Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem
I had taken all in this ten-part series off of my page and only left the last page which is where the comments are. This is the entire series plus some my clarification and an introduction from a sister.
A Sister’s experiences from 1980’s Salafi Movement
A sister wrote this “prequel” and emailed it to me. Masha Allah, my original series on the 1990s Salafi movement made it to all corners of the globe and insha’Allah will spark some much needed change. However, the sister basically gives a summary of her experiences with the beginnings of the movement in the 1980s:
This isn’t going to be very eloquent because truth to tell, I am saddened and sickened by the whole subject of salafism/wahabbism. I came across Brother Umar Lee’s blog a week or so ago and have been hanging out there ever since. Trying to find the logic in many comments, and when I can’t, trying to point it out. I should have learned from the past. In truth, it can’t be done.
I read Br. Umar’s discourse on “The Rise and Fall of the ‘Salafi Dawah’ in the US”. I think he was spot on in his assessments. Br. Umar began with the 1990’s, because he’s too young to know what US Islamic life was like back in the 80’s, pre-salafism as a defined group with a name. But there were groups of brothers exactly like many salafis today, who would help to create, and/or go on to embrace the movement and call it by the name by which it is known today.
This isn’t a pretty picture, but it is the truth. And in the nearly 25 years since I said my shahada, I am grief-stricken that not much has changed.
When I became acquainted with Islam, I was guided to one of the few masjids in town. It was, I guess you could say, the largest congregation and the most ethnically diverse. It was also located in the heart of the universities area, and attracted a variety of Muslims, both immigrant and indigenous, born Muslim and converted, Arab, Asian, African, European and “American”—in those days primarily “African” American.
The long and short of it is this: This particular masjid was usually only occupied at prayer time, except for a group of young American, convert men who always seemed to be there. Other members of the congregation were either students or employees, or both. Not this particular group. They were neither. I would come to know most of them as I studied Islam before I said my shahada. And sadly I would come to learn what a blight they were on the Islamic community. They were the source of most of the fitnah and destruction of brotherhood/sisterhood among us.
I would first like to say that when one has too much time on his hands, Shaytan uses him as a plaything. Under the guise of “Islamic education”, this group lounged around the masjid day in and day out. There wore the pre-salafia dress, favoring long white jalabiyahs and turbans instead of the “highwaters” and kufis preferred nowadays. They went by the name of the Islamic Propagation League. It was their mission to bring Islam to the masses in my city, and correct the aqeedah of those already Muslim. They went out of their way to catch those inquiring about Islam—or new shahadas—hoping to convert them to their own particular brand of Islam. I guess this was one reason for staying in the masjid all day. If anyone came or called asking about Islam, these brothers were usually the first to pounce on them. They provided “dawah” on Islam, emphasizing rejection of all things western as tools of the devil.
They placed great emphasis on how one was to dress, as western-style clothing was to be abandoned in favor of long robes for the men and full hijab, including niqaab, which they pushed as fard, for the women. There was precious little talk of tawheed, the pillars of Islam, etc. The emphasis was on outward appearances, even down to rejecting your birth name and choosing an Arabic one.
They were my second encounter with Muslims. My first was a man I had met at a party at the university, a Nigerian student who patiently answered all my questions about Islam once I discovered he was a Muslim. My only “knowledge” of Islam in those days what that Allah was an idol in the desert and women were oppressed. Alhamdulilah he set me straight, and guided me to the location of the masjid, and providing me with a number to someone eager to help me whom he described as “part Arab, part European”. But on my first visit I encountered the Islamic Propagation League, of which this Arab/European kid was a part, and very nearly left Islam before I embraced it.
I’m not sure what the token white guy’s qualifications were to have been known around the masjid as someone schooled enough to give dawah. I think he just seemed a bit more acceptable as he was white and a fluent English and Arabic speaker.
It came to be known that white converts—and there were many women especially—were a prized commodity to those slackers who lay in the masjid all day. They tried to snag us at all costs. Somehow they believed the addition of a white feather in their caps would give their group legitimacy—something it was sorely lacking. They often complained that the Arab brothers “stole the white women” away. I don’t know about that, but after listening to dawah lessons from both sides, with the exception of one lecture, I was much more impressed with the Arabs. Why? Because they concentrated on those concepts I mentioned above…tawheed, the five pillars, and cardinal beliefs. They weren’t about damning the West and telling me I needed to get myself into mandatory niqaab and start calling myself Aisha or something.
My first Islamic outfits were sewn by me, long, loose flowing robes and the veils included niqaab. I thought I was doing the right thing. It wasn’t until I met other members of the mosque that I learned niqaab was optional. I thought it was pretty and rather exotic-looking, but I was relieved because my family wasn’t having any part of my conversion to Islam, especially the clothes. So when I left the house on the way to the masjid, in jeans and a t-shirt, changing into Islamic clothing on the way, I was at least relieved to know that showing my face wasn’t a sin.
During my studies, I was also made privy to the kind of life-style these pre-salafis were leading. They were all, with the exception of one, married to black women and on the prowl for a second or third wife—preferably a white one. Their families lived on welfare because it was “haram to work for the kuffar”. The kuffar would not allow you to wear a turban and jalabayih to work, so you couldn’t work for them, as “Islamic” clothing for men was wajib. It was not haram however to take charity from the kuffar. So these families existed on full welfare, which back in those days—before Clinton’s welfare reform—was a bundle. You could very easily raise a family on cash allotments—which by the way increased with the birth of each new child, food stamps—again increased with each new birth, medical care, WIC and free housing or ridiculously low monthly payments via a section 8 housing allowance. Most of these brothers lived better than others who had jibs for a living. They weren’t getting all that help, and struggled to make ends meet.
It was suggested to me that I might like to become the wife of one of these fine brothers. I politely declined, not just because I was uninterested in living on welfare, but because I couldn’t get with the polygamy aspect, being that not only was it illegal, but I would have to lie and pretend I wasn’t married to my husband. This is how the welfare department in our city came to call the Muslim women on the welfare role “the Holy Whores” – because they were often dressed in all black and niqaab and having children (as far as the state was concerned) out of wedlock. The second and subsequent wives could not be legally married to their spouse, and the government didn’t give a damn about or recognize a so-called Islamic marriage. And so the “Holy Whores” were born and I wasn’t eager to join their ranks.
My polite refusal was met with scorn. I was refusing a life with a decent Muslim man just because I thought myself above welfare and being known as a “whore”. Well, truth to tell, I was. I think there’s no shame in that.
To make a long story short, I accepted Islam during a Friday evening halaqa for the brothers at the masjid. My pre-salafi acquaintances were also in attendance. As was my future husband—a moderate Arab. Once my future husband asked about marrying me, we were sort of doomed. The American slackers had lost another white woman to an Arab man—something that apparently happened all too often. I guess my marriage to him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Because from then on, that group had it in for us.
My husband and I became very active in the masjid and in dawah. I was affiliating myself more with the Arab sector than I was the African-American group—mainly because I saw a better Islam and sensible work/study ethic from the Arabs. Because I was white, it often fell to me to meet other white women who were interested in Islam. I would share my own experiences with them while my husband shared the nuts and bolts of Islamic teachings.
I’m not going to get into the specifics of what happened to us – because that would jeopardize my anonymity – but we were put-down, taunted, accused of heinous things at every turn from a small band of these lazy devils masquerading as righteous Muslims. No matter that the greater Islamic community stood behind us—these pre-salafis were relentless. They would not let up on us in their quest to make our lives a living hell. After one particularly horrible incident, we decided to leave the city. We couldn’t take the pressure any longer.
But I kept in touch with many from my first community, including a few African-American sisters who knew this group, but were not a part of it. Upon hearing news from home, I was always so glad we had left. It was a constant string of gossip coming my way—this one had taken a third wife and divorced the other two. That one had caused a fight in the masjid between Arabs and blacks and the police had to be called. Another family had been set up in what would eventually morph into a rape charge against a very decent Muslim man and his family who had given shelter to a homeless ex-prostitute sent in as a decoy pretending to be interested in Islam. The list of atrocities committed by these pre-salafis was endless.
The funny thing is, in this town there was a totally African-American masjid, but the imam there would have none of their pre-salafi antics or dawah. He had forbidden them the opportunity to take up residence in his masjid. He was a decent, working class man who cared very well for his family. About 20 years later, upon his death, the masjid was taken over by salafis. What was once one of the oldest and most revered African-American masjids in the country is now a joke.
Over the years, even 20 years later—as self admitted followers of the salafi dawah, some members of the original group, were still making problems. Their wives still gossiping about people who had lived there ages ago, and trying to break up marriages and families of 20 years duration. Good deeds, if done by the persons still hated by the salafis, were turned into very near crimes against Islam. It continues to this day.
What happened to the original group? Basically they traded in their jalabiyahs and white turbans for highwaters and kufis. Their beards are down to waists, they reek of jasmine oil and henna, and their women dress like the beloved “black crows” of the Sunnah. But their hearts seem to be equally black. Most – if not all – have long since left that city, and formed or joined some infamous large salafi communities on the East Coast. Many got free trips to study Islam abroad and came back throwing around a few Arabic words in fus-hah and calling themselves “sheikhs”. Their second generation children are leaving the deen and are losing their own children to the dunya. They want no part of this extremist cult.
To this day you will find salafis gathered in person or on the internet, still discussing trivia to the point of insanity…Like the ruling regarding a particular sheikh who made a mistake in prayer, or the ruling on a particular community member who committed a sin. Hours and hours, days, weeks, months, volumes written on one single error—how to deal with it, discuss it, benefit from it, distance from it, ostracize the offender, etc, etc, etc.
Is this the Islam I envisioned when I took my shahada? No, and Alhamdulilah by the grace of Allah I never got sucked into it.
So the rise and fall of the salafi movement in the USA is a reality. It’s probably much worse actually then Brother Umar has indicated. There is a hadith of the Prophet (saw) that says…What starts on wrong is wrong. The beginning of the salafi movement in the
USA started with groups of men who were not willing to do their Islamic duties to Allah, themselves or their families, preferring instead to laze around the masjid in the name of “knowledge”. From my viewpoint, none of that has changed. The salafi dawah started on wrong, and will remain so. Unlike Islam—no sects, no labels, no bull—which will flourish and one day glorify hard-working, true believing Muslims, everywhere.
The Rise and Fall of the Salafi Movement in America
Part One: The Beginning
Over the next few days, weeks or however long it takes, I will be writing a series about the rise and fall of the “salafi dawah”, the accomplishments, mistakes and ultimately, its fall amongst US converts from my perspective and consulting with some other brothers on the scene at the time.
I’m not going to open comments on these posts until the end because I’d like for everyone to have the full body of information – at least from my perspective – before commenting. This is part one.
In the early to mid 90s, we witnessed a period in which lots of people were becoming Muslim after the new interest in Malcolm X brought on mostly by Spike Lee’s X hats and the movie.
This brought on a short period of revived black consciousness in which we saw many black bookstores open that sold books such as “The Isis Papers” and “Stolen Legacy” promoting myths of a black super civilization that used to exist that had 25th century technology buried beneath the Saharan desert to protect their super knowledge from the evil of the white man. There was so much hope that ‘knowledge of self’ would finally bring blacks out of the rut they’d fallen into. This “hope” is what leads African-Americans into different movements. The strong yearning to be a part of something positive. Many of you will not understand this yearning, but it is very strong. I cannot understand it as well as a black person, but I do know what this yearning is like. This point is important because many of these new Muslims from the influx would find that their next “great hope” was in the salafi dawah.
The black consciousness period basically ended with the disappointment in lack of substantive response in aftermath of the “Million Man March”. Lots of people showed up, lots of good feeling, lots of money made for some, but nothing happened in the black communities after that.
After the Malcolm X bio-pic and the new black consciousness movement, this led to a lot of interest amongst black youth (even white youth like me at the time) in “returning to their roots” which eventually led many of them to Islam. I became Muslim myself during this period after reading the ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’. The same is the case with others I know.
On top of pointing out the influx of Muslims that came in from the short black consciousness period in the early 90’s, it must also be noted that the internet was taking off. This is important to note as the internet would feed much of the growth of the salafi movement and, ironically, eventually contribute to its current decline.
Before this time, in the late 80’s, some of the forbearers of salafi dawah that were already here in the US, used to drive hundred of miles to give lectures in which there would only be like a dozen people who all knew each other. This was a “big gathering”. There were few converts that were salafi at that time. These speakers would form part of the backbone of the salafi speakers circuit along with those that were about to graduate from the University of Madinah (Abu Muslimah and Abu Usamah). It is these individuals, along with Dawood Adib, that really took “the dawah” to the converts where it was originally mostly a Gulf Arab thing.
Part Two: The Competition for Converts
After many of us became Muslim in the early 90’s, we found that there was a competition for our hearts and minds between the Sufis/traditional Muslims, the Salafis, and the Tablighis. There is, however, a lot of overlap between the Sufis/traditional Muslims and the tablighis so in some ways I kinda put them in the same category.
The ‘Ikhwani’ movements just weren’t interested in converts except where they could help speak out on issues such as
Palestine. This usually required white converts and hence not a lot of black converts were interested in their movement and the ikhwan weren’t interested in them…unless they had big money. This is why you’ll find that there are more converts amongst the Sufis/traditional Muslims, salafis and tablighis than the Ikhwani groups where it is/was very rare.
Many of the new converts at that time, because of the internet, began connecting with other new Muslims across the country, learning their Islam together and many were learning about salafi speakers. Email lists were formed and websites began to go up. Thus began what some have called the ‘cut and paste’ era. A brother could in this era look like a scholar if he knew the right sources to cut and paste from.
Salafis – because they eventually had an army of zealous converts from which to pull – did an excellent job of book and tape distribution and had two magazines that were spreading like around the country in Muslim circles. These books, tapes and magazines went into the prisons where more Muslim converts eventually became salafis.
But one of the most important parts (if not THE most important part) of spreading the salafi dawah to other parts of the country were the annual winter conferences. The two major conferences were IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America) and QSS (Qur’an and Sunnah Society of North America). Although there were some conflicting issues with the leaderships of those organizations, many of the rank and file attended both conferences and there was a lot overlap of speakers at both.
It was at these conferences that the attendees would buy many tapes, meet other salafis, connect hearts, network, make new friends, meet the speakers personally and sometimes even become friends with the speakers.
At these conferences you saw many big beards, thobes (above the ankles), and many niqaabis wearing all black. All of this may sound cliché or even silly now, but back then it was really a big deal to see so many people actually “practicing the religion” in the eyes of relatively young and new Muslims.
Then on top of that, the emphasis on following the letter of the Islamic law and keeping the salaat lines straight and filling in the gaps that was emphasized no place else. Nowhere else would you see this type of emphasis, and through the eyes of a zealous convert eager to practice his new religion, this all looked good. Most importantly, we felt like we were “a part of something”. This is a critical point
Unlike today’s caricature of a typical salafi, there were quite a few professional and responsible brothers in the ranks that were African American. There were also white and Latino brothers there. It was the bulk of these type of brothers that would later leave.
In retrospect, I liken these conferences to drugs in a way. You got such a high (in your Imaan) on the first one that you just had to go back for another hit to boost. Eventually you Imaan becomes dependent on it in a way. More on the issues of the loss of responsible brothers and the loss of an outlet to get this ‘high’ when we discuss the decline.
The most popular taped lectures were by Dawud Adib, Abu Muslimah and Abu Usamah and they often at that time worked together as a group and spoke on the same panels along with Muhammad Syed Adly on weekend gatherings and mini-conferences that on a smaller level served the same purpose as the major conferences. The brothers that worked distributing the tapes were very good at marketing and created a demand for the tapes. Some brothers even made a living just selling these tapes. They didn’t get rich, but they didn’t have to do anything else during this time. It got to a point where it was not strange to find people who had 300-400 tapes in their collections. The salafi books and tapes were flowing like a river. In addition, a lot of the more savvy converts started putting out stylish t-shirts, hoodies, jackets, etc with catchy slogans that appealed to many of these same converts and sold very well. This helped promote the salafi dawah too. The talents of many of these new converts were utilized very well during these times.
The conference attendees would return to their cities ready to recruit others armed with tapes, books, magazines, new thobes and kufis and tales of their experiences at the conference. They would tell their friends to subscribe to the magazines and get the new books and tapes by these speakers (huge contrast to the boring speakers they would hear locally on a weekly basis) join the email lists and tell them about the websites and the latest books that came out. There was a lot of hope and excitement and when contrasted to what they saw in their small communities, it looked even better.
So hundreds, perhaps thousands of brothers and sisters would return to their homes all over the country excited, with a new look and would spread the word amongst other Muslims in their hometowns. “Man, where’d you get that thobe?” … “Where can I get more tapes?” A ‘buzz’ was created and this helped spread the word.
Also, with converts of any religion by nature being more zealous, they were more dedicated to giving dawah and spreading of the tapes, books, and magazines.
In contrast, ISNA conferences, for example, drew far more Muslims, but they just did not have the driven and energetic attendees that the salafi conferences had, that would return to their cities ready to hit the ground running and enthusiastically spread the word.
The other movements (especially predominantly black ones) just did not have the magazines, email lists, and taped lectures to compete for this market of new Muslims. So a large number of those who entered Islam after the brief black consciousness period in the early 90’s became Salafis.
Part Three: The Brotherhood
By the mid to late 90’s, the salafi dawah – love it or hate it – had become a force to be reckoned with – especially on the East Coast – and had at least a small presence in almost every major US city. The conferences and mini-camps had become “must attend” events and groups of families would travel caravan-style to these functions. The converts that became Muslim from the short ‘black consciousness era’ had become salafis in large numbers and perhaps the majority of those from that era – the ones that stuck to Islam – have been salafi at one time even if they are not now.
The groups and pockets of salafis around the country consisted mostly of new Muslims and/or Muslims that used to be tablighis, former members of Jamil Al-Amin’s or WD’s group, or “old workers”. The real strength – in my opinion – was on the East Coast because most of the major speakers and people of knowledge lived in that region at that time. Then again, most of the converts from the early 90’s ‘black consciousness’ era lived in that region too.
Also, by the late 90’s, the salafis had clearly established themselves as the most dominate Islamic presence on the internet. There was a vast worldwide network of articles and audio lectures that interlinked to one another and were sent on the numerous email lists. Even people who were not necessarily a part of the salafi group often referenced this vast network salafi websites. It was kinda funny to walk into an ‘ikhwani” run masjid and see fatwas or articles from salafi websites posted on the board. One would also see posters for the salafi conferences and advertisements for the salafi magazines on the bulletin boards of these “ikhwani” masjids. This was from the tenacity of the brothers going from masjid to masjid posting these announcements or spreading these fatwas.
The internet presence along with the grassroots efforts the conferences produced was second to none at the time. With all of the tape, book, t-shirt, food and other types of sales, there was sort of an inner economy within the salafi movement. This was especially true on the East Coast where the brothers often made a point to support each other’s businesses even if they had to pay more.
The groups of salafis in the cities outside the east coast would come together to listen to tapes, have their own make-shift classes or listen to ‘ilm-online’ which was a tele-link to classes in East Orange. These groups of brothers and sisters would become very tight knit and become such close friends they would form a loose network across the country and would visit and call each other often. (This is in a time when long distance was not free) There was a lot of genuine love. Brothers like me traveled from community to community, and each time we were received very well by our fellow salafis.
I would not even know where I was going to stay, but I knew that my salafi brothers would have my back. And they did each and every time during this period. I often didn’t have to buy food or pay for a hotel, even though I was willing to do so. It wasn’t about “milking” brothers. It was about competing for good deeds and genuinely wanting for brothers what you wanted for yourself. When brothers came to
St Louis, we were equally as generous to brothers when they came to visit. We loved to meet a new salafi brother.
When I traveled, brothers would often insist on my staying with them, and we would talk and have a good time over some food and I’d stay in their home with no problem. This was the case with many brothers. The environment often was hypnotic.
When it was time for departure from the conferences, mini-conferences and impromptu visits, tears would flow, not only because the brother were leaving the company of good friends, but they knew that they were often returning to dead situations in their hometowns. I can’t describe for you the sense of loss one feels returning to a city with a small and generally inactive Muslim community.
One of the things that I want to keep emphasizing is the great hope and excitement amongst the brothers, because it will put into context the great hurt and pain that would come later during the decline.
Another thing everyone needs to understand is that we believed with our very beings that this was going to be the answer to the world’s problems. This way was the right way for everyone. We had discovered the roadmap to utopia. If only we could get everyone to realize it. This was behind the zeal (and in many cases over zeal) of many of the brothers. They had found gold and desperately wanted this good thing for everyone. Also, understand that we were largely a bunch of idealistic young people in our early to mid-twenties as well, so cut us some slack for being naive.
With these great ideals in mind – and reading books and listening to lectures of great sacrifice for deen by Muslims of the Salaf – many dropped nearly completely out of the world and immersed themselves and their families fully into this bubble. Many spent their own time and money to spread this message. They spent their own time and money to make these tapes and buy the books to spread them. They used their own gas in their own cars to travel to spread this message. I felt compelled to add this part because many think that everything was entirely funded by Saudi money. That is only true with the major organizations and some of the book publishers. This was not true on the grass roots level as many brothers sacrificed a lot of time and money, although they wish they could have gotten some Saudi money.
Remember those people who sold everything before Y2K and bought farms expecting the world to become like “Mad Max”? … Well, we didn’t go that far, but almost. Many completely invested their lives in every way to this movement expecting everything to keep growing.
You could not go wrong with this. Many put their lives on hold – no, STOPPED their lives – and dedicated themselves completely and dove in head first with full confidence that this movement would stand and continue to grow and prosper here. Brothers like me made their full time jobs ‘being Muslim’. We would just find an odd job here or there to support ourselves and our families and return to our salafi world. Many others dedicated their time in trying to “go study” with no thought of what we were going to do when we got older. We had no idea that the world – the real world – was continuing to move on without us…
Many were very close and had some very good times. Many groups of friends traveled thousands of miles together, made hajj together, cried together, and had shared good times together. Some were so close that they were like blood brothers. Some were blood brothers. Many had come from a chaotic life as non-Muslims, and this brotherhood served as a nice contrast during these times. And this brotherhood made it attractive to others. These times still make me smile with nostalgia
Eventually, brothers in the smaller towns grew tired of the boring khutbahs and lack of reception of their local community to their calls to salafiyyah and eventually either established their own small salafi masjids or just left in frustration for other communities with large numbers of salafis.
There was an idea – at the time – that it was better to concentrate in certain spots and build up that area. This made East Orange, NJ become a major destination for those leaving the smaller communities and made it the most dynamic salafi community in the country during this period and the epicenter
E.O.” and its “satellites”
As the word spread via word of mouth, conferences, tapes, magazines, websites and email lists, the salafi dawah grew stronger and more popular. For the first time in many of our lives, we felt like part of something special. There were so many young converts involved
One of the most exciting and largest salafi-led tasks was the Islamic Center of America (ICOA) project in East Orange, NJ (E.O.) led by Abu Muslimah.
During this time, E.O. gained a reputation amongst Salafis as “the best Muslim community in the US” and many moved there from other communities to help build the community.
Unlike the remnant salafi movements today, E.O. did have some brothers in the ranks that were professionals and/or college educated. There were IT professionals, school teachers, Graphic Artists, engineers, and successful businessmen and women in the ranks.
Most importantly, Abu Muslimah himself has a degree in Business Management from Rutgers. This made a big difference in E.O. over the “satellites” (communities that followed E.O’s lead) that would form in other cities. Abu Muslimah not only did not discourage brothers from going to college but also encouraged other brothers to acquire skills to help the community.
Hearing what was going with the ICOA project on from the tapes, many families with these skills moved to E.O. with the hope of helping to build upon this great new thing. It was said that if you can’t make hijrah overseas, then E.O. was the place to go.
There was amazing and persistent dedication. There were brothers that took second jobs in order to dedicate the entire salary of that second job to the ICOA project. Others sold furniture and other personal belonging and gave the proceeds to the masjid. Sisters sold their jewelry, organized bake sales and had fundraisers amongst themselves that raised several thousand dollars. There were also Muslims – even those that were not salafis – from around the country so impressed with what they saw in E.O. that they contributed thousands of dollars to help. Eventually, they got the building and made the necessary improvements.
Over time, they had the most impressive salafi accomplishments that I knew of: A school that went up to 12th grade with certified Muslim teachers and students that often went on to college, a huge Eid sized musullah, a festive atmosphere – especially after Jumuah – plenty of Muslim vendors on Fridays, a men’s and womens lounge, bookstore, Janazah washing facilities, food bar, sleeping facilities for guests, exercise room, and other things all in that building. The bookstore distributed tapes all over the United States and Canada as well as many parts of Europe and there was also an independent Hajj package and a Muslim security team.
It was a great accomplishment and this drew even more people to move there. Others, like me, would make a ‘pilgrimage’ there (no, not religious) just to see the accomplishments of the community or just to get a ‘charge’ before returning back to a smaller community. But before you left, brothers would not spare any effort to lure you to move. A visit there though was enough to impress anyone from a small community. The apartment buildings all around the masjid were full of Muslim families. One could walk to the masjid and see several other Muslims doing so. At Jumuah time, the street was filled with Muslim families walking to the masjid. When one walked into the building, one could see that this was a pretentious-free environment. The community was a testament to itself.
With so many Muslims moving to EO, the once abandoned section of town around the ICOA were now reinvigorated as the Muslims brought life to where it was once dying. The city of East Orange renamed the back alley of the ICOA “Ahlus-Sunnah Plaza” because of this.
It was these accomplishments that caused more reasonable brothers to overlook a lot of the overzealous brothers that were in the rank and file. It would be these types of brothers that would lead the downfall across the country.
In Philadelphia, the salafi community didn’t achieve what the community in E.O. had, but they still had a large number of salafis there. By everyone’s estimation, the largest number of salafis in the country, but still not the more complete community that was in E.O. In spite of their numbers, they were a satellite to E.O. at that time.
In Philly, the salafis were in such large numbers that they set the trend for the other Muslims. Big beards and niqaabs became a normal thing even for people that were not salafi. The African-American Muslim community in Philly began to appear more Salafi and gradually incorporated Salafi norms of doing things into their speeches, dress and acts of worship. It even got to the point in Philly that non-Muslims even started to dress like the salafis. It was the latest trend.
Outside of EO/Northern New Jersey and Philadelphia, there were some small salafi communities that formed in other cites that consisted of brothers that either could not afford to move to E.O. or Philly or were trying to form a community in their locality and get those from even smaller communities than their’s to move there as well. Some examples of these communities like this were Atlanta, Kansas City, and Nashville. However, all these cities were also ‘satellites’ of E.O. during that time. The smaller communities never really developed for several reasons, but the most prominent reasons at that time were lack of leadership and brothers eventually leaving for E.O. or Philly.
However, like on Ghostbusters, there was a pink slime lying underneath that no one was addressing that would contribute to ultimately bringing the entire dawah down.
We will eventually get to the problems, mistakes and ultimate downfall, but next I will talk about
A lot of visits back in the day led to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC during the 1990’s was becoming the most active and vibrant Muslim community in America as a whole. (E.O. was the best SALAFI community. Northern Virginia was the best community overall – in my opinion.
The DC area community was not founded by Salafis, rather by a concoction of organizations affiliated with the religious outreach programs of the Saudi government, organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and its American branches mainly being the Muslim American Society, and a variety of other mostly ethnic based groups such as Afghans, Turks, and South Asians.
By the time the 1990’s rolled around, Salafis were becoming a major force in the area due to these major-factors:
- The opening of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences of America (the Mahad) in Fairfax, VA, which trained American-Muslims for free in Arabic and religious studies and many went on to study at the universities in Mecca and Medina.
- The other Saudi-backed organizations such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Muslim World League
- The emergence of a vibrant African-American Salafi community centered at Jammat al-Qawi in Washington, DC
- The lectures of two men who would become famous the world-over to Salafis and that is Jaffar Sheikh Idris and Ali al-Timimi.
- The American Open University which was affiliated with their line of teachings which varied slightly from the other Salafis in the area but became the most popular.
The Mahad provided a fresh crop of students each semester who would come and live in the area. Many would stay for just a few months while others would stay permanently in the area and become active in the community. As the school had no housing students set-up makeshift housing where ten or fifteen brothers would stay in one or two bedroom apartments and give them names such as “Dar us-Sunnah” or “Dar as –Salaf”.
As the Salafi Dawah was on the rise, the most dynamic part of the salafi movement in the DC-area was the students of Jafar Sheikh Idris and Sheikh Ali al-Timimi. In the DC area, they began in the 1990’s very small with a small office in DC for an organization called the Society for the Adherence to the Sunnah which was where the program of Ali al-Timimi was based. The office was run by Idris Palmer and Friday night lectures were given at the home of Jafar Sheikh Idris.
The classes at the home of Sheikh Jaffar created a brotherhood amongst the students that grew and attracted an extremely diverse group of students from all racial and economic backgrounds. Eventually these classes would be given by Sheikh Ali al-Timimi and at other times by Sheikh Jaffar’s son Yusuf. Under the tenure of Sheikh Ali, the classes would expand tremendously and the tapes and CD’s of the lectures would be mass produced, sold and spread all over the US, Canada and the UK.
Sheikh Ali became such a popular local figure that his classes became “the place to be” for the youth of the masjids throughout the DC-area. People would come who were raised in Muslim homes. Some were even secular or sufi and generally very far from the Salafi Dawah.
The attraction of Sheikh Ali was the fact that this was a man who was born and raised in America, spoke in clear English, and not only had a great knowledge of the deen but was college educated, an IT professional, a cancer researcher and a very serious intellectual. This was a man who could take the knowledge of the Salaf and make it applicable to your everyday life and could speak in a language we all understood.
Contrary to media reports, he was not a firebrand and seldom raised his voice, and sounded like an NPR host most of the time. How he differed from the other Salafi leaders in the community is that he would – from time to time – address political issues and acknowledged the world that we live in.
The aura around him and the strength of the brotherhood around Sheikh Ali was unbelievable and he knew that those who have an irrational bigoted fear and hatred of Islam and those in the government who sought fame out of the suffering of Muslims, and those within the Muslim community who could not intellectually or theologically counter what he was saying, would one day seek to undermine what he was doing, and they did in a most evil way.
Eventually the brothers put together an organization called “Dar al-Arqam” where everyone would come together for the classes and get together for food and laughs afterwards. We used to have volleyball tournaments after the classes and did other activities together. There were NUMEROUS active sisters that would attend these classes at Dar Al Arqam from all over the area. These sisters were also highly educated and brilliant women who loved Islam and not victims of misogynist pigs.
Generally, I also want to add that the people in this DC salafi circle tended to be thinkers, and highly educated individuals – including the African-Americans – but those of us who were not educated were made to feel welcome and a part of the family. There was a number of African-American brothers in this circle who had college degrees and good jobs particularly in the IT field.
Those were some very good times. The best times of my life…
Next … I begin to talk about
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding”
- Albert Camus
When I speak of the downfall I speak with a voice that is full of pain as I see something that was once so beautiful torn apart and shattered. I want you all to know that they were human beings who had hopes, dreams and feelings. Many spent their own time, money and effort to put this together. It pains me when some of the moderate and balanced brothers are impuned along with the ones that became extreme.
The Decline – in my mind – had three aspects
- Social Breakdown
- Aftermath of 9/11
The combination of these three things would be too much to overcome. First, I will talk about the ideological splits, which in turn caused the social breakdowns to be discussed later.
Even during the time of growth, there was an overzealous element that I alluded to in the first posts that was narrow – and as time passed – and only grew more and more narrow. They were known amongst other Muslims for causing an uproar at local masjids where they would publicly confront the imams and lecturers on what they perceived as bid’ah. They quickly became disliked by the leaders of many local Muslim communities. This kind of attitude and ill advised outbursts stopped the amazing growth from being even more than it was.
In the beginning, it really centered around a couple of issues:
- Whether or not it was a MUST to call oneself a salafi even if he/she adheres to the salafi dawah
- Loyalty to the Saudi throne even if one is not Saudi (They will say “the rulers”, but they mean the Saudi throne)
On the first issue, there were many of the opinion that it was almost sinful to not distinguish oneself as a salafi and became more and more belligerent and uncompromising over time. In the beginning, it was a minor issue, but as more and more new people came in – especially those who are more educated – these new people were less prone to label themselves with any label, although they would accept the teachings as the truth. This was not good enough for the zealous faction. As things were going well and moving forward at the time, the more reasonable brothers would simply overlook these zealots in the ranks in the interest of the greater good.
The zealots were also prone to banging brothers over the head on their position on the Saudi King. It was not good enough to recognize that Saudi Arabia printed copies of the Qur’ans and gave money to spread the dawah. One – in these people’s minds – must be loyal to and praise the Saudi rulers. You couldn’t even remain silent on the issue. I was not – and am not – anti-Saudi per se, but I grew tired of brothers trying to force the Saudi throne down my throat. To the contrary, their insistence would MAKE me – and others – have a disliking of them to some extent because they were trying to MAKE me love them, while I wanted to stay neutral as it was of no concern to me.
When I reflect on this, this was pretty silly because these two issues had little to do with the issues that were right in front of us: Going to the next level, beginning to raise the new children and solidify the new communities that had been formed.
On the top level, this schism was represented by IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America) on one side and QSS (Qur’an and Sunnah Society of North America) on the other. I referred to this split in my second post.
Those with IANA were of the opinion that one did NOT have to call oneself salafi and loyalty to the Saudi throne was NOT a requirement upon every Muslim. QSS was basically of the opposite opinions and hence much of the reason for the split.
As I said, in the beginning, this was of little consequence to those of us in the rank and file, but it began to trickle down as QSS speakers started giving lectures about “the importance of obeying the rulers” and “Why one should call oneself Salafi” and began an inquisition to “purify the ranks of the salafis”. Their guiding principle was that the small evil must be exposed because it is not clear while the big evil is clear. In other words…we are going to concentrate on the small mistakes….we are going to drive it into the ground (and we are going to drive everyone away in the process)
It was slow at first and many of the QSS and IANA speakers were still attending both conferences. Only the most strident QSS people refused to go to IANA.
Much of the promotion of this schism came out of the UK from Salafi Publications (SP) and they began to distribute mass emails that began to create a lot of confusion amongst the rank and file. New Muslims soon got involved in issues that had nothing to do with them and thought that Islam was all about these two issues.
For a few years, this fitnah festered below the surface, and many hoped that this issue would go away, but it continued to grow and grow.
The students at the Mahad – especially those from Philly – were affected by this. They would discuss ad nauseum Sunnah and Bid’ah and deviants of other non-salafi groups. (This was a time before the turned their venom on other salafis) However, although these guys were harsh, they were not takfeeri.
We would talk to the lecturers about these issues in private and would continuously be told that this is not something that we should jump into. Problem is that the QSS/SP faction insisted that these two issues were very important and continuously took it to the next level.
Eventually they made it an issue over which one should be abandoned or boycotted. This fitnah reached such a level to the point Ali At-Timimi felt compelled to give this lecture in the UK on it in an effort to arrest this cancer’s growth. That lecture got Sheikh Ali permanently thrown out of salafiyyah.
At the grassroots level, those affected by the QSS faction – even in good times – were the ones that gave the salafis the bad reputation for having bad character. They refused to work with other groups of Muslims and were prone – even in those times – to not mix with other groups of Muslims except when they were calling them to salafiyyah. They were also known for shouting brothers down and generally making small issues into huge ones. Other Muslims hated to see salafis coming for this reason and unfortunately, the more reasonable brothers were painted with this brush as well.
Part 7: Boycotting and Excommunication
1999-– 2000 was a time when things started happening so fast that it was hard to keep up.
In the Summer of 1999, there was so much being accomplished – despite the problems coming from QSS and SP – that some of the major salafi speakers called for a meeting in East Orange (EO) in order to elect an Amir amongst themselves and become more organized and coordinate their activities for the benefit of all.
The faction influenced by QSS was against this and protested greatly. They already wanted to go in a different direction with the dawah and take the focus off of individual, family and community development and put the focus on who is “on it” and “off it”.
Then there were the seeming concurrent deaths of Ibn Baz, Ibn Uthaymeen and Al-Albani who all died during this period. This started a new period in which “the ulamaa” became a term to bash brothers who listened to Western speakers. “No scholars in the West!!!” they would shout at you in their efforts to discredit all Western speakers not in their clique.
They formed a new organization Salafi Society of North America (SSNA) in New York that claimed “connection to the ulamaa”. This became the new question of the new “are you connected to the ulamaa?” era.
In reality, the speakers that we were listening to were in fact quoting from scholars past and present, but this is not what they meant by this question. They meant are you listening to the translations of the tele-links being provided by them?
After SSNA disappeared from play in a major way ( although still operating a masjid in Brooklyn that is home to a lot of good brothers), TROID came on the scene and took the inquisition to new heights. Every few weeks, they had a new expose on a new Western speaker that should not be taken from “according to the ulamaa”.
There was a character assassination taken out on speaker after speaker and one by one, they were discredited with seemingly a mountain of “daleel”. This great Salafi Speaker purge would leave no survivors from the speaker’s circuit and eventually kill off the larger events that were not replaced by those who only had the power to destroy and not build.
There was a lot of confusion during this time, and many in the rank and file tried to conceal their position on certain speakers and perhaps still benefit from the Western speakers while listening to these tele-links to show face. Just hide your books if someone came over.
Soon, it was not good enough to remain silent on these issues. They started to demand a “bayaan” from every individual – whether written or spoken and recorded – “clarifying their position”. In this “bayaan” one would affirm their rejection of the list of “deviants” the self appointed ecclesiastical tribunal came up with and affirm their loyalty to a list of scholars many had never heard of that they were calling “the Kibaar” (i.e., the biggest scholars on earth)
Many were forced into a corner to accept the position of the ecclesiastical tribunals. Everyone that wanted to maintain their standing in the community was forced to comply. It was a form of “thought reform”
The penalty for not complying? … The dreaded boycott. This meant that no one would give you the salaam, nor speak to you, your wife or even your children. That being the case, this created a lot of problems inside homes as the wife would not appreciate being boycotted by her friends because her husband is not “taking the correct position” or vice versa. The obsession with “clarifying one’s salafiyyah” reached a fever pitch.
Many took “the correct position” under social duress. Those that did not were not only ostracized, but risked having a huge “refutation” written against them on the email lists and their name dragged through the mud. They may even make up a nickname for you.Books were set on fire and thousand of tapes thrown out as TROID’s ecclesiastical edicts spread across the country. Long lists of people who were “off of it” were distributed and put on the walls of salafi masjids.
Anyone associating with the people on the “off it” list, defended their honor, or who had their books or tapes was to be boycotted as well. The people on these lists (and those with them) could be backbitten with no problem. TROID even had a lecture entitled “Come let us backbite for and hour for the sake of Allah” that showed exactly where they thought the priorities of the Muslims should be. The entire focus became to focus on which “mistakes” people were making ( I once met with a person from TROID who told me with certainty that a good friend of mine named Idris Palmer, who this guy had never met, was a Sufi with absolute certainty, and this guy was so removed from anything remotely close to reason that I could not tell him otherwise).
New Muslims were now immediately indoctrinated with a list of people they could not take knowledge from instead of being taught the basics of Islam in the name of “protecting this man’s deen.” The newer salafis –what few there were now holding on to the dawah – that were being taught under this new order and never knew the era when the Salafis were accomplishing things.
The most rabid ones were obstinate and could not be reasoned with. Salafi email lists that had open membership, closed and some made all current members send an email to the administrator “clarifying their salafiyyah” or risk being thrown off the list. They refused to do any sort of reconciliation and insisted on humiliating and abusing their opponents. Anyone who was friends with someone who was friends with someone who listened to the banned speakers was accused with “tamyee” (watering down the religion) and risked abandonment.
All sense of weighing the benefit and the evil was thrown out the window. The community in East Orange became paralyzed with these TROID edicts and they demanded that Abu Muslimah step down because he was not “connected to the ulamaa” and allegedly made “anti-Saudi statements”. It did not matter that when one listened to his statement in English that this was not an anti-Saudi statement. “The ulamaa” had said to boycott him and the community split.
There was no need to look at all of the good that was coming out of the community, because “the ulamaa said to boycott the community.”
Since “the kibaar said to remove the children from the Islamic school in EO” many put their children in public schools or made feeble attempts to homeschool. No need to think and weigh the benefit of this boycott versus the evil that it was causing. The “kibaar” had called for a boycott and they knew best. No need to research further or stop and think about this.
Soon, EO was nearly abandoned and all the progress that was being made as a community stopped. And it would hurt everyone … including many children.
The fact is that the people calling for the boycotts were the people “attached to the ulamaa” and the rank and file had no way of directly talking to and explaining the evil that was happening in order to give a proper picture of what was happening. Now instead of asking the lecturers questions and concerns that they went to school and were trained to answer, everyone now had to go through these intermediaries for a translation (and might I add spin)
All of the more reasonable and educated brothers fled from any connections to this movement as they wanted no part of this. The growth stopped and soon only those interested in this type of “on it” or “off it” attitude, were mostly remaining. Because of the long list of “deviants”, the salafi economy of tapes, books and other things started to dry up.
The TROID inquisition got absurd and they even turned on QSS and began to cannibalize their own. QSS, after this, would slowly shrivel up and all but collapse in the US from lack of support. Who wanted it to be known that they’d gone to a QSS conference after TROID’s mandate?
Every common person was suddenly subjected to the rules of jarh wa tadeel as if they were a narrator of hadith and people were divided between “thiqah” (trustworthy) and “matrook” (abandoned). All these things were introduced to new Muslims and it was misapplied on people relentlessly.
Things continue to descend into chaos as people even started to ask people their position on people they had never even heard of like Abul Hasan Al-Maribee. No one knew who this man was, yet it was essential for one to take a solid position against him in order to be considered “thiqah”. Abandonment, name-calling, “exposing”, rumor-mongering, and the self appointed ecclesiastical tribunals testing peoples’ “manhaj” became the rule of the day.
This ideological schism and TROID’s inquisition and thought reform program caused so much confusion that breakdowns in the social fabric started to breakdown
Rise and Fall Part 8
Before I talk about the social breakdown, I want to address my own shortcomings as well as those of many that were around me at the time. No matter how much I try, I don’t think that I can express the great hope followed by the great pain. Some of you are probably looking down your noses at us, but I say that you don’t understand.
I don’t tell this story because I am trying to use it as fodder for you all to laugh at. This is a serious story. Lives were revived where there was no hope only to end up right back in ruin.
A lot of us – brothers and sisters – came from poor backgrounds, were poorly educated, and came from dysfunctional homes. That is me as a white man … how much more so for a black man or woman?
Many entered the deen wounded by society and were at the bottom of the barrel. It was our belief that our demons could be exorcised by the memorization of the fatawa of scholars and by simply mimicking the ways of the scholars and running around and talking and acting as if we were not still dealing with the issues in our lives that pre-dated Islam when in fact we were dealing with these issues on a daily basis, but were afraid to speak about them to our fellow Muslims. This is one of the main places we went wrong.
Although more of our issues were spoken on at that time – especially as opposed to now – nonetheless, there were no fatawa that told us how to deal with an indifferent mother on drugs, chemical addictions that many around me had, or being able to find a job as a convicted felon.
When the ideological schisms happened, it revived many of the inner demons that were never fully exorcized in many. This left many brothers to attend lectures, and then after isha hit the streets and make money the only way that they knew how. This created a criminal underclass within the Salafi movement that paid lots of lip-service to the deen but in reality had lots of underlying problems. What led us to the streets has been put in our minds in our childhoods living through the harsh realities of urban life in America.
We were angry before we took shahadah, many were killers by the time they were in high school, and had emotional issues that had never been resolved, and our anger towards life manifested itself in a harshness in the deen and a rigid approach to the dawah.
Just as many wanted to proudly proclaim their blocks and neighborhoods and schools before Islam, so they proclaimed being “salafi” after that. The Salafi Dawah had given us something to live for, work for, fight for, and if necessary die for.
As the TROID ecclesiastical edicts were passed around, it had a negative effect on friendships, marriages, and entire communities. Especially after TROID’s thought reform started to take affect.
Many, who’d been friends for years, were now splitting up over these issues of who is “on it” or “off it”. Marriages broke down and even ended in divorce because of arguments over these issues. There were even instances of blood brothers splitting and not speaking to one another. It ravaged the entire movement like a forest fire.
Even when you spoke to an old friend, you did not know which side of the issue he was on. The trips and visits across the country stopped. Brothers stopped keeping in touch as it might end up in an argument.
As I mentioned earlier, many more reasonable brothers did not like any of this at all and disassociated themselves from the movement completely. Others, because of the damage and evil associated with the movement, ran away from the label and refused to acknowledge it for themselves.
The feelings of brotherhood and closeness were replaced by suspicion, fear, and eventually pain… great pain. Brothers no longer had a network of friends to stay in touch with. They no longer had anyone they would relate to. A spiraling cycle of chaos began in which we saw depression grow and the social problems begin. These brothers needed a social network and it was torn apart, ripped to shreads and stomped on
There were brothers that were just confused from all the discord and hit the streets. Many stopped practicing and even became drug addicts and alcoholics because their tranquil world had been destroyed as their group of good friends were split, or they were abandoned by their close Muslim friends and they had no place else to go. Some went insane (no exaggeration). Others got angry and became very anti-salafi. Others even left Islam completely.
A new term was coined – “Salafi Burnout” – to describe this phenomenon of sudden drop in Iman after (supposedly) being strong salafis. The course of action the salafis took with their lives – cutting off everyone – was now backfiring. They’d cut off their non-Muslim families and Muslims of other groups and now had no one to turn to in times of need. And it was all the more important at this point because so many had children that now needed to be raised.
The life of the boycotted one was tough because you had no friends in the other masjids and those who liked you from the salafis – in secret – avoided you like the plague in public because they were afraid to be seen with you.
Friendships in the remaining salafi circles became totally pretentious and phony because one had to show good face at this point and denounce the proper people like a “good salafi”. The environment became tense even amongst those “with the correct position” because everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing.
The boycott was dreadful because you’d be left alone. You had no one to turn to. Some seemed to take pleasure in boycotting and ruining a brother’s reputation and standing in the community. Many just could not handle it and would either submit to the inquisitors and give a “bayaan” in which they were required to denounce all the speakers on the “off it” list and accept their “kibaar” in order to be accepted into the new order. Eventually, even many of those who submitted got tired of dealing with that – especially after they started turning on each other – and left too – many of them for the streets.
The breakdown just continued to slide down as even those remaining in the movement started to have more and more problems in their ranks such as porn addiction and other sexual problems increased. This was – in my opinion – because of the complete focus on what every one else was doing and a lack of focus on themselves.
It was very tough coming back to the real world after living the last decade in a bubble because you felt like such a fool for not living in the real world and for not preparing yourself for life’s legitimate challenges. But more importantly, it hurt because the world had moved on and we found ourselves replaced, irrelevent and forgotten.
The good feelings had been replaced with a cold and dull fist in our stomachs. Some, after returning to the real world, looked in the mirror and saw what they had become to the eyes of the world: A detached, uneducated, divorcee (or in an unhappy marriage) with a broken family, no money and no direction in life. They were almost no good to anyone…Not even their own kids. Men that were flat broke with no skills. Women were stuck with a gang of children to raise. Others stuck in bad marriages and perpetually depressed with no friends. And no longer had community support. Many felt: “What have I done to my life?!” It was the beginning of the long and cold winter that has lasted the last 5-6 years for these brothers and sisters. They live in fear that the rest of their lives will merely be to exist instead of live. Grown men have cried because of this feeling of helplessness and pain … the feeling that they threw their good years away for nothing: an incredibly empty feeling.
While we were living in our bubble, all that mattered was trying to “go study”, “spread the dawah” and/or “establish classes”. The entire world became where the next conference was going to be, the latest book to come out, or the latest lecture series. (In the decline, the obsession became who is the latest to be put on the “off it” list) Elections came and went. Trends came and went. People younger than us went on to graduate college, get Master’s degrees, job training, get good jobs and get into good marriages. Time had passed. Many had long since alienated their non-Muslim families and other Muslims. The brothers had become dated, out of touch and forgotten about. Relics.
During the good times, Salafis were blissfully unaware of the latest American (or world) economic or social trends. Many hadn’t read the latest best-seller. Many of the things that mattered to salafis, mattered little to the rest of the world. Regular people were uncomfortable around them. American Salafis had become foreigners in their own homeland.
The Complete Stranger Marriages and other moves – that are generally bad moves now – worked out much better during the good times because of the stronger brotherhood and the united cause. Once the structure began to collapse, these bad social moves became magnified and there was just no way to make these bad moves with the lack of the 1990’s structure. The social carnage was massive
If there was any hope of a reversal of this trend … that ended with the events of September 11th …
Part 9: 9-11 Aftermath
Sometimes I wonder how different the world – and in the context of this series, the salafi movement – would be had September 11th not happened.
I can assume that many masjids would be having anti-American khutbahs and organizing protests against President Gore’s (who would have likely been elected in 2004 after a failed Bush presidency) “pro-zionist policies”. (Remember the Muslim organizations endorsed Bush in 2000 and without 9/11 would have probably endorsed him for reelection)
Other than that we can assume:
Ismael Royer would be free and likely would be the leading Muslim blogger.
Anwar Al-Awlaki would probably still be in America giving lectures and putting out CD lecture series
Sh. Jafir Idris and Ali At-Timimi would likely still be teaching in N. Virginia at Dar Al Arqam which, by now, would possibly have a permanent place of its own.
Ali At-Timimi, Rafil Dhafir and countless numbers of others would still be free men.
The Saudi money would not have stopped and the conferences would still be going on and the mahad in N Virginia still open and full of students
Allah Knows best about any of that, but nonetheless, I firmly believe that the salafi movement in the form of TROID would have continued to dry up, wither away and die even without 9/11 … perhaps even faster as it is intellectually bankrupt. Certainly far too intellectually bankrupt to compete in the arena of ideas in the post 9/11 era.
Ironically, the TROID faction – who eschewed real world issues – were forced to address 9/11 and come out of their shells to some extent. However, most Muslims in the US are not going to follow a triumphalist-isolationist movement that refuses to address social and political concerns in an era in which those concerns are at the forefront of peoples’ minds. This is why the social discord is so out of control on their side. In general, they are either unwilling or unable to confront social and political issues and would prefer to bury their heads in the sand.
On the moderate side, however, it makes me wonder if they would still be active and operating had 9/11 not happened. I tend to think that they would be, but that is a moot question because 9/11 DID happen, and because of it, much activity on that side of the coin was forced to stop. Salafis became pariahs and were falsely accused of supporting terrorism, and many moderate speakers were thrown in jail. After this upheaval, other speakers took themselves off the circuit. This killed off organizations like IANA almost overnight and other activities stopped. The world completely changed in a lot of ways.
All of that along with the public lynching of Sheikh Ali by ideologically-driven prosecutors who had no concern for justice, the treachery of many within his circles, and the foolishness of some of his students individual actions – who got him into trouble – those who sought to destroy the salafi dawah dealt a death-blow to what had been in the DC-area.
What saddens me tremendously is that other Muslims have been silent and have not spoken out against the treatment of Sheikh Ali – as a Muslim and a human being – and I can only take their silence as an endorsement of the evil injustice done to him and may Allah guide them. If this man and his students were so dangerous and violent as alleged, then how is it that two of the people who falsely testified against him – one of which still lives in the N Virginia area and freely associates in the community – are not in danger for their lives. That is because this movement was non-violent and were law abiding citizens and no one has thought of doing any such thing. This contrasts greatly with the gov’ts image of this group as a violent jihadist group.
There are other Muslim groups – and I will say what must be said – Sufi groups, who seem to take great joy in his suffering. The TROID gang also took a lot of pleasure in his suffering as well and some of them even posted as much on their internet message boards.
Sheikh Ali knew the problems within the ranks of the salafis and, for years, regretted the harshness he had as a young man that turned people away and had become more and more friendly towards other Muslim groups as the years went by and wanted a spirit of brotherhood to exist between all the Muslims.
The example of Sheikh Ali – who was one of the best hopes for the Salafi dawah in America – is that those who hated Islam, want to destroy the Muslim community – and do not see us as Americans and do not recognize our humanity – can in turn come into the community, destroy a peaceful group, put a leader in jail like a third world dictatorship, and the rest of the community will remain silent.
If they can do it to Sheikh Ali – a man whom neither he nor his students had any blood on their hands – can be put into jail, made to serve a life sentence in prison where he has been beaten, mistreated and contracted Hepatitis, then they can do it to anyone.
The massive social problems that plagued the TROID side of the split, was not on the IANA side. But that was largely because many of those with social problems – largely African-Americans – were attracted to TROID’s calls to discord and chaos. And that is what made it so sad. A bowl of fruit had been offered to starving men, and TROID (and their likes) came along and took a dump in it and told everyone that this was an improvement.
Yes, the TROID partisans would have conferences entitled “Stop the Discord” but they were a joke because they never admitted that this very discord was of their doing.
9/11 contributed very little to the demise of the TROID side of the movement, but was devastating to the moderate side.
Before 9/11 many of the speakers, whose characters had been viciously assaulted during the TROID inquisition, were already silenced.
After 9/11, many of them withdrew even further from the public light because of the additional political and legal heat that was applied. Others were forced out of the country and/or imprisoned. Homaidan Al Turki – a major moderate book publisher – was railroaded and the company hasn’t been the same since. All of this was a final nail that would give drifters nowhere to go in a search for some common sense through the madness. Now there is little left of the movement that once had so much hope.
When IANA and other such organizations dissolved after 9/11, the remaining reasonable and moderate American brothers had no place to go and for all purposes – especially with all the fitnah of brothers being arrested – and basically went into hiding and are quietly going on with their lives observing the social anarchy from afar. I have found brothers that were formerly active in the salafi movement – brothers that at the time had big untrimmed beards and exclusively wore thobes – with small trimmed beards, a suit and tie on and wanting nothing to do with the movement. Some were even very anti-salafi.
It also did not help matters when some groups that were opposed to the salafi movement as a whole took the opportunity to scapegoat them after 9/11.
As to the TROID side, they continued to shrink in influence, and have become sort of a punch line. They are the ones associated with ‘salafiyah’ when other Muslims think of salafis. Mention the word ‘Salafi’ to a Muslim what often comes to mind is a criminal who marries several times. They thought it to be “unbeneficial” to address social issues and those very issues ate away at them like acid. They thought it better to “leave these issues” but it never left them.
TROID began to lose influence as the tabloid style emails ceased and they ran out of people to character assassinate. Plus people just got tired. They can’t put together any conferences outside of Philly and Newark, where – even in those places – they are also waning in influence. There is no real solid “movement” in place. Even if one visits a lot of the old salafi websites, one will find that they haven’t been updated in months or sometimes, years. This has contributed to the end of the “cut and paste” era. And Salafis are almost nowhere to be found in the post 9/11 intellectual debate.
As to the remnants of the IANA side of things, some have retooled, run away from the old salafi movement, and have an entirely different focus. These groups do not concentrate on converts anymore and disown the title ‘salafi’ for themselves because they do not want to be associated with the legacy of TROID – for good reason.
Texas Dawah and the Al Maghrib Institute are two examples of such organizations that are pretty balanced and have run away from the salafi label like the plague. I hear that Texas Dawah puts on a pretty good program, but they – along with Al Maghrib – target the college aged (18-25) middle class, children of immigrants. We converts are largely an afterthought in their programs. Converts are welcome to come, but they are not considered in the programs. Some converts that have been around this crowd have even gotten the feeling that they are a “pet convert” and shy away.
Texas Dawah – for example – had over 3,000 attendees at their last conference, but I would be surprised if even 1% of that number were converts. Again, this is not to say that they reject converts, but it is clear that they don’t speak to our issues in their conferences. This is in contrast to the old days when you had large numbers of converts at the old salafi conferences. A crowd of 3,000 would have close to 1,000 converts and several speakers that were themselves converts. Gatherings in East Orange could draw 2,000 people in which 95% were converts. That is just not the case now. No one considers us anymore.
I attended an Al Maghrib class in New Jersey and immediately felt out of place as a convert, because I knew that this program – though very good for its audience – was not for people like me. The crowd was overwhelmingly first or second generation immigrants and middle to upper class young individuals that were either in college or just graduated. Again, nothing wrong with that, but we are left in the cold. Double weekend classes or a once a year conference does not compare to an everyday movement that was a way of life.
I spoke to Muhammad Al Shareef, and I could tell that he just couldn’t relate with a person like me. This is not a criticism of him, as I enjoyed his class – in an abstract way – but I could tell that there was not only a convert/non-convert divide, but a class and social divide. The problems of people like me are not even conceptualized much less thought about, thus many are still in the streets with no place to go. (Another issue is that you can’t rule out the barrier that the fees for the Al Maghrib)
This is why I feel that these new organizations are too limited in their scope to be anywhere near the old days. They are concentrating on the second generation youth – nothing wrong with that – but there are many others out there.
There is little to no talk of community building, raising children, dealing with non-Muslim family and non-Muslim in-laws, cleaning up and reviving neighborhoods, or things of that sort that are of importance to converts. The converts are left with a choice of being left in the cold to observe from the outside as forgetten about relics from a past era or to assimilate completely into the immigrant world and resolve to leave their American identity behind.
If organizations such as Texas Dawah or Almaghrib ever decide that they want to deal with converts, then they will have to take on social problems in order to be affective and not declare them to be “of no benefit”
At one time, things were great, and seemed to be on the move. Then things fell apart as the over zealous element was never put into check and ultimately destroyed everything. There are still brothers floating around that seem to think that it is still 1996, but they are isolated. I feel sorry for brothers like this when I see them, because usually they were not around during the good times and do not know that what they are doing is a dead end, especially without the social support that was around in the 90’s.
As it stands, the movement is a shell of what is used to be. The Islamic Center of America in East Orange seems abandoned compared to how it used to be. In the DC area, there is no fervor amongst the handful of Salafis that are remaining. There are some who remember those days, go to the masjid and pray and do good deeds and in their homes still enjoy the knowledge. Jamatul Al Qawee was taken over by the TROID element and is barely functional via a handful of isolated, triumphalist brothers. There are a few remnants at the Dar as Salaam masjid in Maryland, who have also run away from the salafi movement. Everything else is a faded memory.
Across the country, the salafi masjids folded one by one, until they are nothing more than a handful of sad isolated brothers in a few cities that even now do not realize that the world has moved on without them. They are in for a rude awakening.
The brothers and sisters across the country are left alone… left to pick up the devastating pieces and try to carry on their lives… left to try to fill the huge void in their chests…. left try to live instead of simply exist… left to wait to wander with no place to go.
Isolationism was such a big mistake and that is why I am opposed to it. Even though I look upon those days with fondness – I am left feeling very cynical, jaded and scarred.
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