America’s Muslim communities
for decades will continue, albeit confusingly shrouded under the cheerful
colors of a Women’s March banner or an ‘LGBT’ flag.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East
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