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How To Spot A Future Terrorist At Fajr: A Review of MPAC’s New “Safe Spaces”




The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) recently updated its “Safe Spaces” program, which is a “toolkit” for Mosques in the United States to help prevent terrorism coming from their centers. In our political environment, this is the kind of thing at least some Muslim leaders will want to explore.  This is unfortunate.

A necessary disclaimer:  It is admirable for leaders of Islamic institutions to educate both the Muslim community and the larger community and to have programs that encourage peace, justice as well as ethical and moral conduct.  It is also necessary for our community and for us individually to strive for excellence in what we do.  This review is not meant to take anything away from these objectives but hopefully, add to them.

Muslims self-police. Indeed it is fundamental to our tradition to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. There is a process of what might be called self-policing in theology, in religious practice and deeds. In mosques, responsible leaders will not let just anyone give a Khutbah. Sometimes, the reasons may have to do with majoritarian sensitivities in the United States or in the local community. There is nothing inherently wrong with this.   Politically, in both Muslim-majority and minority countries, self-policing can either take the trait of supporting the oppressor or the oppressed.  Both traditions have existed simultaneously.

Safe Spaces as a self-policing framework was not as well received in the Muslim community primarily because it was closely associated with the widely rejected “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program- indeed, MPAC called the program that. It was praised by the White House and was cited in the official Los Angeles framework for CVE.   In MPAC’s home base of Southern California, the leadership of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California overwhelmingly rejected the program (as well as CVE itself).

At the core of “Safe Spaces” was the creation of a new bad ideology to replace the  discredited “radicalization theory” from the New York Police Department that was popular in anti-terrorism circles. This new bad ideology can be called “Takfirism theory”- a concept that had almost nothing to do with Takfir (calling a Muslim a non-Muslim). It relied on factors such as a person’s desire for “coolness” or a desire to “act in the face of injustice” to assess a person’s likelihood of being a future terrorist.   The original Safe Spaces also accused well-known Islamic Scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah of being “Takfiris,” and the source of this bad ideology.

Margari Hill was the first to write critically about the original Safe Spaces and its security framework at the Islamic Monthly.  I had written about MPAC’s approach to CVE in both in Patheos and here at Muslimmatters in a post about how MPAC was using false information to discourage civic literacy among Muslim communities.

The major criticism was MPAC’s approach to CVE was to accept the premise of dangerousness of Muslims based on vague factors that made no sense. The other criticism had to do with conflicts of interest and the realization the product was not, as MPAC had claimed, “grassroots” in its origins. Most people interviewed for Safe Spaces that we know about were either in the employment of or obtained funding through the government of the United States, Israel or both.   Islamic Studies information, such as derogatory information on  Islamic Scholars, was obtained from the U.S. Military, while a scholar from an AIPAC founded think tank was cited as a “primary source” on what was Islamic extremism. While a couple of Muslims knowledgeable about Islamic Studies were interviewed for other purposes, they were not the source for the defamation of Islamic scholars.

In response to justifiable widespread rejection, MPAC recently released a new version of the document.  This is to fulfill the need of some Muslim leaders to show the government and media they are “doing something.”  The basic idea is that if Muslims do this themselves, the government and media will stop applying pressure on our community and we can reduce anti-Muslim hate.

The premise that Mosque leaders have the ability to identify future criminality in their own community is troublesome. In 2014, MPAC  provided the vague “risk factors” I noted above that would be utilized by leaders to do exactly this. MPAC removed the list form of their “risk factors.”   MPAC did not provide new risk factors, at least not in list form.  However, the same risk factors as before can be obtained from the report, including a desire to be cool, troubles at home and other, fairly normal things for youth.  Even if it was true that community leaders had the capacity to divine future terrorism from a Muslim (they cannot), Safe Spaces fails to answer the question: how?

Alejandro Beutel, the original author of the failed original Safe Spaces, later Department of Homeland Security contractor and recent participant in a Muslim Leadership Initiative cohort to Israel, is no longer part of the project.   However, the 2016 version, which is deliberately not credited to any author, represents largely a mass-deletion of the 2014 document with minimal additional content.  One section on ejection of problem community members was removed, and there was clearly a concerted effort to remove the discredited “takfirism theory,” though traces of it remain.

The foundation of the Safe Spaces program as it stands in 2016 is the PI model, which is Prevention and Intervention. Prevention consists of programs for Mosques, and MPAC offers examples of it’s own contributions in this area. Religious literacy and building community are good things. This is not a new realization.   Indeed, it is well known that many ISIS recruits are not especially religious or have much religious knowledge. However, leaders do not generally conduct programming at Mosques with a view towards terrorism prevention.   Places of worship are not extensions of the national security state.

Intervention in the Safe Spaces model is elaborate in form but lacking in substance. Safe Spaces proposes a team consisting of Mosque leaders, a lawyer, a social worker and so forth. This team would conduct an “intervention” when someone is “at-risk.” Unfortunately, the term “at-risk” is not defined but it does not mean someone just about to commit a crime since this would be reported to law enforcement. Furthermore, success is attained when a person is “disengaged” from committing violence. However, an intervention does not require a person be engaged to commit violence in the first place.  Safe Spaces appropriately advises people about to commit an act of violence should be reported to law enforcement.  Disengagement is easy when you were never engaged in the first place.  So the model is fundamentally incoherent.

The United States has long had “at-risk” youth in all faith communities. Being at-risk does not necessarily mean a young person will be a national security threat.  Rather, it means the individual may not be successful in contributing to society unless we as a community help them. There are professions of people who help at-risk youth, such as social workers and teachers. They usually manage to do their work without seeing troubled young people as future terrorists. Ideally, they see promise and opportunity. They work to help develop that. Perhaps Muslims can do the same with each other.

The National Security frame that MPAC uses may garner praise from government agencies, the White House, anti-terrorism contractors and even provide future employment and funding for people associated with MPAC (this venture has already done that). It does nothing however for the Muslim community, nor does it make America safer.

MPAC would have been better served by eliminating Safe Spaces completely. They may have kept some version of it as some Muslim leaders believe the grim politics of our day requires the existence of such a product. Unfortunately, MPAC worked with the wrong people with the wrong frame of Muslims being a national security problem.  Now they have an incoherent jumble that accomplishes nothing beyond an empty promise to an unreasonably frightened Middle America that “we are doing something.” They are not.  I doubt many will be fooled.


Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. His Islamic Inheritance website is



  1. Avatar


    March 3, 2016 at 5:16 PM

    MPAC has been ridiculous for a while. I remember reading rubbish about Islamic law on their website and deciding to disavow their organization years ago.

  2. Avatar

    M. Banville

    March 18, 2016 at 10:51 PM

    I suggest this piece might be better titled. Something like “How Not to Spot a Terrorist at Fajr:…” with italicized emphasis on “not”. Perhaps also a bit of editing so as to make it a bit more readable. I nearly stopped reading it less than a third of the way in due to the difficult writing. Ultimately, I am glad that I read it and am glad that the author took the effort to write it.

  3. Avatar


    March 21, 2016 at 8:54 PM

    I admire many of MPAC programs but the idea that the Masjid leadership can somehow identify future terrorists is so ridiculous that it should have been rejected outright. Promoting the idea that the mosques can somehow counter terrorism, even if just for the sake of showing that the mosques are doing something, is counterproductive. It may get short-term notoriety or government funding but it will not have any real long term effect. At the end of the day the funding agencies will ask the mosque committees to show concrete result which they won’t be able to show. Has any of the terrorist ever discuss his or her plans with mosque committees?

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#Current Affairs

Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians

Raashid Riza



On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.

It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.

Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.

In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.

Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.

Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.

Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead

Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.

Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.

However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.

Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.  Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.

Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.

It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.

I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.

I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.

I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah

Raashid Riza is a Sri Lankan Muslim, the Politics & Society Editor of The Platform. He blogs here and tweets on @aufidius.


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My Heart Shook In New Zealand

Mohsin Ansari



One would imagine that a person would be dead-tired and ready to crash in his bed after a grueling, 36-hour journey from Christchurch, New Zealand to Washington, DC. And I will admit, that was the way I felt. Yet somehow, all my somnolence vanished as soon as my head rested on my pillow and I closed my eyes to rest. A wave of recollections fell over me: memories of the survivors, the emotions they expressed, and their feelings of an uncertain future as they planned their lives after the loss of their family members. These feelings instantly took away all the desire to get rest and sleep. I sit upright now and begin writing this reflection of a once in a lifetime experience- a voyage of grief and hope to Aotearoa- land of the white cloud as the indigenous people call New Zealand.

With lost baggage, long flights and too many connections, at times it seemed unlikely that my eldest son Moaz and I would make it to Jumm’ah and Janazah prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. But Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepted our prayers so that we could fulfill the guidelines set by our beloved, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). We were able to fulfill one of the rights of a Muslim over the others; that when he is sick visit him, and when she dies, offer her funeral and be part of her burial.

Hagley Cricket Ground was supposed to have a cricket test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand that Friday. Commentators reckon that it would have been the final day of that test match. But the 22nd of March 2019, brought a much bigger crowd to this world-famous cricket ground than what anyone would have seen on the final day of that test match.

Officials and security directed us towards the VIP area as they wanted to pay respect to the guests who traveled all the way from the USA, Canada, and Australia. The environment of love, solidarity, and respect, coupled with the hijab-clad women standing in solidarity with Muslims in that enormous crowd, created an impact which cannot be articulated by mere words. Every single uniformed female officer was carrying their firearm while donning a hijab; creating a welcoming gesture in a rather somber and gloomy atmosphere.

I do not have the words to thank the leadership of Charity Australia and the Islamic Forum of Australian Muslims (IFAM) for providing us with logistics, facilitating meeting the families of the “shuhudaa” (martyrs) and arranging to visit those injured in the tragedy. ICNA, Helping Hand, and Charity Australia banners highlighting the slogans of “American Muslims stand in solidarity with Victims of Christchurch New Zealand” were the center of attention for thousands of local New Zealanders gathered in solidarity that day. Their hugs, sincere prayers and tearful eyes were the greatest gift that I want to share with everyone reading these reflections.

Right after Jumm’ah, the majority of the crowd attended the collective Janazah prayer of 27 of the martyrs. In those emotional moments, I met with the most courageous woman on earth, the wife of 51-year-old Shaheed Naeem and the mother of 21-year-old Talha Naeem, the two spirited souls who gave their lives to save others in the mosque that day. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She mentioned that her husband, Naeem, was a person who lived the life of a man of service, always ready to help others. She described Talha as an angel who was too pious and too noble to be away from Jannah too long. We heard similar feelings from Naeem’s mother (grandmother of Talha) the next day when we visited their home.

The visit to the home of New Zealand’s national soccer team player, Atta Elayyan (33), was not only emotional but also deeply inspiring. Atta lost his life and his father (the founder of Al-Noor Masjid) was severely injured during this brutal and hateful attack. There were several scholars from the United States, including Sheikh Omer Suleiman, in the visit to Atta’s home. We could offer nothing to console the brave mother of this shaheed, who greeted us with words of courage and wisdom. We had no words to accompany the tears in our eyes, except prayers for the most noble young man who helped so many in coming close to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Our visits to Al-Noor Masjid and the Linwood Islamic Center were also filled with memories of love, harmony, and reverence. There was a continuous influx of hundreds of visitors, not only from New Zealand, but also from different countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Fiji, and Canada.  Thousands and thousands of flower bouquets and other items of love were left by these visitors. I was really thrilled to see that local Muslims left many Qur’ans and flyers with basic concepts of Islam and addressing the common misconceptions about Islam for those visiting. I witnessed many people visiting these mosques were taking those Qur’ans and other books with them in order to learn more about Islam.

We also met Mr. Aziz, the unsung hero who repeatedly attacked the killer with different objects including an empty gun —which the killer had discarded. The terrorist fired on Aziz multiple times, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) not only saved him, but he also forced the killer to flee from the Linwood Islamic Center. Mr. Aziz was one of the reasons why the number of casualties in this mosque was only seven, compared to the 43 martyrs in Masjid Al-Noor. We also met certain individuals whom Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) saved miraculously. A young man showed his trousers fenestrated with holes of bullets but had no signs of injury. The husband and wife who entered the premises of the mosque and only to be showered with a burst of 26 bullets while in their car, leaving it completely destroyed. Yet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) saved both of them while they took shelter in their vehicle.

The visit to the hospital’s ICU was simply heartbreaking but at the same time increased our resolve and commitment to help these families as much as possible. We encountered a Turkish brother who was in a coma for nine days and met his elderly parents, who spoke to us in the very little English they knew. The only thing which we could understand from their hushed voices was the request for du’a and tears of helplessness in their eyes. The 71-year-old father of a local Pakistani from Hafizabad, who had arrived two weeks ago to visit his son, was now on a ventilator fighting for his life. As a physician who has worked in ICU settings for a long time, I simply did not have enough medical reasoning which could have provided him any words of hope!! Similarly, I was not able to provide any glimmer of hope to a brother from Bangladesh whose wife will never be able to walk again and will be paralyzed for the rest of her life.

While I saw hope and felt resilience from every victim in that hospital, this hospital visit was brutally heartbreaking.

Lastly, I cannot imagine the pain, agony, and helplessness that the father of Mucad Ibrahim must feel after losing his 3-year-old son in his own arms. I gave him the longest hug possible, as he taught the whole world the meaning of Beautiful Sabr (Patience).

After seeing the devastation caused by the terrorist attack, and the work that must still be done to heal the community, Helping Hand USA, ICNA Relief Canada, and Charity Australia have formed an organization called the “Christchurch Family Support Network”. The operations have already begun, and our team is on the ground. The first group of mental health professionals with a background in Islamic Integrated counseling are set to leave to provide victims and their families immediate psychological assistance.

We ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to accept our work, bring healing to the community, protect our brothers and sisters, and accept the shuhadaa’ in the highest level of Paradise.

Dr. Mohsin Ansari is the Vice President Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Chairman of Helping Hand USA (HHRD)


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Because Muslims Matter | Honoring The Martyrs Of #Christchurch

Hena Zuberi



As the days go by, it is easy to forget the names and faces of the people who passed away. The horror of the act eclipses their memories. We do not want that to happen to our brothers and sisters in New Zealand.

اللهُـمِّ اغْفِـرْ لِحَيِّـنا وَمَيِّتِـنا وَشـاهِدِنا ، وَغائِبِـنا ، وَصَغيـرِنا وَكَبيـرِنا ، وَذَكَـرِنا وَأُنْثـانا. اللهُـمِّ مَنْ أَحْيَيْـتَهُ مِنّا فَأَحْيِـهِ عَلى الإِسْلام ،وَمَنْ تَوَفَّـيْتَهُ مِنّا فَتَوَفَّـهُ عَلى الإِيـمان ، اللهُـمِّ لا تَحْـرِمْنـا أَجْـرَه ، وَلا تُضِـلَّنا بَعْـدَه

Allaahum-maghfir lihayyinaa, wa mayyitinaa, wa shaahidinaa, wa ghaa’ibinaa, wa sagheerinaa wa kabeerinaa, wa thakarinaa wa ‘unthaanaa..

O Allah forgive our living and our dead, those who are with us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our menfolk and our womenfolk… [7]

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