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I’ve heard a lot of rumors lately about the Muslim Student Association – the national organization of Muslim college students that boasts chapters in over a thousand colleges across America and Canada, and is one of the most influential religious organizations around. They’ve been accused of promoting Islamic fundamentalism and inviting speakers who spew violent anti-American rhetoric. I thought I’d check things out for myself.

I’m Jewish, but thanks to my Middle Eastern features, I can easily pass for an Arab. So, last week, I attended a closed (as in Muslim students only) meeting sponsored by the MSA at Queensborough Community College, just across the bridge from me in Manhattan.

The event featured a speech about Iraq by two American-based leaders of Al-Muhajiroun, a well-known Islamic fundamentalist organization that supports the ideology of Osama bin Laden, and whose worldwide leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, has long been suspected of ties with al-Qaida.

I arrived at the mid-sized classroom in the Humanities building of the college. About 20 students were in attendance. The males were on their knees, barefoot, completing afternoon services, while the women sat clustered in the back, traditional scarves covering their heads.

The president of the Queensborough MSA distributed soda and slices of pizza, and then introduced the two speakers – Abu Yousuf and Muhammad Faheed.

Yousuf, 20, looked like a regular college student – dark skin, clad in black jeans and a gray sweater. He was born in America, and became involved with Al-Muhajiroun at age 15. He says he attended a “camp” in Sudan last year, and now leads the New York chapter of the organization.

Faheed, 23, stood out a bit more. A freshly grown beard complimented his brown turban, long white robe and a green military sweater with Arabic writing on it. He was born in Pakistan, and says he immigrated to America at age 3 and now assists Yousuf with Al-Muhajiroun in New York.

Yousuf took the podium first. He began in Arabic: “With thanks to Allah we are here. I testify that there is no God but Allah … May Allah grant that I speak only the truth.”

He then switched to English, and explained that the war against Iraq is about oil and Western dominance over Muslim nations under the pretext of disarmament. He argued that President Bush is starting a “Christian crusade to rid the world of Islam,” and that after Iraq, America will likely attack the rest of the Arab countries.

He said that a war with Iraq will cause a major humanitarian crisis in which American soldiers “starve, rape and murder our brothers and sisters,” and that something must be done if that happens.

“America is hypocritical,” he asserts. “Now it says it must ‘disarm’ Saddam, but they armed him in the first place! And most of the crimes against Saddam’s people were committed while America supported him and turned a blind eye to his atrocities.”

Yousuf disregards the argument that America is trying to liberate the Iraqi people and fight terrorism: “America doesn’t want Saddam attacking his own people, so what are they going to do to liberate the Iraqis? Attack Saddam’s people!”

“Because there is no way to justify this war,” Yousuf said, “we must find a solution.” He then introduced Brother Faheed to explain just what that solution is.

Faheed immediately declared that there is an outright conspiracy against Islam by Christians and Jews, and that as Muslims, “we must not recognize any government authority, or any authority at all besides Allah.”

“We are not Americans,” he shouted. “We are Muslims. [The U.S.] is going to deport and attack us! It is us vs. them! Truth against falsehood! The colonizers and masters against the oppressed, and we will burn down the master’s house!”

Faheed argued that it is against the Koran for Muslims to protest the American government because that would constitute unfaithfully recognizing the authority of a non-Muslim country.

“We reject the U.N., reject America, reject all law and order. Don’t lobby Congress or protest because we don’t recognize Congress! The only relationship you should have with America is to topple it!”

Faheed explained that those in attendance should also reject the authority of secular Muslim states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, “which have been bought out by America … Mushariff gets $60 Million a month to betray and arrest us.”

Faheed said the war against Iraq would be “felt in America,” and that U.S. Muslims would soon be in danger and should prepare themselves for a battle with the American people.

I was particularly concerned when he indicated his support for terrorist organizations.

“The so-called terrorists are the only people who truly fear Allah. Since everyone fears the worldly things that Allah controls, they therefore fear these Islamic organizations [which have been labeled terrorist organizations]. We must join with these organizations. They are the only worthy causes, and the mighty superpower only fears them.”

That seemed the main thrust of his presentation – that the proper Muslim response to an American war with Iraq should not be intellectual or to protest against the government, but to join “appropriate” Muslim organizations and prepare for some sort of physical confrontation with America.

Faheed explained that the U.S. is “not strong. Vietnam, they lost. Somalia, they ran away from. America hasn’t won anything since World War II. We can defeat America.”

“Eventually there will be a Muslim in the White House dictating the laws of Shariah.”

Faheed then opened the floor to questions, and I immediately asked what it is that people in the room should do, what specific organizations they should join. Al-Qaida? Hamas? Hezbollah?

Faheed said that he “already answered that question – you must join true Muslim organizations.”

But he was nonspecific. I asked for names, details.

Yousuf took over and told the students to “use the Koran to divine whether a Muslim organization is true – does it recognize the authority of the West? Does it use true Muslim principles for guidance?”

“You see, there is only one good Muslim organization out of every 73.”

He still wouldn’t mention specific groups, or even directly promote his own organization.

The students in the room asked basic but complimentary questions like, “How can we support the people in Iraq financially?” and “What kind of rhetoric should we use when we talk with non-Muslims about the situation?”

People started to trickle out, and the MSA leader thanked everyone for coming.

I had a chance to chat for a few minutes in private with the leaders of Al-Muhajiroun. Yousuf explained that he speaks at many colleges throughout the New York area, and that most of his speeches are arranged by the MSA. In fact, Yousuf invited me to a speech he was giving the very next day being sponsored by the MSA of Marymount College in Manhattan.

As I helped Yousuf and Faheed clean up the pizza boxes and empty plates, I wondered how students likely receiving federal aid to attend a public college can agree with speakers who promote the destruction of the very government that is educating them? Whether some of these students would consider joining the kinds of organizations that were being promoted? How such rhetoric can be accepted at an American university?

And when I walked out, I realized that those rumors about the MSA had just been confirmed.


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Aaron Klein has previously conducted interviews with Yasser Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and leaders of the Taliban.

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