I Am a Member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Not a Terrorist

23haddad-master768TORA, Egypt — I write this from the darkness of solitary confinement in Egypt’s most notorious prison, where I have been held for more than three years. I am forced to write these words because an inquiry is underway in the United States regarding charges that the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization to which I have devoted years of my life, is a terrorist group.

We are not terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has lived in two modes: surviving in hostile political environments or uplifting society’s most marginalized. As such, we have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light.

We are a morally conservative, socially aware grass-roots movement that has dedicated its resources to public service for the past nine decades. Our idea is very simple: We believe that faith must translate into action. That the test of faith is the good you want to do in the lives of others, and that people working together is the only way to develop a nation, meet the aspirations of its youth and engage the world constructively. We believe that our faith is inherently pluralistic and comprehensive and that no one has a divine mandate or the right to impose a single vision on society.

Since our inception, we have been engaged politically in the institutions of our country as well as socially to address the direct needs of people. Despite being the most persecuted group under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, our involvement in the Parliament, either in coalitions with other political groups or as independents, is a testament to our commitment to legal change and reform. We spoke truth to power in an environment full of rubber-stamp parties. We worked with independent pro-democracy organizations against plans to hand the presidency to Mr. Mubarak’s son. We also worked closely with an array of professional syndicates and labor unions.


Whose extremism? Using the phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ — or not.


Donald Trump is very clear on the subject: If President Barack Obama doesn’t use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” to discuss the brutal killings in Orlando, “he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Most Republicans seem to agree that it’s essential to link Islam to the tactics and goals of extremists and terrorists. Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Benjamin Sasse (no fan of Trump) to Obama: “You’re wrong. Telling the truth about violent Islam is a prerequisite to a strategy.” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that Obama “shows a total disconnect from the problems we face in confronting/defeating radical Islam.” GOP strategist Ed Rogers wrote that the president’s refusal to refer to “radical Islam” was “a remarkable display of arrogance and tone-deaf rhetoric.”

Hillary Clinton has decided to do an end run around the issue. “Radical jihadist, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point.” For her, the challenge is to go after the perpetrators of hateful crimes without tarring an entire religion — or being distracted by a rhetorical sideshow.

Let’s say Trump and his allies are right — that it’s important to label the religious underpinnings of those who seek to kill innocents; that when a killer calls on religion to justify his actions, let’s identify that religion for all to see.

But can we really stop with Islam?

Take Robert Dear, the deranged man who in November took a semiautomatic rifle into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. He killed three and wounded nine. His motivation? To be “a warrior for the babies.”

Dear is not just an extremist: He is a “Christian extremist.” He called his anti-abortion activism “God’s work.” He dreamed that “(w)hen he died and went to heaven, he would be met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him …” He sprinkled his confession to the police with Bible phrases.

To understand Dear, don’t we have to understand the Christian teachings this Christian extremist believed he was upholding?


Orlando Shooting: Talking Points

Men hug during a vigil in a park following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida

Men hug during a vigil in a park following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri – RTX2FURO

A site called “ReThink:  Media for Security, Rights and Democracy” has just published a page of “talking points” that can be used to counter the simplistic Islamophobic blaming that has already begun to fill our airwaves.  It’s important that people of conscience give this kind of thoughtful response to the distortions.


Talking Points and Resources

  • This terrible attack is rightly called a ‘hate crime.” No hate crime can be tolerated against any community, ever. All of us must stand together in denouncing prejudice directed at any group.
  • All Americans, and indeed all people, should be able to live their lives without fear of being targeted for their sexual preference, their faith, or the color of their skin.
  • The LGBTQ community has stood side by side with the American Muslim community during challenging and difficult times.  We stand together against hatred, violence and demonization of entire communities, and we honor the experiences and work of  LGBTQ Muslims, who are living at the intersections of their LGBTQ identities and Islam. Today, we stand in solidarity with them and the entire LGBTQ community. [Credit: Adapted from Muslim Advocates statement]
  • The gun used in this horrific shooting was an AR -15, the same weapon used in the tragedies at San Bernardino and Sandy Hook. This is a pattern that cannot be allowed to continue. There have been 134 mass shootings this year alone. We need to come together as Americans and put an end to this ongoing tragedy.
  • Religious, civic, and political leaders of every variety should stand together to denounce prejudice or violence that is directed at any group. Politicians who seek to exploit this tragedy demonstrate that they are not fit for leadership in this country, and their exploitation should be renounced. Our strength is our unity.
  • Whatever warped justification the shooter may have claimed, his actions are a hate crime. He alone bears responsibility for this terrible crime. His family, his faith, and his community do not. Every religious tradition explicitly condemns the killing of innocent people, but murder knows no faith.


I’m a Muslim, not a terrorist. So why did the NYPD spy on me for years?

elshinawy_240x180_61454638842A couple of weeks after I began lecturing on Islam at New York City mosques, something strange happened. Acquaintances and congregants told me they’d been approached by law enforcement officers who asked about me and my talks. Soon after, I began to notice suspicious people in the audiences. One gentleman stood out — he was the most frequent attendee, but he regularly fell asleep while I spoke.

It was 2003. I was enrolled at Brooklyn College, studying English literature. I’d grown up in New York and loved the city. But I’d also seen the way Muslims were discriminated against, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001. In the year after the attacks, hate crimes spiked tenfold. I wanted to encourage Muslims to stay strong in their faith in spite of these assaults. I spoke on theology and visiting the sick, on skepticism and the sinful pursuit of instant gratification, on the gravity of injustice and the vastness of God’s mercy.

I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I consistently rejected violence and terrorism in my lectures. Still, for a decade, I felt like I was under surveillance, pursued by shadowy law enforcement officials seeking out a crime that didn’t exist.

In 2013, my fears were confirmed. I found out from an Associated Press investigation that I was a victim of the New York Police Department’s aggressive surveillance of Muslims. After 9/11, the NYPD began to track large swaths of us. Officers secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, then spied on imams and recorded sermons. The department conducted at least a dozen of these “terrorism enterprise investigations” since 2001, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing and minimal oversight from judges. No charges were ever brought as a result of the activities of the so-called “demographics” unit.


We are all terrorists

The debate on terrorism forces Muslims to participate in an unwinnable argument

Demonstrators standing at the edge of the rally area near

TIMES SQUARE, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES – 2015/11/21: Demonstrators standing at the edge of the rally area near the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue hold signs. About a hundred members of New York’s Muslim-American community and non-Muslim supporters gathered in Times Square for the two-fold purpose of expressing grief for the victims of recent attacks by Islamic State extremists and to condemn the Islamic State’s radical interpretation of Islam and the terrorist acts carried out by them. (Photo by Albin-Lohr Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I arrived in Oslo, Norway, on Nov. 16 as Europe began its first workweek after deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As I stood in line for passport control, a clipped voice over a public address system declared that it was time for a moment of silence in solidarity with Parisians. As the announcement ended, the two men ahead of me in line, clutching green Pakistani passports, exchanged a glance.

I understood their palpable anxiety. The horrors of Paris have bloated the weight of being brown and Muslim to grotesque proportions. Terrorism’s ravages dangle over the exchange that permits entry or can deny it. In the hush, I began to rehearse my responses to anticipated questions. I felt nervous and unprepared.

Europe was coming together to commemorate the 130 lives lost, the 350 people injured and the millions left traumatized in seven coordinated attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Despite condemnations by Muslim community leaders and ordinary Muslims alike, the post-Paris political climate was overtaken by a seductive Islamophobia that substantiates existing prejudice and rallies the terrified Westerner to support outright exclusion of Muslims from their countries or an abridgment of their rights. It did not matter thatMuslims are the most frequent targets of terrorism and the vast majority of Muslims condemn ISIL. In the odd instance that Muslims were included in television debates or quoted in news reports, their remarks have been ineffectual, bouncing off the Teflon-coated belief in Muslim complicity and culpability.

Religious profiling and social and cultural exclusion often reach a fever pitch after a terrorist attack. Such profiling and the resultant mass surveillance place undue expectations on ordinary Muslims. During a radio interview I did a few days after the Paris attacks, my interviewer appeared baffled when I insisted that my power to stop terrorism was equivalent to his capacity to stop the next mass shooter.

The anti-Muslim bias also assumes that there is something inherently Islamic about terrorism, making all Muslims inherently suspect and tainted. Muslims try to counter this misconception with condemnations, disassociations and enumerations of Muslim lives lost. But they lose every time. More than a decade after 9/11, 56 percent of U.S. citizens think the values of Islam are at odds with American values.


Muslim Group Calls for Interfaith Vigils in Wake of San Bernardino Shooting

MosqueVigil‘It’s really important for us to reiterate the double standard that expects Muslims to do something more or different because a criminal has a Muslim identity.’Zahra Billoo

*    *     *

Condemnations and prayer vigils have become an almost immediate response by Muslim leaders in the wake of attacks perpetrated in the name of Islam. And the San Bernardino shootings were no exception.

A few hours after the two shooters were identified as Muslims on Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of greater Los Angeles leapt into action. The group condemned the attack and put forward the brother-in-law of shooting suspect Syed Farook. He mourned the 14 lives lost and expressed sorrow for the now 21 people who were wounded.

The next day, the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, the largest in San Bernardino County, held a vigil. The primary purpose of the event was to show support for the victims’ families, said Dr. Ahsan Khan a few hours before the event.

“This is also an opportunity for us to show that the majority of Muslims in the world are peace-loving, and what we believe is antithetical to what we witnessed,” Khan said.

But some Muslims — particularly in Northern California — have been rethinking this strategy, said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Bay Area office of CAIR.

“I don’t anticipate any vigils being driven or led by the Muslim community in Northern California,” Billoo said.

Instead, CAIR is encouraging community members to join interfaith vigils. The organization has staked out the position that its community members experience terrorist attacks — regardless of whether they’re perpetrated in the name of Islam — as Americans, not as Muslims.


Anti-Muslim Sentiment Is a Serious Threat to American Security

AP_361091485059-620-620x360The incredible barbarism perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, too often dissuades those in the West from any meaningful assessment of the group’s strategy and tactics. From beheading or burning alive captives to slaughtering entire minority populations and gunning down innocent civilians in previously quiet streets, the violence is incomprehensible and thus can appear devoid of reason or planning. That is far from the truth. ISIS has been very clear about its objectives. It uses violence to achieve its goals, including to spread fear and induce governments and publics to make choices they otherwise would not; to mobilize its supporters with demonstrations of its capabilities; and, most importantly, to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash to help it attract new followers and prepare for a clash of civilizations. The ignorance of most in Western society to ISIS’s clear and openly described objectives is providing the necessary fuel for their continued growth and momentum.

The reaction in the United States to the attacks in Paris has been a mixture of solidarity with the victims and a growing anxiety about the threat ISIS poses to the American homeland. This fear is understandable even though the ability of the U.S. government to detect and prevent terrorist attacks has never been stronger. The United States should not be complacent, however, and the Center for American Progress has proposed a series of steps the United States should take to defeat ISIS. We can never completely eliminate the risk of terrorist attacks. But in times such as these, it is incumbent upon political leaders to reassure the American people that they are taking all of the appropriate steps to keep them safe now and in the long term.