Islamic Society of North America
Islamic Society of North America logo
|Purpose||To unify Islamic organization and to contribute to the betterment of the Muslim community
|Affiliations||Muslim Student Association (MSA); the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT); Canadian Islamic Trust (CIT); Muslim Community Association (MCA); American Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS); American Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE); The Elkadri Fund (TEF); Islamic Medical Association (IMA); Islamic Teaching Center (ITC), and Foundation of Internanm, lklikltional Development (FID).|
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), based in Plainfield, Indiana, USA, is a Muslim umbrella group. It has been described in the media as the largest Muslim organization in North America.
ISNA traces its origins to a meeting of several Muslim student organizations in 1963, at which the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. & Canada ("The MSA") was formed in January 1963. ISNA regards the MSA's 1963 convention as its first one, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Present-day ISNA was founded in 1982 through a joint effort of four organizations: The Muslim Students Association of the US and Canada (The MSA), Islamic Medical Association (IMA), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), and the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE) - to create a community-oriented organization due to the changing nature of the growing Muslim community. Many of the leaders of these four founding organizations took leadership roles in the newly formed ISNA. In 1983, ISNA completed a $21 million ($49,893,418 today) headquarters complex in suburban Indianapolis using funds raised in part from international sources. In 2008, ISNA claimed 4,000 members. On August 30, 2013, Tahera Ahmad became the first woman to recite the Quran to open the ISNA convention, which she did at the 50th annual ISNA convention in front of a mixed-gender audience.
Among ISNA founding members were several members of the U.S. based Muslim Brotherhood. Ahmed Elkadi, who directed the U.S.-based branch of the Muslim Brotherhood from 1984 to 1994, was listed by ISNA’s by-monthly publication, Islamic Horizon, as one of the members of ISNA’s Executive Council in 1984. Jamal Badawi, one of the founders of the Muslim American Society along with Elkadi, served on ISNA’s Board of Directors.
ISNA's goal is "to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America that contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large." ISNA is an association of Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations.
Since 1982, ISNA's structure has changed, with several organizations either becoming defunct, or simply leaving ISNA's umbrella. Currently, ISNA includes under its umbrella: Muslim Student Association (MSA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), Canadian Islamic Trust Foundation (CITF; NAIT's counterpart in Canada), Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), and the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA). Other organizations that either left ISNA or were disbanded include: Muslim Communities Association (MCA), Islamic Teaching Center (ITC), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), Islamic Media Foundation (IMF), and Foundation for International Development (FID), among others. It should be noted that although each of the umbrella groups under ISNA has a seat in the ISNA Board of Directors, ISNA itself has no reciprocal seat or say in the leadership of the lower umbrella groups.
ISNA provides various services for Muslim immigrants and Muslim communities in North America. It used to publish information about Islam to be distributed with the intention of informing Muslims and non-Muslims about various issues in the religion, however this role was filled by a separate, unaffiliated organization, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). They provide a forum for discussing aging and mortality as well as domestic violence. ISNA-Canada, a separately-run but loosely affiliated Canadian non-profit entity, also certifies food service and consumer products companies as Halal, and issues Islamic marriage certificates to couples with a marriage license who have performed the religious ceremony.
Although only a small percentage of mosques are official members, mosque membership in ISNA is an important step for many small communities trying to grow. ISNA also offers individual membership on an annual basis and lifetime basis for sustaining donors.
ISNA holds an annual national convention, typically on the Labor Day weekend in early September, which is generally regarded as the largest gathering of American Muslims in the United States. In the last few years, it has been held in Chicago, Illinois, with increasing numbers attending including people from outside of North America. The convention features Islamic lectures, discussions, debates, nasheeds, and Muslim comedy. A notable comedian who has repeatedly performed at ISNA is Azhar Usman. In 2012, the ISNA Convention was held in Washington, D.C. Deputy U.S. Attorney General, Thomas Perez, addressed the 2012 Convention, and other prominent representatives of the White House have attended in the past, including Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's Senior Advisor for Engagement and International Affairs in 2009.
Islamic Horizons is ISNA's bi-monthly publication of ISNA, featuring news from within the Muslim community around the nation, as well as articles addressing topics relevant to Muslim Americans.
ISNA-Canada, an independent, Canadian-incorporated organization, is the operator and owner of the Islamic Society of North America Elementary School in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
The ISNA is led by the ISNA Executive Council with decisions ratified by a Board of Directors (Majlis Ash-Shura). The ISNA Executive Council's current President is Mohamed Magid, now in his second and final term (ending 2014), and its Secretary General is Safaa Zarzour. Muzzamil Siddiqi was president until November 2001, and he and Imam Siraj Wahhaj served on ISNA's board of directors in the past. Dr. Sayyid Syeed is the National Director for the Office of Interfaith & Community Alliances for ISNA.
ISNA invited Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, to speak before its 44th annual meeting (2007). Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish denomination in the US. Yoffie denounced "opportunists" who demonise Islam, and called for an end to racial profiling and legal discrimination against Muslim Americans. Yoffie drew frequent applause, and a standing ovation. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, criticized Yoffie.
ISNA has participated in interfaith dialogue with the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
ISNA was one of a number of Muslim groups investigated by US law enforcement for possible terrorist connections. Its tax records were requested in December 2003 by the Senate Finance Committee. However, the committee's investigation concluded in November 2005 having found no evidence of ties to terrorists. Committee chairman Charles Grassley said, "We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement is already doing."
In the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, the United States Department of Justice named ISNA, along with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the North American Islamic Trust, as an unindicted co-conspirator and one of a number of "entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood." ISNA, along with NAIT and CAIR, filed motions seeking to be removed from the UCC listing, and the District Judge found that the government had violated the organizations' rights by listing them as Unindicted Co-Conspirators. Judge Solis, as affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, held that the government should not have listed CAIR and ISNA, but that "the government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, NAIT, with the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas".
Currently, ISNA is still listed among “individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood.” On the same list is also an ISNA subsidiary, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), which according to the U.S. authorities served as a conduit to funnel money to Hamas.
According to the U.S. government memorandum in response to the ISNA and NAIT petition to be delisted:
“ISNA checks deposited into the ISNA/NAIT account for the HLF were often made payable to "the Palestinian Mujahadeen," the original name for the HAMAS military wing. From that ISNA/NAIT account, the HLF sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to HAMAS leader Mousa Abu Marzook, Nadia Elashi (defendant Ghassan Elashi's cousin and Marzook's wife), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's Islamic Center of Gaza, the Islamic University, and a number of other individuals associated with HAMAS.”
Moreover, an FOIA petition released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2008 confirmed that Muslim activities and policies directed by NAIT are set by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The leadership of ISNA and NAIT has historically overlapped substantially.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has asserted that the Islamic Society of North America is "accused of ties to Islamic extremists", and investigative journalist Steven Emerson accused ISNA of ties to terrorism.
Allegations of Wahhabism
In his testimony before the US Senate in October 2003, Dr. Michael Waller told Senators, that “The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) refers Muslim clerics to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The Islamic Society of North America is an influential front for the promotion of the Wahhabi political, ideological and theological infrastructure in the United States and Canada." Claiming that ISNA has connections to 50 to 79 percent of mosques on the North American continent, he accused the organization of "dominating Islam in North America."
Extremist and terrorist allegations ISNA maintains radical associations at several levels, as the U.S. memorandum in response to ISNA’s petition to be removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators in the HLF case makes clear. According to the official document, U.S. prosecutors “entered into evidence a wide array of testimonial and documentary evidence expressly linking ISNA and NAIT to the HLF and its principals; the Islamic Association for Palestine and its principles; the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States and its Palestine Committee, headed by HAMAS official Mousa Abu Marzook; and the greater HAMAS-affiliated conspiracy described in the Government’s case-in-chief.”
As The Investigative Project on Terrorism emphasized, the documentary evidence mentioned in the memorandum included a $10,000 expense voucher from NAIT in the name of Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas deputy political leader, as well as a check to Marzook’s wife, Nadia Elashi. Another check for $30,000 was reportedly made out to an institution known to be controlled and directed by Hamas, the Islamic University of Gaza.
Both ISNA and its subsidiary company NAIT underwent a federal investigation in the late 1980s for “possible violations of IRS statutes, INS laws, and customs, as well as state laws.” No charges were filed; yet the FBI uncovered irrefutable evidence that members of the MSA who later launched ISNA promoted the Islamic revolution and violent jihad. MSA is still listed among ISNA’s constituent organization on ISNA’s website.
In fact, there is clear indication that ISNA was identified as a Muslim Brotherhood front in the 1980s. Declassified FBI documents qualified ISNA as part of “the apparatus of the Brotherhood” and report that ISNA’s political goal was to “exert influence on political decision making and legislation in North America.”
A document from 1991 by the U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood listed ISNA as one of the 29 affiliated organizations (“organizations of our friends”) sharing the goal of turning America into a Muslim nation.
Controversial members' ISNA’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood are also confirmed by a number of ISNA founders who remain active members. According to a report by The Investigative Project on Terrorism, these include Muzzamil Siddiqi, Sayyid Syeed, Louay Safi, Jamal Badawi.
A more recent article by Patrick Poole posted by PJ Media also mentions additional terrorist figures associated with ISNA.
Abdurahman Alamoudi, designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as one of the top al-Qaeda fundraised in North America, was among those who started ISNA’s political action committee in 1988. Alamoudi was convicted in 2004 for his role in the assassination plot that targeted then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
Sami Al-Arian, ISNA’s self-admitted founder, is a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad officer convicted in 2006 for terrorism charges who had played an active role for years in ISNA and was often invited as a speaker at ISNA’s events.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda recruiter killed by a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, was invited as a speaker at an ISNA conference held just a few days before 9/11.
Ghulam Nabi Fai, who served for years on ISNA’s shura council, was convicted in 2012 for “failing to disclose nearly $4 million he had received from the Pakistani ISI intelligence service to influence members of Congress on behalf of the Muslim separatist cause in Kashmir.” Poole also reported that Fai’s co-conspirators, Zaheer Ahmad, allegedly met with Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri before the 9/11 attack in order to “discuss their weapons of mass destruction program.”
A speaker at the 2009 national convention, Warith Deen Umar, a New York imam, asserted that the Holocaust happened to the Jews "because they were serially disobedient to Allah." He went on to allege that a group of Jews close to President Barack Obama "control the world."
ISNA condemned the comments.
In an article, Sheila Musaji has responded to criticism raised by Umbreen Shah. She states that she searched the ISNA print publications and information on the their website for any claim that they were “the only representative of Muslim Americans from all walks of life", and could not find any. She also points out that many African-Americans may not have been represented in large numbers at the ISNA convention because of the convention by W.D. Muhammad during the same weekend.
A audit of the separately run but loosely affiliated ISNA-Canada found only a quarter of the funds donated to the organisation went to help the poor. Charity donations were misdirected to private businesses. On Sep 21, 2013, the Canada Revenue Service revoked the registration of the ISNA-Canada due to an alleged link to a terror organization. Funds intended to charity went to the Hizbul Mujahideen wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.
According to forms filed by the IRS, ISNA also funded the U.S. terrorist designated Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA). The U.S. Department of justice claimed that ISNA provided funding to IARA on a regular basis, and that IARA devolved at least $130,000 to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda.
Moreover, Thomas Joscelyn reported that German investigators discovered evidence of transactions between ISNA and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), a charity supporting the U.S.-based terror cell that was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as the “day of terror” attacks that had New York City landmarks as their target.
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