Ismail is currently serving a 20 year sentence for his role in what the government refers to as the “Virginia Jihad Network”. As part of their ongoing series on Muslims in America the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published this letter from Ismail to Jon Sawyer. In reading this letter you can see the brilliance of Ismail and witness for yourselves the tragedy of this treasure of American Islam being away from his wife, four children and the community.
I still remember the day I first met Ismail. He was a teenage punk-rock singer who walked into the Masjid with a baseball cap covering his dreads with an Arabic tattoo on his arm (reading freedom). Ismail walked up to me and said “hey man what does Islam say about revolution?” The brother next to me said “Islam is a revolution”.
The journey began from there as Ismail would take shahadah a few weeks later and we would strike up a very strong friendship. We came from different worlds; I came from a working-class world and was surrounded by thuggery and negativity in my youth and he came from upper middle-class affluence. He went to the best of schools and I went to the worst of schools and he was a punk-rocker and I was a hip-hopper. We learned a lot from one another, I know I learned a lot from him, and our friendship took us all over the country. Rabbis were interviewed, punk rock concerts gone to, cities explored and a host of other adventures. His mother would sometimes ask me if I was homeless because I spent the night so much at his home. My blue-collar grandparents found Ismail, or Randy as they called him, a little bit-odd but they always liked him and my grandmother has been very upset about his situation.
Before this ordeal, that has been painful to so many people and not just Ismail and his family, Ismail had previously worked for CAIR, MAS, and AMC and was a committed activist who was greatly beneficial to the Muslim community. His involvement in Bosnia and Kashmir, and his alliance with Muslim groups in those nations who use violence as a means of defense and possibly liberation depending on how you look at it, landed him and more than a dozen other Muslim brothers in the DC area in prison (Ismail correctly points out in his letter that only he and Ibrahim al-Hamdi had any connection to any groups and that no one ever threatened the US or were connected to groups that had any negative stance towards the US). Please make duah for Ismail and his family and all of the suffering Muslim political prisoners and their families.
Also, and I do not have the time to do it now but I will in the future, refute the viscous lie that these brothers are in prison because of Sheikh Ali al-Timimi. I will write on this topic in the future and Ill send a complimentary copy to Imam Johari.