Teaching hate and sponsoring back-to-school giveaways may seem like two very different campaigns, but both are components of one of America's largest mainstream Muslim organizations. The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is promoting a public image of charity and moderation, while at the same time teaching its members about the pros of violence and the evil of Jews and America.
Each quarter of the year, ICNA's women's organization releases a curriculum about required activities and reading for the group's members and Members of the General Assembly (MGAs). While required books like Don't be Sad and Islam in Focus may sound innocuous, they contain hateful messages.
"The effect that fighting in the way of Allah has upon a person is something that we might not accept, but it is something that our conscience accepts. Whenever the soul avoids combating evil, its level of fear and anxiety increase," says the book Don't Be Sad, a required reading text for both members and MGAs during the July-September quarter. "But if it [the soul] fights for the sake of Allah, Allah will transform fear and anxiety into happiness, strength, and vigor."
The same text, published in 2005 by the International Islamic Publishing House in Saudi Arabia, promotes hatred of the Jews, calling them the greediest of people.
"They knew the truth from the Torah, yet they were not guided by it. They distorted its words, and if that failed to work, they distorted the meanings of the words," the text says about the Jews. "How could people who treated knowledge in this despicable manner ever have found happiness? It was certainly not possible in their case, for they always tried to eradicate the truth using any means at their disposal," it adds.
The Jews' greediness, above all for life, is also contrasted with the virtue of dying for Islam. "Being killed in the way of Allah is a dream and pleasant wish for the righteous," the text says. That's a sentiment repeated by numerous Islamist groups, as well as terrorist organizations ranging from Hamas to al-Qaida, to explain their support for violence.
Texts from the group's January to March curriculum reinforce similar ideas.
Islam in Focus, a required reading text for ICNA members, reinforces concepts typical of other Islamist texts. It attacks secularism and tells readers that they should aspire to Islamic governments in Muslim countries and around the world.
The critique of Western systems extends to economics as well. "Under the Islamic system the menace of greedy Capitalism and destructive Communism never arises," the text says. Islam is portrayed as a "moderate and middle" course "between Capitalism and Socialism."
Jews and Christians are also disparaged. Jews are accused of being prophet killers, including against the Christian prophet of Jesus, whom the text states "could not tolerate the hypocrisy of the Children of Israel." For believing in the idea of Jesus' crucifixion, Christians are called the "enemies of God."
For MGAs, the required reading for January to March isn't much better. Dawah [Proselytizing] Among Non-Muslims, by South Asian extremist leader Khurram Murad, tells readers that they have a religious duty to convert the world. This responsibility includes presenting "a powerful critique of Kufr [disbelief], of Western thought and society" and offering an Islamic alternative society. "We also have to expose the dangers of secular Western thought and ideas," the book notes.
The duty to convert others, alongside critiquing Western society and advocating an Islamic replacement, is something that ICNA has taken seriously. The group runs two major Dawah – or proselytizing – groups, WhyIslam and Gain Peace. In particular, WhyIslam promotes Islamic society as an alternative to Western society, emphasizing the divine nature of Islamic law in contrast to 'haphazard' nature of Western law.
"The laws as present in the Quran are binding on Muslims and range from prohibition of alcohol consumption and gambling to setting punishments for such grave offences as adultery and theft," says a cover story on WhyIslam's website about Shariah law. "Due to their divine origin – directly conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, via the Archangel Gabriel – these laws are considered timeless and perfect, geared towards the success, welfare and peace of humans in this world and in the hereafter."
ICNA promotes social programs as a way of ingratiating itself with the broader community. An annual back to school program, for example,gives away thousands of book bags and other school supplies to needy people.
It's all a part of dawah.
Dawah Among Non-Muslims also presents the idea that Muslims and Westerners are locked in a struggle for hegemony over "political, economic and ideological interests." It's the point of departure for the book's criticisms of Western economic and political systems, and the text's advocacy of an Islamic replacement.
Importantly, the text also tells readers that they should be careful about discussing their real intentions with the uninitiated. Islamists are encouraged to fit their religious concepts into the language of their audience, including their intentions for a global Islamic state. "For example, the language of 'Islamic state' may not be a suitable language for a Western society; instead, a Just World Order based on surrender to the One God and obedience to His Messengers, is likely to evoke a more favorable response," the book states.
Readers are likewise encouraged to balance a justified anger at the West with a recognition that "there is the goal of bringing the same West to Islam, which would necessarily mean that it would become part of the Muslim Ummah [nation]."
ICNA's 2011 required reading fits into a long pattern of extremism and hate speech. In 2010, a series of stories by the Investigative Project on Terrorism outlined radical reading materials and sentiments in several subdivisions of the group.
ICNA's 2010 Member's Hand Book emphasized ideas of a far-fetched Islamist take-over of American society, something also found in the group's Charter and By-Laws. Books like Fathi Yakan's To Be A Muslim, required reading according to the Hand Book, obligates readers in a lifelong mission "to establish and maintain a system of Islamic governance" over the globe. "The adoption and adaptation of capitalist, socialist, communist or other manmade systems, either in whole or in part, constitutes a denial of Islam and disbelief in Allah the Lord of the worlds," Yakin also states in his text.
Other radical texts, including articles in the group's The Message publication, have encouraged violent jihad among young people. In 1997, the group saluted a convert to Islam who gave up his life fighting for a Pakistani terrorist organization, in an article entitled "Actions Speak Louder than Words." A 2003 introductory manual called for young Muslims to join ICNA to help in efforts for "the Establishment of Islam in its totality," so that "He [Allah] may make it prevalent over all religions" in North America.
On Sunday, an ICNA official was offered as a representative of the overall American Muslim community in an editorial published by New Jersey's Times of Trenton. It touts billboards promoting WhyIslam and quotes ICNA's New Jersey chapter President Asim Khan urging people to "to come hear it from the horse's mouth. We invite them to ask us what our faith is about."
If anyone takes up Khan on his offer, ask for a copy of the reading list.