|Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center|
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center; 2010
|Location||Seven Corners area of unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, USA|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Mosque|
|Leadership||Imam Shaker Elsayed|
|Construction cost||$5 million|
The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center (Arabic: مركز دار الهجرة الاسلامي, English: Land of Migration) is an open mosque in Northern Virginia. It is located in the Seven Corners area of unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Founded in 1982 by a group of mostly Arab university students, it is one of the first masjids to be established in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C.. It is also one of the area's largest and most influential mosques.
The Saudi-backed North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) purchased the mosque's grounds on June 19, 1983. The mosque was first established in a house that is still on the Center's campus, and now serves as a food bank. The current building, on a 3.4 acre plot, was finished for $5 million in 1991 ($8,686,782 today) with financial help from the Saudi Embassy's Islamic Affairs Department.
In 1993 some area residents attempted to force closure of the mosque, saying it violated Fairfax County zoning ordinances. Worshipers reacted negatively, and believed the attempt was fueled by anti-Islamic bigotry.
The mosque sits at the corner of Virginia State Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Row Street, near a number of apartment units and single-family homes in which many Muslim families live. Numerous halal restaurants, grocery stores, and other Muslim businesses are also located nearby.
The mosque holds prayers five times daily, and Friday prayer attendance exceeds 3,000 people. In September 2004, about sixty percent of its membership was Arab, with an increasing percentage coming from countries such as Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.
Activities in addition to prayers include lectures, conferences, youth recreation and outdoor activities (such as camping and field trips) through its Youth Center, women's classes, health fairs, and financial assistance. It also operates an Islamic School called the "Washington Islamic Academy in Northern Virginia". In addition, Dar Al-Hijrah co-sponsors an annual civic picnic, along with other Northern Virginia organizations, at which candidates for local office meet Muslim voters.
Dar Al-Hijrah is open for group tours.
The mosque's Imam from 1995–99 was Mohammed al-Hanooti, born in Haifa, British Mandate of Palestine. He spoke up for Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, who was deported in 1997 and indicted years later on charges of arranging financial support for Hamas, which the U.S. views as a terrorist organization. In 1998, al-Hanooti criticized President Clinton for ordering U.S. military strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, saying there was not enough convincing evidence to justify the violence. In 1999 he testified in support of Ihab M. Ali, who refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the 1998 United States embassy bombings, telling the federal judge that Islamic law "gives him the right to abstain from giving testimony in case it hurts him or it hurts any other Muslim." Al-Hanooti was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Anwar al-Awlaki was Imam at the mosque between January 2001 and April 2002. Fluent in English, known for giving eloquent talks on Islam, and with a mandate to attract young non-Arabic speakers, al-Awlaki "was the magic bullet," according to mosque spokesman Johari Abdul-Malik; "he had everything all in a box." "He had an allure. He was charming."
He has been accused since of being a senior al-Qaeda recruiter and motivator linked to various terrorists, including three 9/11 hijackers, the accused Fort Hood shooter, and the accused Christmas Day 2009 bomber. Supporters of the mosque say that al-Awlaki publicly condemned the 9/11 attacks, and was not known to give radical speeches at the time. But writing on the IslamOnline.net website six days after the 9/11 attacks, he suggested that Israeli intelligence agents might have been responsible for the attacks, and that the FBI "went into the roster of the airplanes and whoever has a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default."
Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi set up their base of operations in San Diego upon their arrival in the US with the assistance of a number of people who were later investigated by the FBI and press. They established a close relationship with Awlaki, who had been Imam of the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque since 1996. After leaving San Diego and Arizona in 2001 and moving to Falls Church, Virginia, Hani Hanjour specified the Virginia mosque in Falls Church as his forwarding mailing address. He and Al-Hazmi attended Awlaki's sermons at the Virginia mosque. The 9/11 Commission Report, prepared after the attacks had taken place, concluded the men's appearances at Al-Alwaki's mosque "may not have been coincidental". The Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan attended the mosque for the funeral of his mother in May 2001, likely arranged by his brother who lived in Virginia. For ten years, Hasan regularly attended a mosque in Silver Spring, Maryland, closer to where he lived and worked. "In my view, he is more than a coincidental figure," said House Intelligence Committee member Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) in 2003.
The mosque board member Esam Omeish was reported by the Washington Post as having been one of the mosque officials who hired al-Awlaki (Paul Sperry says he "personally" hired him). Omeish said in 2004 that he was convinced that al-Awlaki: "has no inclination or active involvement in any events or circumstances that have to do with terrorism."
Brooklyn-born convert-to-Islam Imam Johari Abdul-Malik has been the mosque's Director of Outreach since June 2002. Speaking on his role at the mosque, he said:
“It’s important that there’s an American at the mosque to speak with media, to defend Islam, who can talk about the rights of Muslims. It would be difficult for us if we had an imam who didn’t understand the process here.”
During his tenure at Dar Al-Hijrah, Abdul-Malik has commented publicly on Islamic affairs on the criminal cases of several American Muslims. Abdul-Malik spoke up in 2003 in defense of Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, founder of the American Muslim Council, who was indicted on charges of engaging in illegal financial transactions with Libya. However, in 2004 al-Amoudi pleaded guilty to financial and conspiracy charges, and was sentenced to 23 year in jail.
When Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who worshiped and taught Islamic studies at Dar Al-Hijrah, for which he also was a camp counselor, was charged by U.S. prosecutors with plotting with members of al-Qaeda to assassinate President George W. Bush, Abdul-Malik said in February 2005: "Our whole community is under siege. They don't see this as a case of criminality. They see it as a civil rights case. As a frontal attack on their community." He added: "The feeling I get here on a daily basis must be what it was like to be a member of Martin Luther King Jr.'s church following the case of Rosa Parks. People always ask, 'What is the latest from the courthouse?'" Abdul-Malik accused the government of singling out Abu Ali to stir anti-Muslim sentiment. Abu Ali was convicted in 2005 of providing material support to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and conspiracy to assassinate President Bush, and is serving a life sentence. When in April 2005 Ali al-Timimi of Fairfax, Virginia, an American-born Muslim cleric, was convicted of inciting followers to wage war against the US just days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and of recruiting for the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, and the paintball terrorist cell, Abdul-Malik said: "There is a view many Muslims have when they come to America that you could not be arrested for something you say. But now they have discovered they are not free to speak their minds. And if our opinions are out of vogue in the current climate, we feel we are all at risk." Al-Timimi was sentenced to life imprisonment.
After the July 2005 London bombings that killed 55 people, a 30-second anti-terrorism public service TV spot was run called “Not in the Name of Islam,” featuring Abdul-Malik and two American Muslim women. And in January 2008, Abdul-Malik was trying to establish a nationwide movement of Muslim men to lobby for the new interpretation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Koran, long interpreted as giving husbands the right to beat their wives as the final step in an escalating series of punishments for being rebellious (following admonishing their wives, and then abandoning them in bed). “That is the linchpin, the fulcrum that justifies domestic violence in the Muslim context,” he said. The new interpretation would interpret the verse as calling for women to be obedient to God.
In November 2009, Abdul-Malik responded to al-Awlaki's support of the Fort Hood shooter by saying:
"Al-Awlaqi ... supported the crime that Hasan committed and said that the US Muslims who opposed the crime have betrayed the Muslim ummah (the community of Muslims worldwide) and are hypocrites. I answer him by saying that he has thus separated himself from the Muslim community in the United States. The holy Koran teaches us that we as US Muslims should enrich the society we live in with humanitarian services, wisdom, teaching God's beautiful verses about love, mercy, and compassion to all mankind."
Abdul-Malik went on to say that, of those who worshiped at the mosque and had discussed the Fort Hood shootings,
"Many of the immigrants focused on the conspiracy theory. Some said that Hasan did not commit the crime, but that it was committed by other US military personnel who then killed him and said that he was the one who did it. They are like those who said that the September 11 attacks were not committed by those who committed them, and that it too was a “conspiracy.” I am one of those whose ancestors came here hundreds of years ago. I am a black American, and I know that “denial” is the explanation of those who cannot explain what they see or hear, especially if they belong to a minority group and are not used to the US way of life. But we black Americans have passed these stages. We became involved in political action, and the President of the United States is now one of us. Perhaps I am saying what I am saying because I was a Christian, and became Muslim. But I believe that this issue is a temporary one, and we ask God to raise us from one stage to another."
Mohammed Adam El-Sheikh
Sheikh Mohammed Adam El-Sheikh, formerly a Muslim Brotherhood member in the Sudan, and one of the founders of both the mosque and the Muslim American Society (MAS), was the mosque's Imam between August 2003 and May 2005. He left the mosque to become the executive director of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars.
"beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all. According to Islamic penal law, killers will be sentenced to death, but the means of execution are not mentioned. ...we don't condone this. They are not following Islam. They are following their own whims."
He said that "suicide bombings are never legitimate in the United States." The Sheikh said he tells his congregation that "Islamic law does not allow suicide bombings in most instances." Speaking of Palestinian suicide bombers he said "if certain Muslims are to be cornered where they cannot defend themselves, except through these kinds of means, and their local religious leaders issued fatwas to permit that, then it becomes acceptable as an exceptional rule, but should not be taken as a principle."
Shaker Elsayed, a Shariah law scholar born in Cairo, Egypt, has been the resident imam at Dar Al-Hijrah since June 1, 2005. From 2000 through 2005 he was the Secretary General of the Muslim American Society.
Elsayed served as an unofficial spokesman for the family of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who had worshiped at Dar Al-Hijrah, and was charged with plotting to assassinate President Bush. Elsayed said the case against Abu Ali was based on a confession to Saudi authorities he termed "laughable," and Elsayed accused the Justice Department of unfairly targeting Abu Ali and other young Muslims for prosecution. Abu Ali was convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Despite some of Elsayed's politically charged statements, he unequivocally condemns terrorism and states that the mosque actively publicizes it to the public.
Board of Directors and Executive Committee
The mosque's 9-member board of directors consists of the Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the President of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), the General Manager of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the President of Muslim American Society (MAS), the President of the Dar Al-Hijrah Executive Committee, and four other members. Directors serve for five-year terms, and new directors are elected by the currently serving directors.
Dar Al-Hijrah has a 7-member executive committee; every two years four committee members are appointed by the mosque's board of directors, while the other three are elected by its membership. Imams Shaker Elsayed and Johari Abdul-Malik serve on the Executive Committee.
The mosque had 250 voting member families as of September 2004.
Dr. Esam Omeish, former President of the MAS, is a member of the Board. In 2004 Omeish, at 36 then the youngest member of the mosque's Board, said there is "no question" that the mosque leadership needs to be more open and inclusive of younger people, including women. "The bottom line is that this is a mosque that is in the heart of Washington," he said. "Our goal is to make the congregation reflect that reality." Omeish acknowledged that some mosque members raised acceptable questions about the mosque's constitution, and that proposals under consideration in 2004 included direct elections to the mosque's board of directors, director term limits, and phasing out the board seats that the constitution assigns to officials of certain Muslim organizations.
Dar Al-Hijrah is active in community outreach and service, and promoting mutual understanding in the local area. It participates in community food, back-to-school supply, and clean-up drives, is engaged in interfaith projects, and participates in civil rights work. Its social services department provides food, clothing, and other household items to needy local families of all faiths.
During the Islamic month of Ramadan, Dar Al-Hijrah serves everyone who wants to come eat, whether Muslim or non-Muslim; over 800 free meals every night. Also during Ramadan, it sponsors interfaith and civic iftar dinners with different faith groups to promote mutual understanding. It also distributes tens of thousands of dollars in zakat every Ramadan.
The FBI Director of Counter-Intelligence for the Middle East, Gordon M. Snow was a frequent, weekly, attendee of the services in the spring and summer of 2001, while also completing his Master's Degree 3 miles away.
Several sources indicated that Nidal Malik Hasan, the sole suspect in the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting, attended the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque at the same time in 2001 as Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour (two of the September 11 hijackers), who attended the mosque for several weeks during 2001 when Anwar al-Awlaki was Imam there; a law enforcement official said that the FBI will probably look into whether Hasan associated with the hijackers. The mosque issued a statement condemning the Fort Hood shootings, and al-Awlaki's praise of them. In addition, the phone number for the mosque was found in the Hamburg, Germany, apartment of one a planner of the September 11 attacks, Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was convicted of providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiracy to assassinate President George W. Bush, worshiped and taught Islamic studies at the mosque around that time, where he was also a camp counselor.
Abelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, a member of the mosque's Executive Committee, was convicted in November 2007 of contempt and obstruction of justice for refusal to testify before a grand jury with regard to Hamas, and sentenced to 135 months in prison.
Jeffrey Goldberg, in his 2008 book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, characterizes Dar Al-Hijrah as an openly political mosque that has conducted militant Friday sermons, especially prior to the September 11 attacks. The Washington Post reported that its leaders have strongly criticized U.S. law enforcement actions against Muslims and U.S. policies in the Middle East. The Washington Post also reported that the mosque is closely affiliated with the Muslim American Society, which has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
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