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Yerushalmi’s Agenda – A $400,000 Study of Imams’ Beards Pushes Anti-Shariah Movement

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A project costing hundreds of thousands of dollars titled “Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques” is being hyped as an “important study” by a lawyer, David Yerushalmi, who the ADL describes as one who has “a record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.”

The study has been strongly criticized by liberal organizations but seized upon by conservative publications, such as FrontPage Magazine and National Review Online, “as proof that Islam constitutes a grave threat to national security. Writing in National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy said the results proved that, “what we wishfully call ‘radicalism’ is in fact the Islamic mainstream.”

What Is The Study About?

Wearing what they said were “Shari’a adherent” disguises, researchers looked for empirical evidence between Islamic practices i.e. hijab, gender segregation, straightening of the lines, the length of the imam’s beard and the existence of (what he terms) violence-prone materials in the 100 masjids surveyed. According to the study, only 3 aspects were found statistically significant. Remarkably, they also observed that the 12 imams who wore the watch on the right hand were right handed.

Gaubatz (director of the project) described these as markers for gauging whether and to what extent a mosque should be seen as extremist. Each of these attributes “comes from Shari’a,” he said.

How ridiculous is this conjecture, but what is more disheartening is that people are taking this seriously. This playing on shallow stereotypes diverts our attention from really seeking out those who do fall in the trap of radicalization and domestic terrorists like David Burget.

Not found ‘significant’ were whether or not the imam wore a thawb and the presence of modern hijab vs. traditional hijab (phew). It didn’t take long for the leap from this study to headlines like “Study: 3 in 4 U.S. mosques preach anti-West extremism” to take place. On one hand his study claims that we are being radicalized by ‘Islamists’ and on the other hand he says Shari’a itself is radical. As the “nation’s foremost non-Muslim expert on Islam,” which one is it?

You can read the study here. An adherence to Shari’a is termed Salafist ideology in the study, which begs the question: for Muslims who do not follow that ideology, do they not attend mosques? Do they not grow their beards?  Do they not wear watches? Are they not Shari’a compliant? Riyadh us Saliheen is one of the seven texts being tarnished as ‘severe material’ in calling to violent jihad without reservations. The study also uses al-Misri’s Umdat al-Salik as another example of a ‘violent’ book – it’s a shame for someone to have done such an expensive study of Islam in America and not know which books are read by which ideologies. The study mentions that wearing of hijab by girl’s ages 5-12 is ‘Shari’a-adherent’ behavior, which shows how much the researchers know about Islam.

And how exactly were the imams inciting violence in the mosques? Were they giving khutbahs? NO! Were they urging worshipers in talks or study circles to go out and kill non-Muslims? NO! This was a conclusion of the study (which is not being advertised), that despite having “violent text” (their words) in the mosques, there was no indication of actually urging the joining of terrorist organizations or gathering of money to fund terrorist organizations.

So what did the Imams do? They answered a question.

Following the prayer service, the surveyor asked the following question: “Do you recommend the study of: (a) only the Qur’an and/or Sunna; (b) Tafsir Ibn Kathir; (c) Fiqh as-Sunna; (e) Reliance of the Traveller; or (f) the works of Qutb, such as Milestones, and Maududi, such as The Meaning of the Qur’an?”

If the imam or lay leader recommended studying any of the materials mentioned above except the Qur’an and/or Sunna then they were termed as Moderate to SEVERELY violent – leaving an “Ominous Jihadist Footprint” or leading to hyper yellow journalism i.e. Big Peace: “81% Of US Mosques Promote Jihad.”

Who is David Yerushalmi?

He contends that African-Americans are a “relatively murderous race killing itself.” Read his post with context yourself just to make sure that we aren’t jumping to conclusions. What do Americans expect from a racist xenophobe like him? MuslimMatters first wrote abut David Yerushalmi and his non-profit SANE in 2007. His views sound more radical than any Shari’a he is vilifying.

He has close ties to the likes of Pamela Geller; “he is her personal attorney. He incorporated the non-profit entity under which she and Robert Spencer produce their blogs.  This in turn allows David Horowitz to plow funds into their enterprise that have been given on a tax-deductible basis.  Yerushalmi is also representing her in a $10 million defamation lawsuit brought by the family of Rifqa Bary, a teenage girl torn from her Muslim-American family by Christian evangelicals who inveigled her into converting to Christianity and running away from their home while still a minor.” He claims to be an expert on Islamic law. Click here to read more about his views. He said his interest in Islamic law began with the Sept. 11 attacks when he was living in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

He was behind the Stop the Madrassa campaign that got Debbi AlMontaser fired from her job as the principal of the Khalil Gibran Academy; he filed a lawsuit which was dismissed, and he appealed and lost.

I read more about this ‘study’ in this post by Paul Berger in the oldest Jewish newspaper in the US, The Forward. From the perspective of other Jews, what do they have to say about this man?

In a telephone interview with the Forward, Yerushalmi, 55, said that the motivation behind Islamic extremism could not be explained by socioeconomic, political or cultural factors. “The one common denominator,” he said, “was Sharia.” It is too soon to judge the impact of this latest study, but  The Southern Poverty Law Center included him in a recent list of the country’s leading Islamophobes, and the Anti-Defamation League has cited his “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.” In his telephone interview, Yerushalmi denied these charges. He said that he had defended black and Muslim clients pro bono and that the real target of his advocacy is liberalism.

The study concludes that non-Shari’a centric mosques may provide a foundation for reformed Islam which can integrate into a western ‘liberal’ citizenship, but according to his own words, Yerushalmi’s real target of advocacy is “liberalism.” Is this not a duplicity in his words? This makes me believe that the real objective is to reform Islam.

Anti-Islam Activism

Paul Berger notes that “one of the most striking aspects of Yerushalmi’s activism against Shari’a law has been his ability to edge his ideas into the mainstream.” With the death of Osama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crushed economy and a debt crisis like none the United States has ever faced, the bogeyman is Shari’a. Yerushalmi has sugar coated his biases, making it sound very acceptable to the masses. Women’s rights, children’s rights – but what is the real agenda?

His legislation has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union as well as from Catholic bishops and Jewish groups but “he did not believe that court cases involving Jewish or canon law would be affected by the statutes because they are unlikely to involve violations of constitutional rights.” The case that he quotes for the rights of women suffering under Shari’a law used to give a verdict in the US is the same argument that could be applied to Jewish Law. From Judaism 101, according to the Talmud, only the husband can initiate a divorce, and the wife cannot prevent him from divorcing her.

It is hypocritical to say the least when an orthodox Jew who believes in the Torah and the Jewish Shari’a, the ‘Halacha’, and who believes in the authority of religious law and code of conduct would let his extreme prejudice lead him to go to such extents as to deter followers of another faith from following religious code. Is he going to also do a ‘conclusive’ study of temples and synagogues and the connection between wearing of to the kippa (yarmulke), discussing mitzvahs about the Amalekites, teachings of R. Shimon ben Yochai, let alone the readings of the Torat Hamelech? As New York Times reporter Andrea Ellliot writes,

The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread of an alarmist message about Islam — the same kind of rhetoric that appears to have influenced Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the deadly dual attacks in Norway on July 22. The anti-Shariah campaign, they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on the margins of American life.

Failing to influence policy at the federal level, Yerushalmi moved to the state legislature

Andrea Elliot also points out that after failing to convince policy makers at the federal level, David Yerushalmi headed to the state legislatures. Yerushalmi’s template, the Anti-Defamation League notes, “has been the basis for anti-Sharia measures introduced by state lawmakers in several states in recent years.” Berger writes:

A legislative wave is surging through the nation’s heartland: In Tennessee, Louisiana and Arizona, lawmakers have passed statutes prohibiting courts from relying on any foreign law, legal code or system that is contrary to state or federal public policy in reaching their decisions. … In some of these statutes and bills, Sharia, or traditional Islamic religious law, is explicitly cited; in others it is not. In either case, civil libertarians and Muslim groups denounce them as efforts to target Islam. And those pushing for these laws don’t deny this. Republican State Rep. Sally Kern, who sponsored such a bill in Oklahoma, stressed the political potency of the movement, saying, “It’s always helpful when you can say to your colleagues, ‘This piece of legislation is practically identical to about 20 other states.’

David Yerushalmi… has offered legislators a template that claims to sidestep constitutional objections to singling out Islam by avoiding explicit mention of it (though not all state legislatures have taken this advice).

Who are his co-conspirators?

The study is co-written by Mordechai Kedar, a professor of Middle East studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. Why is an Israeli professor who worked for 25 years in IDF military intelligence sending paid operatives to U.S. Mosques? For the past FOUR years! What is his interest in this? He isn’t even an American citizen. Another author of the study is David Gaubatz , a former employee of David Yerushalami, who has claimed that he found Saddam’s long-lost WMDs while in Iraq and has labeled Obama “Muslim” and a “self-admitted ‘crack head.'”

I was going to post this when the study first came out, but I wanted to find out who funded this study and could not find any links until Andrea Elliot traced the funds in her must read New York Times article: The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.

The project, Mapping Shariah, led Mr. Yerushalmi to Frank Gaffney, a hawkish policy analyst and commentator who is the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington. Well connected in neoconservative circles, Mr. Gaffney has been known to take polarizing positions (he once argued that President Obama might secretly be Muslim). Mr. Gaffney would emerge as Mr. Yerushalmi’s primary link to a network of former and current government officials, security analysts and grass-roots political organizations.

Together, they set out to “engender a national debate about the nature of Shariah and the need to protect our Constitution and country from it,” Mr. Gaffney wrote in an e-mail to The New York Times. The center contributed an unspecified amount to Mr. Yerushalmi’s study, which cost roughly $400,000 and involved surreptitiously sending researchers into 100 mosques.

It is a tight knit group with the same names coming up over and over again.  Spencer, Geller, Gaffney, and Yerushalmi. There are anti-Muslim conservatives who regurgitate whatever they are fed and then there are dangerous anti-Muslims bigots who keep feeding the frenzy. Four years have gone by, and day by day, state by state, anti-Muslim bigotry is growing. David Yerushalmi’s name, although not as well-known, is firmly entrenched with the rest of the venomous players of the great Islamophobic Crusade.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Amad


    August 10, 2011 at 2:05 AM

    Excellent wrap-up… jazakillahkhair

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      August 12, 2011 at 5:11 PM

      Blogging have made me wake up from my slumber – we live in our suburban homes, attend Juma’ah in our masajids, shop at our our halal butchers, and make it to a convention once in a while and think all is well in this country- All is not well and we need spread awareness at a faster rate than the hate that is being spread.

      We could learn some lesson from him- despite failure at the federal level he didn’t give up he continued and made as many connections as he could until his agenda is manifesting in 20 states!! But our uncles can have some more chai

  2. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 3:38 AM

    Sad to say that even though this article focuses on Muslim communities in America being affected by such misleading research and media representation; the impact is and will be global.
    Even some Muslim communities eye their fellow brothers and sisters suspiciously because they follow mainstream global media.
    Ruling by fear, divide and conquer, planting seeds of doubt, dismantling societies seem to be on the agenda of those in power these days.
    MashaAllah, well written informative article.

    • amad


      August 10, 2011 at 5:12 AM

      Thanks for the comments.
      As per our recent policy, pls use a name or kuniya for a handle.

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2011 at 10:42 AM

      Exactly. Unfortunately, many of us subscribe to the same ideologies of racism and inferiority. We must purify our hearts, ask Allah to purify our hearts.

      Very informative article. JAK

  3. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    Great article. May Allah help Islam and the Muslims.

  4. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    It is extremely frustrating to see such rubbish being disseminated and accepted into the mass media and subsequently, the majority of the population both in America and outside of it.
    Presentations against “studies” like this one really must be pushed into MSM platforms – perhaps another debate is needed, sis Hena! :)

  5. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    It’s so sad that people would waste so much money on this ridiculous study. Imagine how many poor people that could be helped with that much money. Anyways, I think that this just proves how important it is that we have more programs like United We Stand.

  6. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    I had no idea about the story of Riqba Bari until this article….How sad that those evangelico bigots brainwashed her and manipuated her to the point she lied about her parents about abusing her… During the investigation they could not find any proof of her claims …She said her father threatened her to punch her in the face if she does not wear Hijab and at the same time he was the one supporting her cheerleader hobby and give her permission even when her mom would not !! What a radical Muslim… to allow his daughter to jump and stretch in a mini skirt and display her pictures in this uniform all around the house lol!
    Anyway, it makes me sick to see how some extremists Christians were ready to do anything to just to dirt and slander Muslims and Islam even teaching a child to lie about their parents …If they love Jesus (saw) so much like they say why can’t they follow his teaching !?
    She died and I wonder if she had the chance to see her parents and make peace with them? I hope she did! Just sad…

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM

      Rifqa Berry died?! When and how?

      • Avatar


        August 20, 2011 at 2:38 AM

        I read a post on her cancer and wrongly understood that she passed away…My mistake …thanks for pointing out :)

  7. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    What can we as individuals do to combat this (in a peaceful non-violent way, of course) ?

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2011 at 2:12 PM

      Keep speaking the truth and know that Allah’s promise is true when He says that the schemes of such people will eventually unravel and ultimately backfire in their faces (that isn’t the exact language, but we’re speaking English here not Arabic). Reading the Quran in English this Ramadan, one sees this reminder repeated over and over to the Muslims. During the time of the Prophet (s) the mushrikeen, and eventually the Madinite Jewish tribes, were constantly plotting and planning against the Muslims, whether through open attacks, slanderous media-messages, or stealth infiltration. We are going through the same thing, and eventually these schemes will fall apart and backfire, because the schemes of shaytaan are always weak. I mean just look at what happened in Norway? These bigots around the world have spent so much time and money trying to incite violence and hatred against Muslims, and cast blame upon them, that when the Norway event happened they were so happy to jump up and see Muslims commit a terrorist attack. They thought they had more fuel for their fire but then it turned out to be one of their own. Did you see how they floundered? It was a terrible atrocity that should have never happened but it still showed that their own schemes against us backfired on themselves. And it will continue to be so. These nuts are shooting themselves in the feet with their Islamophobic messages. It’s only a matter of time before the threat of right-wing terrorism becomes to large to be ignored when they start attacking liberals more and more (remember how that other nut shot the AZ congresswoman and Sarah Palin floundered about her cross-hairs)? Then these nuts will be under watch just like they want the Muslims to be and FBI will be knocking on their doors for inciting terrorism.

    • Avatar

      Syed Abdul Raheem

      August 15, 2011 at 2:10 AM

      As Salaam Alaikum,

      Solution to all the problems as I see is, indulge in Da’wah and spread Islam in the perspective of Qur’an and Sunnah.

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      August 15, 2011 at 5:01 PM

      I suggest civic engagement-
      -getting involved in your communities,
      -running for office- starting with school board
      -pushing our children to go into public service
      -going to town hall meetings
      -writing letters to editors in local newspaper
      -visiting your congressman
      -and even small acts like inviting your neighbor over to dinner
      Read this great series by Muslimmatters specialist Mustafa Dill

  8. Avatar


    August 11, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    Four hundred thousand dollars for this c***? Might as well have donated it and made it actually useful. How they love spreading hate and fear.

  9. Avatar


    August 11, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Now lets do a real study and see how many people who watch Fox News, read Anne Coulter’s books, and read anti-Muslim blogs are significantly prone to murdering innocent people in cold blood in the name of preserving Western values.

  10. Avatar

    Kashif H

    August 14, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    salaam aleikum,

    This should be the topic of ju’mah khutbahs organizing Muslims to at least have talking points to refute this nonsense, but sadly we will be too busy discussing miswak, how to make wudu, and the importance of not eating garlic before coming to the masjid.

  11. Avatar


    August 20, 2011 at 11:10 PM

    I think the person is overfilled with money, he don’t know where to use it!!! May Allah Guide him!

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#Current Affairs

SaveUighur Urges Muslim Community To Support Black Friday Boycott Of “Made in China” Clothing

Cotton made in China
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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it. is urging Masjids and Islamic organizations to call for a Black Friday/Cyber Monday boycott of any clothing made in China this week.

Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, is the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States, with retailers offering deals and discounts in stores and online.

China is currently engaged in a campaign of cultural genocide and forced assimilation of its Uighur Muslim community in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) in northwest China. is a campaign to raise awareness about this human rights tragedy.

Clothing is specifically being targeted for boycott because experts say 80% of cotton used in Chinese clothing comes from East Turkestan, where forced labor is routinely used. As well, 30% of all U.S. clothing comes from China.

“Americans must send a message to the Chinese government that its horrific abuse of Uighurs will not be tolerated,” said Aydin Anwar, an Uighur-American activist with “We must avoid buying clothing made in China because it would mean tacit approval of the Chinese government’s genocide of Uighurs. Boycotting products made in the country will send a strong message.”

Since April 2017, the Chinese government has thrown about 800,000 to two million Uighurs and other Muslims into the largest concentration camps since those of Nazi Germany during World War II. Prisoners have been subjected to torture, gang rape, and medical experimentation. It has also forcibly separated families, sending children to state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without access to their parents, and without parental consent.

Outside of the camps, Uighurs are subjected to strict surveillance of all communication within and outside of China, and spies are sent to live in Uighur homes. is calling for the Muslim community to support this campaign and to encourage family, friends, and followers on social media to do the same using hashtags like #SaveUighur #BoycottMadeInChina #boycottchina #china #uighurs #uighur #FastFromChina

(1) Take a picture of the Made In China item.

(2) Write a message saying you are NOT buying it since it comes from China.

(3) Mention you are supporting the people of East Turkestan. Tag the manufacturer and shop, if possible.

(4) Use the hashtags #SaveUighur #BoycottMadeInChina #boycottchina #china #uighurs #uighur #FreeEastTurkestan

For more information about the campaign, please visit

CONTACT: Aydin Anwar, C: 571-344-3885

“We must avoid buying clothing made in China because it would mean tacit approval of the Chinese government's genocide of Uighurs. Boycotting products made in the country will send a strong message.”Click To Tweet is calling for the Muslim community to boycott Made in China clothing, using hashtags like #SaveUighur #BoycottMadeInChina #boycottchina #china #uyghur #uighur #FastFromChina Click To Tweet
(1) Take a picture of the Made In China item. (2) Write a message saying you are NOT buying it since it comes from China. (3) Mention you are supporting the people of East Turkestan. Tag the manufacturer and shop, if possible. (4) Use the hashtags #SaveUighur #BoycottMadeInChina #boycottchina #china #uighurs #uighur #FreeEastTurkestan For more information about the campaign, please visit SaveUighur.orgClick To Tweet


“The South China Morning Post reports that U.S.-based scholars and experts spoke before legislators about how Uighurs who have been forcibly held in detention centers have been put to work in factory jobs. Companies that used these factories staffed by Uighurs and other Turkic minorities would receive government subsidies for each individual trained and employed, along with shipping subsidies. This cheap labor along with the government subsidies would result in very low manufacturing costs, “undercutting global prices,” according to testimony presented at the hearing by the Center of Strategic and International Studies. This could turn Xinjiang into a hub for low-cost manufacturing.

According to reliable sources such as the agricultural research company Gro Intelligence, a vast cotton-producing industry has been developed in Xinjiang which supplies 80 percent of the country’s total cotton output. This would mean that any cotton clothing sourced from China would be suspect of containing cotton grown using slave labor.

Furthermore, the Chinese Communist Party is transferring Uighur and other Turkic people to other parts of China forcibly, so the task of tracking forced labor of Uighur is no longer limited to Xinjiang (East Turkestan) but to the rest of the country, making it virtually impossible to track the forced labor of prisoners. How can third-party auditors ensure that the workers in these factories are not Uighurs removed from Xinjiang (East Turkestan)?”

Open Letter to Costco On Chinese Products Made by Forced Labor

Continue Reading

#Current Affairs

Muslims Leaders Who Are Also Foreign Agents

When American Muslim leaders are also foreign agents, you need to consider FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Ahmed Shaikh explores how this law may apply to American Muslim leaders who fall into “Team UAE” and “Team Turkey”

Foreign Agents in the Muslim Community
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Foreign Agents in the US have a meaningful effect on Americans in the United States.  Should Muslims in the United States adopt the foreign policy narrative of the United Arab Emirates?  Should we be against calling the mass killing of Armenians during World War I “genocide?” Can American Muslim leaders and nonprofits be the voice of governments, give them public relations advice and do their bidding?

These questions are largely irrelevant as the American Muslim community already has some activists and Islamic Scholars who are foreign agents.

I am not claiming being a foreign agent is inherently wrong, unethical or somehow prohibited in Islam. In many instances, being a foreign agent is fine, or at least you can find examples where the activity is harmless and maybe even beneficial. Non-Muslims serve as foreign agents, peddling influence and giving advice. Why can’t ordinary Muslims, even Muslim leaders, activists, and Islamic scholars do the same? What we need though is transparency about these relationships, similar to how we keep tabs on people who carry hazardous waste. It’s often a useful and beneficial service, but also, well, hazardous. 

As we have seen from recent cases Imaad Zuberi, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort , it is reasonable to expect more prosecutions of unregistered foreign agents in the coming months and years.

American Team Turkey vs. American Team UAE

My purpose here is not to re-litigate events during the first world war or the UAE’s murderous worldwide batil-slinging foreign policy. It is also not to offer a further critique of American Muslim leaders and scholars who blow smoke for one foreign interest or another. For that, you can read my recent article. Instead, it is to help American Muslims involved with foreign entities to be aware of the law so they can prepare accordingly. 

The “Team Turkey” vs. “Team UAE” saga playing out among the Muslim community’s leadership, including nonprofits and religious leaders, is dangerous, and there is potential legal jeopardy to members of both “teams.” The law in an individual case is often complex, and I am not claiming anyone referenced in this article is a criminal. However, anyone who thinks aspects of this article applies to them should seek legal counsel post haste.

Pariah status may rub off

In the eyes of the US government, the UAE may be up one day, and Turkey may be down. Pakistan is pretty much always “down” no matter who is in power in the United States, so Muslims working with that government and various political parties and institutions in that country should be especially sensitive about being a law enforcement target, even if they believe they are working for a worthy cause. Keep in mind how the Muslim community has been treated historically by the Justice Department. For this or any future US Administration, American Muslim leadership may be low hanging fruit for prosecutors. 

Right now, the UAE, in particular, aggressively buys loyalty, buys people in positions to peddle influence on its behalf. It uses straw donors and funnels its money around the United States through various entities to get what it wants. These tactics work for them now, but it may not work forever. Any Muslim majority country can get “pariah” status and the social and political environment in the United States may turn against that country and its agents.

If the political winds in the United States change against the UAE, their leadership will probably not be affected. Things may be different for their agents in the United States, however. The same may well be true for agents of Turkey. We can learn from their best known non-Muslim foreign agent, former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

The United States has a long history, going back to its founding, of being suspicious of foreign influence in government and public opinion. Various clauses of the constitution and several laws exist to address this historic concern, though many are quite weak.  The one that Muslim leaders with ties to foreign governments should be most concerned with is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) 

Anyone who closely followed the Mueller investigation into the 2016 Presidential election is likely somewhat familiar with FARA.  However, of more interest should be the prosecution and guilty plea last year of Dr. Nisar Ahmed Chaudhry, who was prosecuted for activities that are remarkably common for Muslim leaders, especially immigrants.

It’s not a crime to be an agent of a foreign government. The crime, as those paying close attention to current events, will understand,  is in not registering with the Justice Department. In short, it’s a federal crime for agents of foreign entities or people engaged in political or other activities in the statute, with some exceptions, to not register under this law. US Law defines the term ” foreign agent”- it is not necessarily pejorative. It does not mean being a spy.

Indeed, foreign influence-peddling is an entire industry. Often, people who engage in “influence peddling” are not especially sophisticated and may not be paid at all. They may simply be immigrant activists who love their homeland.

In the case of Chaudhry, he pleaded guilty to not registering an unincorporated group he created in his home, the “Pakistan American League,” and his work as a “foreign agent.” His crime? He spoke to officials in the Pakistani government, and worked in Pakistan’s interests in D.C. area government and “think tank” circles by organizing “roundtable discussions.” He was not paid for his work as an “agent” by Pakistan.  All of this is legal, except that he failed to register.

A Law About Transparency

Foreign Agents need to report on their activities or risk fine and imprisonment. Every six months, the US Attorney General issues a report on foreign agents who register under this law to Congress. You can find the most recent report here. These reports offer a helpful description of registered foreign agents operating in the United States, but anyone can take a deeper dive into the reporting if they want to. FARA is about transparency.

FARA does not prohibit speech or activities by anyone. The purpose is to inform the public and government about the source of information used to attempt to influence them. FARA is an old law that US Muslims need in our communities right about now. 

Enforcement of this law had been mostly dormant for years, and the Mueller investigation is said to have given it new life. Registrations under the law are up.

FARA is broader than you might think

FARA is not just for agents of foreign governments. Being an agent of a foundation, royal family, oligarch, or any other entity or person can trigger the same requirements and cause criminal liability for those who fail to register. Many registrations under FARA involve agents of entities and people that are not governments. 

As we have seen from Chaudhry’s case, Muslim leaders, activists, and scholars don’t need to be paid to be “foreign agents” under the law. Congress understood foreign agents could work for nonmonetary benefits. A foreign agent does not need to agree with everything the foreign principal does and says. A Muslim leader who gives certain kinds of advice to a foreign entity may need to register to avoid criminal liability. It does not matter if the foreign principal ignores the advice. FARA is not just a law about foreign lobbying, indeed lobbyists have a separate registration system and law.  Virtually any work to influence public opinion or give advice will fall under the law. There are many opportunities for Muslim leaders to get themselves into serious trouble

Religion or university affiliation may not save foreign agents 

There are exceptions to FARA reporting requirements. For example, diplomats, many journalists, and bona fide trade and commercial enterprises do not need to report.  Say Muhammad is the agent of a Turkish exporter of Turkish delight, selling delicious packaged desserts to grocery stores around the Midwest. Muhammad does not need to register under FARA. 

Similarly, those involved in bona fide religious, academic, or fine arts pursuits are exempt. So if Saad, a US Citizen, is hired by the Saudi government to teach Quran recitation to children of employees of the local Saudi consulate, Saad would not need to register. 

 If, however, the Turkish Delight company asked Muhammad to write op-eds and hold meetings to prevent tariffs on Turkey, well, that’s different. If Saad starts to give public relations advice to his Saudi employers, he should call a lawyer. It’s worth noting that FARA is not the only registration and disclosure statute. A lawyer with expertise in this area can help them sort it out. 

Learn from others

Carrying water for a foreign entity’s political agenda, a regular occurrence by some American Muslim leaders is not bona fide religious or academic activity. Such conduct falls squarely into a danger zone under the law. The US Justice Department has confirmed the religious and academic exception’s narrow scope. The Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, for example, wanted an opinion they are exempt from registration.   They were working on developing a museum, which is an academic institution. However, the Justice Department advised the foundation must register under FARA. The reasons, among other non-nefarious sounding things, were exhibits on bilateral relations between South Korea and the United States.

In 2017, TV station RT America and news outlet, Sputnik, “both Russian-funded but with production companies in the US, registered as ‘foreign agents’ under pressure from the Justice Department.”

Muslim leaders with ties to foreign entities should also look to the example of the American section of the World Zionist Organization. The WZO has appropriately registered itself as a foreign agent. Its work seems reasonably standard for a Zionist organization, though. WZO “participated in workshops, seminars, and conferences and distributed materials to increase support for the foreign principal’s educational, cultural, and religious goals.” The foreign principal was the World Zionist Organization in Israel, not the government of Israel itself. Still, it needed to register. 

Even if someone falls into an exception to FARA, another related statute may well cause liability. So anyone who has to look around for exceptions should check with an attorney. 

Sunshine in the Muslim community

Much of the work against CVE involved learning what Muslim leaders working with governments were up to. Because of the federal “Freedom of Information Act” and state Public Records Acts, we have a better idea of what Muslim leaders have been collaborating with the war on terrorism against our community. The availability of public records has also kept some Muslims away from unsavory funding opportunities. There is always a risk they will be found out. Who needs that drama? As the late US Supreme Court Justice Luis Brandies famously said, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” 

Some in the Countering Violent Extremism space have looked to foreign governments and organizations, particularly in the UAE. Working against the US Muslim community, which includes naming groups such as CAIR and MAS “terrorist organizations,” and investing in anti-Muslim surveillance is fundamental to UAE foreign policy. Foreign entities are not subject to the Federal Freedom of Information Act or state Public Records Acts.

Covertness can be beneficial when prosecuting the war on terrorism in our communities on behalf of a foreign master. However, security-state contractors working with foreign entities are engaged in an inherently political enterprise and should register. Unfortunately, nobody from the Muslim community in the CVE sector has. They should either start or quit foreign-sponsored CVE altogether. 

FARA is your friend

We have a strong need for transparency among Muslim leaders and organizations. Foreign interests have been looking to influence the US Muslim civil society for several years. It may well be that agents of foreign nation-states or entities in them have valuable things to say. The purpose of FARA is not to deny your ability to hear them and learn from them. However, knowing someone is a foreign agent will help us place the information provided by a Muslim leader, activist or scholar in a better context. 

Muslim leaders and organizations should strongly encourage each other to look at FARA when any foreign entity is involved. If for no other reason, to avoid potential criminal liability.

If you are a Muslim leader, activist or scholar working with a foreign principal, retain legal counsel. You need to know if registration is required. If it is necessary, and it often will be, provide a fulsome disclosure and keep updating it. You can be sure there will be at least a few Muslims reading it. 

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#Current Affairs

Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Women's March Board
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Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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