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The case of Ibtihaj Muhammad

This is a guest post by Beeman

Over recent weeks and months US fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad has received a lot of press coverage and publicity as the first American to compete at the Olympics wearing a Hijab.

Predictably sections of the media have sought to portray her as the ideal hero to confront the bigotry spewing out of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and she has built a heavy media presence receiving feature articles in virtually every major publication; she has also been named as one of Time magazine’s ‘top 100 influential people for 2016’, and has made notable TV appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Ellen Show where she was lauded as ‘an inspiration’.

Muhammad has also received special mentions and recognition as an Olympian in a Hijab from the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And, according to the New York Times, she was even invited to sit on a ‘roundtable discussion’ with the President to discuss ‘varying concerns within the Muslim community like Islamophobia’. That wouldn’t be the first time she got the ear of high places either; in 2012 she posted an update saying she was seated on the same table as the president at a White House Event.

She also finished second to Michael Phelps in the USA team vote to carry the flag at the opening ceremony, and there were a few articles published in CNN, Time and the Guardian gushing over Muhammad as ‘the ideal of today’s America’ and arguing that Phelps should cede the honour to her (she was in the end placed on the front row of the team instead).

Unfortunately though, the portrayal of Muhammad as an icon of liberal progress and tolerance is simply false. As on the contrary, her social media activity makes it clear she is very politically minded and appears to have praised or befriended several of the most dubious figures on the Islamist scene in the US.

Muhammad’s active participation on the US Islamist scene

For at least the past 5 years, Muhammad has frequently attended and spoken at numerous events and conventions from an array of organisations widely acknowledged to be Islamist, and regularly expressed praise, admiration and friendship for a number of highly controversial Islamists.

One example is Suhaib Webb, someone who in one of his speeches attacked secularism as a ‘radical, lunatic ideology’ and said Muslims should refuse to work with the FBI unless they restore their relationship with CAIR (who he said he ‘loves’). He has also defended Qaradawi.

Muhammad has praised Webb on Twitter as one of her ‘favorite Imams’ and ‘a voice that resonates across all classes, ethnicities and religions’. She has regularly engaged in friendly chats with him on Twitter, tweeted about her attendance at his talks, and she herself has accepted invitations to speak alongside him on more than one occasion at events at the Ella Collins Institute (the organisation Webb founded).

Among the other speakers who joined Muhammad at the 2013 Ella Collins winter event was an‘instructor’ at Webb’s institute Ikram Ul Haq who on his own website says gays ‘chose to become evil and wicked’ and implies clear approval for Allah’s decision to destroy the people of Sodom. He has also confirmed that stoning is the prescribed sentence for adulterers.

Also present were the likes of Omar Suleiman and Abdul Nasir Jangda of the Al Maghrib Institute (more on them later). Muhammad praised the event as an ‘awesome weekend’ where ‘it was great to meet old friends’ and thanked Webb for inviting her to speak.

Another who Muhammad has spoken warmly of is the even more gruesomely hardline Islamist Siraj Wahhaj, who has a long track record of espousing truly despicable and vile views.

Wahhaj, who converted to Islam under the mentorship of the radical Louis Farrakhan, has advocated Sharia Law and all of its brutal punishments, advocated violent Jihad, spoken about his distaste for both the USA and democracy which he hopes ‘crumbles’, and offered praise and support to all manner of extremists including Al Qaeda fighters.

Muhammad has tweeted her pleasure at being seated near both Webb and Wahhaj at a CAIR-NY banquet in 2012 where they were keynote speakers. She herself was listed as a speaker alongside Wahhaj at an MAS-Arizona event later that year. She also tweeted updates that she’s listening to his speeches and thanked him for visiting her hometown for an ICNA event. She also spoke warmly of him in a photo she posted alongside his daughter saying she ‘reminds me so much of her dad’ and that she prays ‘she is able to reach as many people as her father’.

Also as recently as last June, Wahhaj was advertised to make an ‘inspirational speech’ as one of the main guests at Muhammad’s very own fundraiser to pay for her family to travel to Rio.

Incidentally Wahhaj was not the only controversial speaker listed alongside Muhammad at that aforementioned MAS-Arizona convention.

Also included on the list of speakers was Jamal Badawi, a Muslim Brotherhood fan with hardline views, whilst sharing a platform with Muhammad was another open Muslim Brotherhood supporter and known Islamist named Zahra Billoo (perhaps it was no surprise there were many Muslim Brotherhood supporters considering MAS-Arizona is an organisation whose own website admiringly quotes Hasan Al-Banna as ‘the leader of a great Islamic movement the Muslim Brotherhood’).

Billloo is somebody who celebrates and says she‘finds inspiration’ from figures such as Sami Al-Arian (a man convicted for actively supporting a designated terrorist organisation), tweets out pro-Hamas messages, and prolifically tweets out inflammatory anti-US rhetoric and conspiracies, for instance calling for Muslims to ‘build a wall of resistance’ by not talking to the FBI, or comparing the US unfavourably to terrorists like the Pakistani Taliban.

Muhammad has regularly engaged warmly on Twitter with Billoo with tweets such ‘so happy to have met @ZahraBilloo who, in my head, has been a friend forever!!!’. Additionally both are also scheduled to appear as speakers at the upcoming ISNA convention in September too (as is Jamal Badawi, Tariq Ramadan, Yasir Qadhi and Abdul Nasir Janga among others).

One of the other speakers set to appear at that upcoming ISNA convention is another well-known Islamist Yasir Qadhi, a veteran of many ISNA conventions, who has put forward numerous contemptible views such as death to gays or death to blasphemers.

Muhammad has quoted Qadhi admiringly on Twitter, and also tweeted how she is ‘looking forward’ to one of Qadhi’s speeches.

This year will not be the first time Muhammad has either attended or spoken at the ISNA convention, she has tweeted about her attendance there for the past 5 years and was also a listed speaker there herself back in 2012.

ISNA of course has long been an organisation understood to have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2014 their president Azhar Azeez was one of the signatories of a letter that condemned ISIS, but nevertheless still advocated for a caliphate or brutal hudud punishments and only criticised them for applying it incorrectly. Siraj Wahhaj was also their former vice-president.

Muhammad has also attended and spoken numerous times at ICNA conventions as well. After speaking at their 2012 convention (an event which was taglined ‘Understanding Shariah’), Muhammad praised the organisation stating ‘ICNA never ceases to amaze me!!!’.

ICNA is known to be an Islamist organisation, their 2010 member’s handbook advocated a caliphate and literature from the likes of Hassan Al-Banna and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, they have hosted numerous hardline Islamists as speakers there some of whom have openly on stage advocated for Sharia. Muhammad also spoke at their 2014 event where listed were the likes of Tariq Ramadan, Jamal Badawi and Omar Suleiman as key speakers.

Suleiman is a Sharia advocating Islamist who has called homosexuality a ‘disease’, defended and talked glowingly of people who propose ‘female genital cutting’, stoning adulterers and killing apostates as his ‘beloved’ mentors, and refers to Israel as the ‘Jewish ISIS’. He’s also another Islamist who Muhammad has engaged in numerous friendly Twitter chats with, praising him as an ‘example for us all’, someone ‘we’re blessed to have in our community’ and an ‘awesome’ speaker.

Suleiman also notably works alongside the likes of Qadhi as an ‘instructor’ at the Al Maghrib Institute, an organisation that’s notorious for being a collection of some of the most hardline Islamists in North America and previously home to Anwar Al-Awlaki (who Suleiman said prior to 2007 was ‘so level headed’ and ‘beloved to our community’). They were also founded by a rabidly anti-semitic man whose written papers such as ‘Why the Jews were cursed’ and supported stoning among other things, and have a vice-president who supports Hamas.

Muhammad has tweeted about her excitement at attending Al Maghrib Institute events. One Al Maghrib event she tweeted she was attending was a seminar by Abdul Nasir Jangda.

According to detailed reports, among the things Jangda has taught in his seminars are defences of Islamic slavery which he says is ‘vastly different and superior morally’ to the ‘vile Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade’ and portrays it warmly as something where slaves in Islam ‘were given ample opportunity to lead a free lifestyle’. Furthermore he also reportedly teaches that adulterers and apostates should be killed, for people drinking alcohol publicly to be beaten or to cut the hands off thieves.

Jangda has also done multiple YouTube speeches describing in detail the fate waiting ‘the disbelievers’. In his own words: ‘shackles will be put around their necks, then they’ll be chained up in so many chains, they will walk around in the pits of fire of hell, inside of this fire they will walk around dragging these chains along with them, and then they’ll be put inside of the fire and burnt to a crisp’. Some of his other speeches have also reportedly goes to length to describe how Jews ‘were really bad people’ at the time of the prophet.

Muhammad has called Jangda an ‘awesome speaker’ and has praised him on Twitter, engaged in numerous friendly chats with him, and tweeted out her attendance to his talks.  Among her interactions with him include ‘May Allah reward YOU for all that you do for our community’, ‘Thanks for the unwavering support!!! You’re awesome’ or tweeting out ‘Yay! Inshallah I’ll be there’ at news he was coming to do a speech in New York.

Another ‘instructor’ at the Al Maghrib Institute Muhammad has expressed admiration for is Yasmin Mogahed, who she once said she was ‘honored to be mentioned in the same sentence’ as. Mogahed has stated views that include calling homosexuals ‘not just like’ cattle but ‘lower than the animal’.

Conclusion

The accounts Muhammad follows on Twitter include Qadhi, Suleiman, Jangda or Mogahed and various others of similar ilk plus their organisations such as CAIR, ICNA or the Al Maghrib Institute. She has frequently praised them all personally, and for several years attended and spoken at numerous of their events, and just a couple months ago invited someone as hardline as Siraj Wahhaj to speak at her very own fundraiser.

There is absolutely no way that is the behaviour of a truly secular liberal Muslim. Even if she may not share every specific one of their views, it’s extremely hard to believe Muhammad has spent that long in and around the same circles as these Islamists that she could be merely entirely ignorant of their theocratic world view (someone like Suleiman has openly expressed desire for Sharia at some of those ICNA conventions).

Muhammad has been vocal on the platform she’s been given in talking about anti-Muslim bigotry. In her interview on the Olympics website she said ‘it’s a very slippery slope when you use hateful rhetoric, when you openly use bigoted comments towards a group of people, and you encourage violence, so I’m hoping that the rhetoric changes and changes fast’ and pretty much repeated that same message in all of her other interviews too.

All that of course may hold some truth of course. But it is incredibly hypocritical considering the rhetoric at ICNA or Al Maghrib events, or from any of those Islamists she’s praised and befriended which is hardly likely to be tame when, say, ‘Zionists’ are brought up, or when they are quizzed on the treatment of gays in their ideal Islamic state.

It is also somewhat ironic that Clinton quoted Muhammad saying she ‘feels American down to my bones’, considering she has praised so many people who regularly spit upon the US, and even invited someone who said they hope America and democracy ‘crumbles’ to her very own fundraiser.

And as for the articles pushing for her to carry the US flag, in the end it was highly fortunate that didn’t happen. Although that CNN op-ed suggested that the ‘moment (and Muhammad herself) would grow into legend’, the reality is it would have caused huge embarrassment to the US the moment anyone found out she was a fan of the Al Maghrib Institute, and been a massive propaganda gift to every single Pam Geller type dealing in ‘Muslim takeover’ conspiracy narratives. Promoting those sympathetic to Islamists as the face to take on anti-Muslim bigotry is more likely to fuel it than prevent it.

But most sadly of all, this is just another example of the moral illusion the Western Left repeatedly keeps falling for.

Rather than celebrate well integrated Muslims who’ve adopted modern liberal values, they choose to celebrate the religiously conservative, and then think they are being progressive in doing so.

Meanwhile other women of Muslim background such as the 400 metre hurdler Dalilah Muhammad, who chooses to wear standard attire for her event, won’t get a mention. Inadvertently this just reinforces the Muslim Brotherhood idea of the ‘authentic’ Muslim voice only being the one wearing a Hijab, whose politics aligns with narratives of victimisation and despair in the West (Muhammad complains of feeling ‘unsafe all the time’ in the US and remarked that if elected Mitt Romney would ‘ship us all of to Afghanistan) and a hatred of Israel expressed in the most hyperbolic terms (Muhammad accuses them of ‘ethnic cleansing’ etc).

Why can’t those who want to support Muslim women champion instead genuinely liberal progressive voices such as Habiba Ghribi, [SA1] the 2012 Olympic Steeplechase champion from Tunisia, who after winning her medal dedicated it to the women’s right movement in her home country who were at the time fighting to change women’s constitutional status from ‘complementary’ to that of ‘equal’, and has since become a hero to women’s rights activists there.

Obviously Ghribi barely received any articles from the world’s press, but what she has received for years is regular nasty attacks and criticism from religious conservatives and Islamists lambasting her for not dressing sufficiently modestly. She has stood her ground against such attacks, and been critical of the Hijab as restrictive in sports and not necessary for faith, but following her disappointing race this week the issue was again raised by Islamist sites, and her Facebook page was hit by trolls gloating and taunting her with memes of Muhammad in her Hijab with her bronze medal.

That is another example of how topsy-turvy this issue is for the Western Left. The very image of conservative religion they are vocally celebrating is used by Islamists to troll the more progressive women from Muslim majority countries who they largely ignored.

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