If a Muslim prays in a mosque and nobody sees her, does Allah still hear her prayers?
That question might seem more urgent than rhetorical for a certain Bosnian immigrant after Dr. Arshad Shaikh, the president of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford (MAGR), told the Rockford Register Star on February 9 that “It would be possible for someone like Jasminka Ramic, the 42-year-old former Rockford woman accused of sending money to terrorist groups, to have worshipped” at the Rockford mosque. However, Shaikh went on to say, “there are no membership records that connect her.”
Shaikh wasn’t president of MAGR in December 2006, but his response to the indictment of Ramic on charges of sending money to a Bosnian Muslim who funneled it to ISIS was reminiscent of the one offered by Shpendim Nadzaku, the imam of the Rockford mosque at the time the FBI arrested 22-year-old Derrick Shareef for attempting to purchase grenades he intended to use on families shopping for Christmas presents at Rockford’s CherryVale Mall. “No one in the community has any clue as to who this person is,” Nadzaku told the Washington Post. Shareef, he said, was “completely anonymous.”
Dr. Shaikh, of course, may be telling the truth about Ramic (and there is no reason to doubt that what he said regarding the existence of membership records is technically accurate). But Imam Nadzaku’s claim was contradicted by the FBI’s confidential informant in the Shareef case. In a series of interviews that Aaron Wolf and I conducted with him in 2007 and 2008 (published in the June 2007, August 2007, February 2008, and June 2008 installments of The Rockford Files), the CI revealed that he had met Shareef at the Rockford mosque, and that others had met him there, too. There was, he assured us, “no way” that Imam Nadzaku could not have known about Shareef’s connection to the mosque.
Unless, of course, he didn’t want to know. Plausible deniability is convenient not only for those who actively collaborate with people who support illegal acts but even more so for those who may be concerned that people with whom they come into contact might support illegal acts that they themselves do not support. The less the leadership of MAGR knows about those who just happen to worship at the mosque, the better. As the current imam, Hamzah Maqbul, told the Register Star regarding those nonexistent membership records, “We don’t try to vet people, judge people. We let them come and hope it affects them for the better.”
Indeed, Dr. Shaikh regards the diversity of worshipers at the Rockford mosque as one of its strengths. “About 30 percent . . . are from Arab countries,” he told the Register Star, and “Twenty-five to 30 percent are from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent; others are Albanian, Bosnian, Hispanic, African-American, Turkish and Uzbekistani or are American converts to Islam.” Both Shareef, an African-American, and the confidential informant in his case, an eighth-generation German-American, fall into the latter category. So, says the CI, do at least two young men he knew who, he claims, were recruited by Albanians at the mosque to go fight in Eastern Europe in the late 1990’s. One—a tall, good-looking young man named Mike—went to train in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan before joining the jihad in Kosovo. He never returned to Rockford.
Pakistani worshipers—less on the fringes of the mosque and more a part of the regular crowd—had, the CI claimed, routinely raised funds to send to fundamentalist Islamic organizations fighting the Pakistani jihad in Jammu and Kashmir in the years leading up to September 11. If his claims are true, worshipers at the Rockford mosque have done far more to further the cause of jihad worldwide over the years than Jasminka Ramic, who stands accused of donating a whopping $700 from her Social Security disability checks to play Sally Struthers to an ISIS jihadist.
Over the years, the local media have accepted the claims of MAGR’s leadership that people like Shareef and Ramic are “lone wolves” whose actions have nothing to do with the mosque or the broader Muslim community in Rockford. The Rockford Register Star (Rockford’s daily paper), the Rock River Times (our weekly), and even the Chicago Tribune have all run glowing profiles of the mosque, the associated Iqra School, and MAGR, and printed op-eds by the various imams and MAGR presidents following local, national, and international incidents involving Muslims. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the rise of ISIS, the killing of three Muslims in North Carolina over a dispute involving a parking space, and Ramic’s indictment and subsequent arrest in Germany (where she had fled), Dr. Shaikh’s columns have become a regular feature in the pages of the Register Star. A native-born American, Dr. Shaikh owes his bad grammar to the schools in Brooklyn, New York, and the lack of editors at the Register Star rather than to the inevitable struggles of a nonnative speaker with the complexities of the English language:
For the last several weeks, the Rockford region has been bombarded by images of an alleged connection with a Rockford resident and a rogue, militant organization named ISIS who under the banner of religion has committed unthinkable acts of violence.
The way to counter false impressions about Ramic’s case, he says, is to “remember restraint and to advocate tolerance,” and he suggests a concrete way of doing so:
In this era of the Internet, channeling information to the general public can easily forge and taint people’s opinions and attitudes. Shouldn’t we be wise consumers of information in this digital age? Shouldn’t we go to the original sources? Isn’t it wise to get to know a Muslim before passing judgment?
For example, visit your local mosque and speak to actual Muslims. Find out their point of view before forging your own conclusion. It is critical to base opinions on actual experiences.
I agree with Dr. Shaikh. That’s why, in response to the glowing news reports about Islam in Rockford published after September 11, 2001, Aaron Wolf and I spent an entire day in February 2002 at the Rockford mosque and Iqra School, interviewing the principal, teachers, parents, students, the president of MAGR, and other leaders in the Muslim community of Rockford. We learned their “point of view,” and I based my report, published in the April 2002 issue of Chronicles, on our “actual experiences.”
But I don’t think Dr. Shaikh would be too happy to read what I reported. The then-president of MAGR, Dr. Khalid Siddiqui, a mere five months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, explained why he held Osama bin Laden in esteem (“You can believe someone is a terrorist, and I don’t”), argued that American Muslims could not licitly fight for the United States against Muslims who had attacked our country (“[Y]ou cannot kill a fellow Muslim. That is a fundamental of Islam”), and declared that the U.S. Constitution was a “pure Islamic constitution” which would one day allow for the imposition of sharia in America. Atteya Elnoory, the principal of the school, dismissed Aaron’s question about how the leadership of the mosque handled radical Islam (“We don’t even deal with radical Islam, because we do not know what it is”), and Dr. Siddiqui agreed, describing Islam as a pendulum, which can “swing to the extremes and come back to the middle, but you are still within the boundaries.” Magdy Kandil, then a member of the board of MAGR, argued that Muslims had suffered a backlash in the wake of September 11, not because of the attacks, but because of a certain “minority in the U.S. who now feel threatened by a new minority.”
When the article appeared, Chronicles was contacted by lawyers for the mosque, who demanded that we quit circulating the issue. They didn’t demand a retraction; they could not, because everything Dr. Shaikh’s “actual Muslims” had said was on the record. They had expected a puff piece, like those run by the Register Star, the Rock River Times, and the Chicago Tribune in the weeks and months before. We refused to quit circulating the issue, and the lawyers dropped the demand because their clients had no legal leg to stand on. Local talk-radio host Chris Bowman offered to moderate an on-air debate between myself and those we had interviewed; they refused to take part.
The FBI’s confidential informant in the Derrick Shareef case had spent years in the local mosque. Magdy Kandil had shepherded his conversion to Islam, and when the CI decided to go overseas to further his Islamic studies, Kandil had guided him to Shaykh Usaamah Al-Qoosee, a follower of Sayyid Qutb, the most important leader in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. Kandil himself had studied under Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most prominent ideologists of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is perhaps best known for having defended Palestinian suicide bombings on the BBC’s Newsnight in 2004:
I consider this type of martyrdom operation as an evidence of God’s justice.
Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do.
When the CI’s allegations about fund raising and recruitment for jihad within the Rockford mosque appeared in our published interviews with him, the leadership of MAGR never responded. And the local media, which had accepted MAGR’s “lone wolf” narrative, ignored the informant’s claims. Because they had not done their jobs as journalists back then, Ramic’s indictment now came as a surprise to them. Should another case emerge with a potential connection to the Rockford mosque, they will no doubt be surprised once again.
In one of his recent columns for the Register Star, Dr. Shaikh quotes Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as truth.” He follows that line with these words of his own: “For many American Muslims, they are feeling the brunt of xenophobia and cultural and religious intolerance.”
In other words, we are now (Shaikh believes) in the second of Schopenhauer’s stages, which leaves only the third: the acceptance of truth—the truth of Islam.