Mohamed Ahmed, from Cairo to Nashville

by Rebecca Bynum (August 2010)

Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed recently arrived in Nashville to take his post as imam at the Islamic Center of Nashville (ICN) on 12th Avenue and was welcomed by a
flattering profile in The Tennessean written by religious affairs editor Bob Smietana. Smietana, like most local reporters covering Islamic issues has little more than a passing acquaintance with the doctrine of Islam and tends to champion Muslims as underdogs and a misunderstood minority. Had he more detailed knowledge of contemporary Islam, the educational background of Mr. Ahmed might have raised questions about the 12th Avenue mosque's intentions; specifically, whether the ICN is deepening or strengthening its connections with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sheikh Ahmed attended Egypt's Al Azhar University where he obtained a degree in Arabic and Islamic theology.  Imam Ahmed also mentions having attended the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding headed by John Esposito at Georgetown and he is currently attending the Hartford Academy, headed by Ingrid Mattson, presumably through a correspondence course, in order to obtain certification as a Muslim prison chaplain.

Al Azhar is the premier institution for the study of Sunni Islamic law. It is also a hotbed of Muslim Brotherhood activity. The Muslim Brotherhood began in Egypt in the 1920's as a reaction against modern liberalism and the destruction of the Caliphate in 1924. Since then, it has spread around the world as an ideological spearhead promoting "pure" Islam. The Brotherhood advances Islam by both peaceful and violent means depending on time and circumstance. Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Al Qaeda are all branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. In America, the Brotherhood advances the cause of global Islam primarily through propaganda and the use of oil wealth. The Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown, where Ahmed mentioned having attended in order to help him "relate to other religions," was set up by a $20 million dollar grant by billionaire Saudi prince Alaweed bin Talal, a
prominent financial supporter of the Brotherhood. The director of the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding is Professor John Esposito. Dr. Esposito routinely espouses Muslim Brotherhood positions on current issues and according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism:

Esposito has worked with, or defended, three entities which comprised the "
Palestine Committee," a U.S-based committee established to help Hamas politically and financially. He appeared as a defense expert witness in the 2008 trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), repeatedly appears at fundraisers for CAIR -- a group whose two key founders participated in a secret 1993 meeting called to discuss ways to derail the new Oslo Peace Accord -- and co-sponsored a conference with the UASR. UASR was created by Hamas deputy political director Mousa Abu Marzook and directed by Ahmed Yousef, now the Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

The professor has made repeated statements defending the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hizballah. A 2006 article published in the Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted him as saying, "some object to sitting at the same table to engage in a dialogue with Hamas or Hizballah but I see no problem with that." He made that and similar statements portraying Hamas and Hizballah as legitimate political parties with whom the United States should negotiate well after both were designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the State Department.

In an article in the September 2006 edition of Harvard International Review, Esposito criticized the United States and Europe for condemning Hamas, writing that "despite HAMAS' victory in free and democratic elections, [they] failed to give the party full recognition and support."

He has been similarly loath to condemn Hizballah. While in the past "there were times when it engaged in aggressive actions that clearly could be seen as terrorist actions," he said in an interview with the Middle East Affairs Journal in 2000, "Hezbollah in recent years has shown that it operates within the Lebanese political system functioning as a major player in parliament. But when it comes to the south it has been primarily a resistance movement.... Hezbollah has made it clear that such actions would not exist if the Israelis would pull out of the south. Many outsiders refuse to see the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon as an occupation and as illegal."

The same predisposition to reject terrorist motives characterizes Esposito's attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood. When shown an
internal Palestine Committee memo that described the Brotherhood's goal as "eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hand of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions," during his HLF trial testimony, he doubted the memo's authenticity:

"If it is authentic, it would be made by a radical or terrorist organization. That is not something that I would associate with the Muslim Brotherhood..... You wouldn't guess that it was a Muslim Brotherhood statement."

Esposito also defended the Tunisian political group An-Nahda, also known as the Renaissance Party. An-Nahda is outlawed in Tunisia for its use of violence.

The professor remains a self-described "very close friend" of former University of South Florida Professor
Sami Al-Arian, cited in court evidence as a former board member of the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian pled guilty in 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the PIJ. Despite Al-Arian's admitted ties, Esposito continues to laud him as "an extraordinarily bright, articulate scholar and intellectual-activist, a man of conscience with a strong commitment to peace and social justice."

"God help Sami Al-Arian in terms of this administration and many others who have to live through this," he said at a CAIR Dallas banquet in August 2007.
Esposito has engaged in a series of academic partnerships with Azzam Tamimi, a known member of Hamas since at least 1999 and a man who has repeatedly praised suicide bombings. Speaking in South Africa in July 2002, Tamimi declared, "Do not call them suicide bombers, call them shuhada [martyrs] as they have not escaped the miseries of life. They gave their life. Life is sacred, but some things like truth and justice are more sacred than life."

Esposito has praised
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood known for his militant religious rulings and political commentary in support of terrorism and suicide bombings, as well as his fatwa stating that Muslims killed while fighting American forces in Iraq are martyrs. Commenting on suicide bombings in April 2001 Qaradawi said, "they are not suicide operations...these are heroic martyrdom operations."

In spite of such rhetoric, in a 2003 article in the Boston Review, Esposito included Qaradawi on a list of religious scholars with a "reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism and human rights."

IPT's entire bulging file on Dr. Esposito is
here. However to the unknowing, the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, especially because of its association with Georgetown University, sounds like a reputable and benign institution. Such is also the case with many American Muslim organizations, but many of these innocuous sounding institutions such as the Council of American Islamic Relations (which bills itself as a "civil rights" organization, but was founded as a front for Hamas), the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Muslim Student Association have direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Accompanying Smietana's written report for the Tennessean were two video-taped interviews with the new imam. The following is my transcription of the interview entitled, "
New Imam on the perception of Islam as a Religion of Violence."
Ahmed: "We have the Qur'an and I personally invite you all to a series of seminars to discuss the subject within detail academically from an academic point of view to discuss such a thing because I personally don't believe in that such a thing. Because of the academic training I've been through is number one. And number two, there is a political understanding which is common for every people. People sometimes (because of their) psychological background or psychological stress or historical reasons understand whatever they want to understand and then they start saying, "God says" and so forth. We do not have authority over people, but what you have to understand is we have authority to educate with our message. Somebody think that Islam is a religion of violence. You tell me why because one two three four. They say, well I was reading the Qur'an, but I have studied the Qur'an. I have read the Qur'an have studied the (important?) commentaries and I challenge anybody to give me one violent verse of the Qur'an - one violent. And I'm not saying that to influence you for you to change your mind. I'm telling you that sincerely and academically what the Qur'an say. I will just say over 6,000 verse will have to do with everything you need to know in life and the rest is about building the human character, the human soul - peace, love, tranquility and mercy. So suicide bombers - somebody go and they kill themselves you come and ask me, can know? I have been a chaplain the in the jails. I saw killers from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures and religions. Can you convict them with Christianity, or Judaism or Hinduism or whatever? Can I convinct you? Your neighbor killed his wife. You are responsible for him? How can they punish you for that? Every human being is accountable for his actions. People kill people. People get violent. I have nothing to do with that.

(Question: Where were you a prison chaplain?)

I am chaplain many places actually. Now I am chaplain at a prison center an hour or hour and a half away. Many jails I have been to and have seen many kinds of people - radicals - even atheists and they're still violent. If they are atheists and they are violent can we connect them to Islam? How? Can we connect them to Christianity? No. So in any kind of community human beings are capable of being violent or genuine, or being merciful, or being angels. I read a book about why people get violent (I can't remember the author) who was wondering why people get violent, because suddenly you're in a battle and you look at your friend and his head, it blows up. First you want to kill somebody because it is revenge, not for the sake of God, just for the sake of revenge. As a religion and as a Muslim, we do not have any divine teaching encourage us to be violent. We have the opposite. It say never kill yourself. God is merciful, but those who kill themselves will be in the hellfire. That is what God say. I can show in the Qur'an the chapter and the verses. We can talk all day long. We can talk until the cows come home about such issues.

The head of Al Azhar University, where Ahmed studied Islam in order to become an imam, was, until his death in March, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy (or Tantawi). From 1986 to 1996, he was the grand Mufti of Egypt. In 1996, President Hosni Mubarak appointed him the Grand Imam of
al-Azhar Mosque and Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University. The following translation is from MEMRI April 7, 2002.

Within the past year, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the top Egyptian cleric of Al?Azhar University, has shifted his position regarding the targeting of civilians in suicide bombings. While he previously stated that Palestinians should refrain from targeting civilians,
[1] he recently declared that martyrdom (suicide) operations and the killing of civilians are permitted acts and that more such attacks should be carried out. Tantawi's positions were posted on, a website associated with Al?Azhar. The following are excerpts from the report:

"The great Imam of Al?Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy, and described the martyrdom operations as the highest form of Jihad operations. He says that the young people executing them have sold Allah the most precious thing of all."

"[Sheikh Tantawi] emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land and cause the cruel Israeli aggression to retreat..."

These words were spoken at a reception held by Sheikh Tantawi for Israeli Arab Democratic Party leader Abd Al?Wahhab Al?Darawsheh and the delegation that accompanied him. During the meeting, Al?Darawsheh stressed the depth of relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian peoples, and stated that the Palestinian people was steadfast, would not abandon its land and would continue in its path until it achieved one of two good things: victory or martyrdom.

Egypt's new mufti, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al?Tayyeb
, also expressed his support for suicide attacks. Sheikh Al?Tayyeb took office when the term of his predecessor, Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasil, was not renewed due to his opposition to Sheikh Tantawi's previous religious rulings against suicide attacks.

Until now, in all of his interviews with the Egyptian press since becoming mufti, Sheikh Al?Tayyeb has avoided discussing suicide bombings. But since Sheikh Tantawi's call for suicide attacks, Sheikh Al?Tayyeb has declared that "the solution to the Israeli terror lies in a proliferation of Fidai [martyrdom] attacks that strike horror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah. The Islamic countries, peoples and rulers alike, must support these martyrdom attacks."

It should be noted that a March 18, 2002 demonstration at Al?Azhar University featured eight students who had been trained to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis.
[4] Volunteering for suicide bombings against Israelis has become a popular expression in Egypt - so much so that Mahmoud Al?Zahhar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, told the Israeli Arab weekly Kul Al?Arab, "Two days ago, in Alexandria, enrolment began for volunteers for martyrdom [operations]. Two thousand students from the University of Alexandria signed up to die a martyr's death. This is the real Egyptian people."[5]

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 53, "Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy," May 2, 2001.
[4] Al?Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 19, 2002.
[5] Kul Al?Arab (Israel), April 5, 2002.

So by emphasizing the suicide rather than the martyrdom aspect of suicide bombing, Mr. Ahmed was being less than forthright. Holding traditional degrees in Islamic Creed (Din), Islamic law (Fiqh), The Qur'an and Hadith, Sheikh Ahmed must have known that suicide attacks (at least against Israelis) had been sanctioned at the highest levels of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence by the foremost experts on Islamic law at his own alma mater. In fact, this fatwa was issued during the period of Mr. Ahmed's attendance.

In the video interview entitled "
On the difference between Islam and Christianity" Ahmed states:

Islam I would say is the religion of the unconditional love... To love your God without seeking the redemption without seeking the paradise or the hell. You love God because he is the only one is worth it to be worshipped. You love God and worship God for the sake of God. Because you love God as God, not because you are expecting something. God is not a real estate agent. God is not a store.

Notice his backhanded, yet unsurprising, slap against Jews and Christians. Again, let us turn to Sheikh Tantawy who, after all, held the position that is the closest thing Sunni Islam has to a Pope. He wrote the
following words in a 700 page treatise, rationalizing Muslim hatred of Jews:
[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61/ 3:112], [and see Sheikh Saqr's Koranic citations, above] corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness...only a minority of the Jews keep their word...[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not.

The spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom John Esposito has described as "reformist," is Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. He is extremely popular in the Muslim world and makes regular appearances on Al-Jazeera. In addition to his support of suicide bombing noted above, some of his remarks concerning Jews are collected at the
Investigative Project on Terrorism:

On January 30, 2009 excerpts of a speech by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi were aired on Al-Jazeera. In the speech, Qaradawi made
vicious remarks about Jews, inciting Muslims to put Jews in "their place" as Hitler had done, in revenge for Israeli actions in Gaza several weeks prior:

"Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them - even though they exaggerated this issue - he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers."

Such vitriol is nothing new for Qaradawi. At a "Gaza Victory Rally" in Doha, Qatar two days earlier, which was attended by Hamas Political Chief  Khalid Mishaal, he gave a speech saying that "martyrdom is the greatest wish of a Muslim," and that the "resistance must continue." Qaradawi concluded by
praying for the opportunity before his death to kill a Jew, "The only thing I hope for is that as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of Jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair. I will shoot Allah's enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom. Praise be to Allah."

As to Mr. Ahmed's challenge for "
anybody to give me one violent verse of the Qur'an," the list is actually
quite extensive and well known. The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers. The last chronological section of the Qur'an, Sura nine (the verse of the sword) is generally considered by Muslim scholars to abrogate the earlier verses of peace since Islam was a progressive revelation. I won't bore readers with yet another list of violent verses. They can be found easily enough online. And since Mr. Ahmed is a scholar of Islamic law, he would know that all four traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach, as part of the obligation of the Muslim community, warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers. The following list was compiled by Robert Spencer:

Shafi'i school
: A Shafi'i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, says that "Jihad means to war against non-Muslims" ('Umdat al-Salik, o9.0).

Hanafi school
: A Hanafi manual of Islamic law emphasizes that jihad is a religious war against non-believers. It insists that people must be called to embrace Islam before being fought, "because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith." It emphasizes that jihad must not be waged for economic gain, but solely for religious reasons: from the call to Islam "the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war."
However, "if the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya], it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do." (Al-Hidayah, II.140)

Maliki school
: Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that "in the Muslim community, the holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force." In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with "power politics," because Islam is "under obligation to gain power over other nations."

Hanbali school
: The great medieval theorist of what is commonly known today as radical or fundamentalist Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, 1263-1328), was a Hanbali jurist. He directed that "since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought."

Mr. Ahmed is currently attending the Hartford Seminary to become a certified Muslim prison Chaplain. This institution is headed by Canadian convert,
Dr. Ingrid Mattson. Dr. Mattson is a senior faculty member of the Hartford (CT) Seminary, Duncan Black MacDonald Center for the study of Islam and Christian Muslim Relations and heads the Hartford Seminary certification program for Muslim Chaplains for the US military, Federal Bureau of Prisons and state correctional departments. She spoke at President Obama's inaugural, much to the chagrin of terrorism experts. The issue of concern was the fact that Dr. Mattson also serves as president of the US branch of the Islamic Society of North America, another benign sounding organization with direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism's
dossier on the ISNA:

? ISNA remains an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-support prosecution of
the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), despite its appeals
to the court to remove that status.
? ISNA was created by members of the Muslim Brotherhood - a radical Egyptian
movement that seeks to spread Shariah law globally - in the U.S. Many of those
founders remain in leadership positions with ISNA.
? It invites controversial speakers to its nationwide conferences, including some of the world famous Islamists and advocates of Jihad.
? Speakers at ISNA conferences make radical statements, often in contradiction of ISNA's cultivated public image.
The Holy Land Foundation was headquartered in ISNA's Indiana office. As the Justice Department explained in a memorandum submitted in the HLF case:

During the early years of HLF's operation, HLF raised money and supported Hamas through a bank account it held with ISNA. . . . Indeed, HLF (under its former name, OLF) operated from within ISNA, in Plainfield, Indiana. . . . ISNA checks deposited into the ISNA/[North American Islamic Trust] account for the HLF were often made payable to "the Palestinian Mujahideen," the original name for the Hamas military wing. . . . From the ISNA/NAIT account, the HLF sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook . . . and a number of other individuals associated with Hamas.

During the trial it was disclosed that the Holy Land Foundation raised over $36 million for Hamas and prosecutors showed that ISNA was central to a 1993 meeting of top Brotherhood operatives, who were wiretapped "discussing using ISNA as an official cover for their activities."

Everywhere we look at Sheikh Ahmed's background (Al Azhar, The Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, and the Hartford Seminary) the one common thread is the Muslim Brotherhood. Certainly, there can be no proof of affiliation. The Brotherhood is more an association with a common ideological commitment to the spread and eventual dominance of Islam, than it is an organization where members pay dues and carry membership cards.
internal Palestine Committee memo which surfaced at the Holy Land Foundation trial, in which five officers of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development were convicted of funneling millions of dollars to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas from 1995 to 2001, described the Muslim Brotherhood's role in America as a "Civilization-Jihadist process... eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions." The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood is:

- Allah is our objective.
- The Prophet is our leader.
- Qur'an is our law.
- Jihad is our way.
- Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

Judging by his background, it is doubtful whether Sheikh Ahmed would be in serious disagreement with these sentiments. It is high time Americans stopped treating Islam as the religion it claims to be and started treating it as the political movement it clearly is. A closer look at Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed and the Islamic Center of Nashville is in order.

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