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The Muslim Interfaith Charade - How Omar Abdel-Rahman's interpretation of Islam exposes the farce of dialogue

May 6, 2008

The Muslim Interfaith Charade

By William Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz

May 6, 2008 - San Francisco, CA - - Despite the outward appearance of infirmity, Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh" is a central figure in the Islamic global jihad. He was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, which killed 6 and injured over 1,000.

Rahman is now serving a life sentence for that crime.

A precocious child, he started studying the Qur'an at an early age, committing much of it to memory. After graduating with a PhD in Qur'anic studies from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Rahman took leadership roles in a number of jihadist groups including Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, both offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Based upon his stature as a recognized Islamic scholar, he has the authority to declare religious findings or "fatwas," one of which countenanced the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, a crime for which he was prosecuted but later acquitted and then finally expelled from Egypt.

About Sadat, Rahman has been quoted as saying, "...Sadat was not a Muslim. He made a mockery of Islam and its principles."

Finally outside the reach of Egyptian authorities, Rahman made his way to Afghanistan in the mid-1980s where he contacted an influential former professor, Abdullah Azzam. Azzam co-founder of the terrorist group, Maktab al-Khadamat [MAK, also known as the Afghan Services Bureau] along with Osama bin Laden. Maktab al-Khadamat was supplanted after the Soviet route in Afghanistan by a new organization, al-Qaeda, "the base," in Arabic.

Rahman succeeded in gaining entrance to the United States in 1990 and immediately started inciting acts of domestic terrorism while preaching in New Jersey area mosques.

One of his congregants, El Sayyid Nosair assassinated rabbi Meir Kahane in New York on November 5, 1990, motivated by Rahman's hate-filled sermons. Kahane was a leading exponent of Zionism in the United States, an Orthodox Jew and a former member of the Israeli Knesset.

Despite Rahman's already extensive terrorist history his most spectacular undertaking lay ahead.

In February of 1993 a 1,500 pound explosive charge, hidden in a van, was detonated in the basement of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, with the intent of toppling it onto Tower 2, thus destroying the structure.

The plot was financed by Khaled Shaikh Mohammed [KSM, currently detained at Guantanamo Bay and believed to be the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks] and was carried out by Ramzi Yousef [KSM's nephew and an engineer], Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima [who served for a time as Rahman's driver], Nidal Ayyad and Ahmad Ajaj.

Rahman's part in the World Trade Center bombing was elemental; he issued the fatwa declaring the attack justifiable under Islamic law, as he had done in the case of Sadat's 1981 assassination [and reportedly had also done while in Brooklyn against his Muslim rivals].

Though incarcerated for life, Omar Abdel-Rahman's centrality in Islamic jihadism continues to present an immense problem, one aspect of which is not so readily apparent.

As a highly educated Muslim imam, with a doctorate from Al Azhar University, an institution dating from 972 AD, Rahman's pronouncements on Islam carry a great deal of weight. His prestige is further heightened because of the institution at which he obtained his doctorate [where he also served as a professor], a university which many Muslims believe is the most important Islamic instruction center in the world:

"Al-Azhar University is a natural expansion of the great mosque of Al-Azhar, the oldest and most celebrated of all Islamic academic institutes and Universities all over the world without exception. For over one thousand year Al-Azhar was venerated cultural centre for all Muslims in the East and West..."[source,]

His current legal entanglements aside, with these credentials Abdel-Rahman might be considered preeminently qualified to participate, at a very authentic level, in the current fad of Muslim-Christian and Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue.

If this were the case, what would his message be?

Actually there is no need to speculate because Rahman has written and spoken voluminously on his conception of the faith and that vision should serve as welcome, though unsettling candor, in the make believe world of interfaith exchange.

Understanding the new Islamist game plan - the stealth jihad - is important because so many resources are being devoted to it and the phenomenon itself is roundly misunderstood. As we have previously written, for example in Islamic Marketing 101 - Maha ElGenaidi Takes Da'Wa Act On The Road, "...Islamic speaker's bureaus are proliferating in the United States. They represent the vanguard of a new paradigm in jihad being waged by Islamists under the guise of "dialogue." This emphasis on "legal" Islamism, the stealth jihad has been dictated in part by circumstances on the ground, where many of the most violent Islamists have been either killed, captured or forced to go into hiding, proving that aggression has been counter-productive..."

A mainstay of these Islamic dog and pony shows is the casting of the religion in a manner that is inconsistent with its history. In these exercises catchphrases such as "there is no compulsion in religion," loom large in proportion to their meaninglessness. Likewise in these talks jihad rather than being descriptive of an over one thousand year tradition of "fighting in the way of Allah," i.e., religiously sanctified warfare, becomes merely a word to denote undefined "struggle," as if blowing up the World Trade Center and struggling to stop smoking exist on the same moral plain.

During these excursions into unreality, at every problematic juncture which might cast Islam in a negative light the cause offered is always something extrinsic to the religion or attributed to "underdeveloped Muslims," or rage against the West because of the supposed sin of colonialism, etc.

In large measure, at these events Islam is not presented as it is, warts and all but as the speaker either wishes it was or at base minimum, what he wants the participants to believe it is.

It goes without saying that in many cases few who conduct these Muslim outreach efforts have any real credentials as experts outside their adherence to the faith, and even fewer possess advanced degrees in any relevant field. Because of that, these facilitators function essentially as religious salespeople, practitioners of da'wa and the necessity of remanufacturing the religion is essential to closing the deal.

Consistent with this approach these presenters are often quite quick to brand any Muslim whose public statements are at odds with this storybook presentation of Islam as being backwards, uneducated or simply mistaken.

That allegation is as self-serving as it is wrong because Islam regardless of what apologists maintain has a past that is verifiable and it has expert spokesmen - such as Abdel-Rahman - whose message is anything but accommodating.

The question remains why should someone whose level of expertise equates to a door-to-door religious hawker have any credibility to dismiss those with vastly superior credentials, simply because those individuals present Islam as a combative and aggressive ideology?

This is why Rahman is important - and dangerous to Muslim interfaith apologists - because he is not only uninterested in sugar coating Islam but his theological grounding in arguing the Wahhabist/Salafist line is beyond question.

From the time he first arrived in the country in 1990 Rahman consistently maintained that Islam, rather than being the "religion of peace," requires believers to fight in the cause of Allah, to participate in jihad as a religious duty.

The below passage was paraphrased from one of Rahman's sermons in the New Jersey mosque and scribbled in a notebook by El Sayyid Nosair, rabbi Kahane's assassin.

"...breaking and destruction of the enemies of Allah. And this is by means of destroying exploding, the structure of their civilized pillars such as the touristic infrastructure which they are proud of and their high world buildings which they are proud of and their statues which the endear and the buildings which gather their heads, their leaders, and without announcement for our responsibility of Muslim for what had been done."

Perhaps Rahman's most cogent statement regarding the role of Islam in the world comes from a lengthy address that he made in U.S. federal court, just before he received a life sentence for seditious conspiracy.

"...Allah almighty says never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you, God's blessings and peace be upon you, till you follow the religion...I am honored to join those who are in jail for God's cause, with the martyrs and the good...And I say, and I am not exaggerating when I say I am sent in jail as a Muslim...I will not be terrorized by jail nor by execution, as long as that is in the service of Islam...I say the truth even when it is very bitter I am not afraid of anybody when I talk of God, because I have faced those who are unjust in Egypt and in America...And I will speak what the Koran taught me to say...since the creation of America it is against the Muslims...America has spent all its efforts to get the Muslims and and to hurt them and to create the most calamitous amongst them, and our case here is the most modern or the latest of American insults towards Islam. It's worse and...It is not only an attack on Muslims alone, but it is an aggression against the words of God and all the great inspirations of God. And it is putting Islam on trial and disgracing it...I have not done anything and I have not committed any crime, except having taught people about Islam. I told them about God's orders so that they may practice it, and the things that they should avoid so that they may avoid them. I have taught people in mosques, in schools, and in universities, what God said and what the messenger said. That is my only profession...whereas in the court they have listened to my speeches and my lessons, and these words are not my own words, but these are the words of Islam and the verses of the holy Koran. And when the American government produces or puts forward my speeches and my Muslim lessons as evidence in this case, in so doing it is actually putting Islam on trial, and it is putting the Koran on trial...if America is capable of killing people, it cannot kill Islam. And if it tried to do that, God will actually make it disappear...because God has guaranteed the continuation of Islam and the safeguarding of the Koran...the judge refused us the right to bring an expert in Islam to testify that that is what Islam says, what the Koran has said, what the prophet has said...Had they brought in an expert in Islam, that expert would have said, he would have said bless you Abdel Rahman, may God bless you, you have said what Islam has ordered us to say, and you have asked people to follow what the Koran said. And you have not changed or added what thousands of Muslim clerics have said...And even with all these wars that America is declaring on Islam, the truth, whether America likes it or not, the future is for Islam...I am being tried because of my beliefs and because I defend Islam..." [source, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, v. OMAR AHMAD ALI ABDEL RAHMAN, et al,]

Taken from Rahman's 1999 appeal of his life sentence, the court summarized Rahman's claim, which also represents his religious viewpoint:

"According to his speeches and writings, Rahman perceives the United States as the primary oppressor of Muslims worldwide, active in assisting Israel to gain power in the Middle East, and largely under the control of the Jewish lobby. Rahman also considers the secular Egyptian government of Mubarak to be an oppressor because it has abided Jewish migration to Israel while seeking to decrease Muslim births. Holding these views, Rahman believes that jihad against Egypt and the United States is mandated by the Qur'an. n1 Formation of a jihad army made up of small "divisions" and "battalions" to carry out this jihad was therefore necessary, according to Rahman, in order to beat back these oppressors of Islam including the United States." Tr. 2197. n2 [source, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee, v. OMAR AHMAD ALI ABDEL RAHMAN, IBRAHIM A. EL-GABROWNY, EL SAYYID NOSAIR, TARIG ELHASSAN, HAMPTON-EL, AMIR ABDELGANI, FADIL ABDELGANI, VICTOR ALVAREZ, MOHAMMED SALEH and FARES KHALLAFALLA, Defendants-Appellants,]

The Sheikh's obvious devotion to following the dictates of his religion has been additionally underlined in a recent interview with Andrew McCarthy, the government's key prosecutor in the Rahman case:

"...In fact, the whole experience in watching the dynamic of him and other people in the Muslim community throughout the trial was a real eye-opener for me. I wanted to believe in 1993 the stuff that we were putting out, you know, that he basically perverted who was otherwise a peaceful doctrine. But what I found was going through all of his thousands of pages of transcripts and statements, was that when he cited scripture to justify acts of terrorism, to the extent he was quoting scripture or referring to it, he did it accurately, which shouldn't be a surprise...I mean, he was a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence, graduated from Al-Azhar University in Egypt. Why in the world I would have thought that I or the Justice Department would know more about Islam than he would is beyond me now that I look back on it, but back then I was pretty confident that we must have been right when we said that he was basically perverting the doctrine..." [source,]

Why indeed do we insist, against all evidence, that the campaign of violence - the jihad - carried out by the Islamists against the West is a perversion of Islam and inconsistent with its theology, when some of the most learned Muslim's argue convincingly to the contrary, providing specific Qur'anic based justification toward that end?

It seems then that the implication of taking these people at their word is profound. In the current case, it serves to undermine the entire concept of interfaith dialogue, because outside of its ability to mislead, of what value is an inter-religious presentation based upon falsehood and deception?

Until "interfaith" means presenting Islam devoid of platitudes and exploring why it lends itself so easily to providing a doctrinal/theological justification for a never ending war between believers and non-believers, most faith sharing events with Muslims will continue to be nothing but da'wa.

It is remarkable that some of the institutions most critical in maintaining national security, most prominently the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, are apparently fully committed to this self-imposed blindness, making cooing sounds with terror friendly Muslim groups such as ISNA, and even cautioning their employees not to use the terms, jihad and mujahideen, because it might be seen as being provocative.

It's intellectually dishonest and manifestly harmful to separate Islam from Islamic terrorism and until these and similar issues are confronted and dealt with honestly, the ramped up interfaith industry will remain a hoax, predicated upon a lie.

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at