Wahhabism in America

Wahhabism in the American Prison System

When prisoners in New Folsom State Prison near Sacramento become adherents to the political ideology of radical Wahhabi Islam, form a terrorist cell while in prison (Jamat Ul-Islam Is Saheeh) and plot terrorist acts against three National Guard facilities, the Israeli Consulate and several synagogues in the Los Angeles area; when accused “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla (a.k.a. Abdullah al-Muhajir) a former Chicago street gang member converts to Islam during a term at a Broward County, Florida jail and falls in with terrorist recruiters after his release; when Aqil Collins, a self-confessed jihadist turned FBI informant, converts to Islam while doing time in a California juvenile detention center and later trains with one of the men accused of kidnapping and beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; when convicted terrorists from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are put into their prison’s general population and proselytize other inmates in radical Islam because prison officials fear being accused of “religious profiling”; or when Muslim inmates are allowed to conduct radical Islamic, virulently anti-American and anti-Western services in loosely monitored prison chapels across our nation……..there is something going on in our prison system that relates directly to our current war on Islamic radicalism.

For years, the Washington-based Center for Security Policy has been tracking the infiltration of U.S. prisons by agents of Saudi Wahhabism. Wahhabism is a radical Islamist interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith (its commentaries) upon which the ideologies of Hamas, the Moslem Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda are based. The Center’s research (now confirmed by subsequent Senate investigations) has concluded that Muslim chaplains trained in and certified by Saudi-supported Wahhabi institutes in America have been accepted into our prison system by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). This has led to fears that a dangerous Islamic “fifth column” is developing in our prisons with the unwitting cooperation of the federal government.

In 2005, Robert Mueller, Director of the F.B.I. told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner’s conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release.” According to published reports, radical Islamists have put a high priority on reaching disaffected inmates and recruiting them for their own deadly purposes. The Washington Times quotes an al Qaeda training manual that identifies as “candidates” for recruitment those who are “disenchanted with their country’s policies,” especially convicted criminals. The article quotes a U.S. corrections official who acknowledges that Americans behind bars are “literally a captive audience, and many inmates are anxious to hear how they can attack the institutions of America.”


The conversion program is funded with Saudi money through the National Islamic Prison Foundation, an organization that underwrites “prison outreach” but whose real goal is the conversion of large numbers of inmates (primarily African-American) (1) not only to Wahhabism, but to its radical Islamist agenda….and the effort is both successful and, for the most part, hidden from public view.

Islam is the fastest growing religion among young, incarcerated African-Americans. Some figures suggest that one out of three African-Americans in federal prison are Muslim and most converted during their imprisonment. With an estimated 250,000 Muslim inmates in the nation’s prisons (making up 10% to 17% of the prison and jail population), there are reasons for concern especially since Foundation officials claim an average of 135,000 additional conversions per year. When these inmates are released from prison with the customary $10, a suit of clothes and a one-way bus or train ticket, they know any mosque or masjid (Islamic Center) will shelter and feed them and help them find a job. Prison authorities believe that these converted inmates could serve as terrorists once they are released, murdering their own countrymen in a kind of “payback” for perceived injustices done to them by “white America.”

The radical Muslim chaplains who carry out these proselytization efforts are trained and certified for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons by two specific Wahhabi-oriented institutions in the U.S. – The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) based in Plainfield, Indiana and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) which was recently renamed Cordoba University and is located in Ashburn, Virginia. According to the October 2003 Senate testimony of Dr. Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics, Operation Green Quest (the American financial response to 9/11) raided GSISS offices in March 2002 for “potential money laundering and tax evasion activities and their ties to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda as well as individual terrorists…. (including) Osama bin Laden.” The GSISS was raided because of its suspected funding ties to the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a terrorist front group established by former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian who was recently convicted for heading the American fundraising efforts of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian currently faces deportation.

But Waller was particularly critical of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) – a powerful Saudi-supported Islamic educational organization that certifies Wahhabi-trained  chaplains both to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. military. The ISNA’s task is to impose Wahhabi religious conformity on American Islam. It is used by the Muslim World League (a Saudi charity accused of financing al Qaeda and dedicated to the spread of Wahhabism) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) to finance and exercise control over hundreds of mosques in the United States (2) and marginalizes moderate leaders of the Muslim faith by providing videos, sermons and literature that advocate strict Wahhabism. According to Steven Emerson, a leading authority on Islamic terrorism, in 1996, the organization’s magazine, Islamic Horizons recommended:

“It is……. pertinent that Muslims enlighten their children about the valor of their co-religionists who are sacrificing their lives to establish the way of Allah. Muslim children need to know and honor not only those martyrs who are laying down their lives in Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine and Mindanao, but also those who are sacrificing their livelihoods to establish the rule of Allah in lands that are now held hostage to the whims of despots.”

The consequences of these proselytizing efforts are dramatic. The Wall Street Journal quotes a former New York-based Wahhabi imam, Warith Deen Umar who, until his retirement in August 2000 helped run New York’s Islamic prison program by recruiting and training dozens of chaplains and ministering to thousands of inmates himself.  The article quotes the imam as saying:

“The 9/11 hijackers should be honored as martyrs. The U.S. risks further terrorism attacks because it oppresses Muslims around the world. Without justice, there will be warfare, and it can come to this country too…..Even Muslims who say they are against terrorism secretly admire and applaud” the hijackers, he wrote in an unpublished memoir.”

The Quran”, he said, “does not condemn terrorism against oppressors of Muslims, even if innocent people die. This is the sort of teaching they don’t want in prison, but this is what I’m doing.” Umar had free rein to hire more than forty similar-minded Muslim chaplains over his 25 years and in so doing brought some of Wahhabism’s harshest prejudices to their captive flock. As a radical Islamist, he denied prisoners access to mainstream moderate imams and materials.

Nor was he alone. Just two weeks after the 9/11 tragedies, Aminah Akbarin, the Islamic chaplain at the men’s prison in remote Cape Vincent, N.Y. preached that God had inflicted his punishment on the wicked and the victims deserved what they got (according to a labor arbitrator’s subsequent ruling upholding his firing). Shocked officials at the prison failed to intervene for fear of sparking a riot. About six weeks later, the chaplain at the Albion Correctional Facility for women told inmates that Osama Bin Laden “is a soldier of Allah, a hero of Allah,” and that the terror attacks were the fault of President Bush.

In our prison system, Islamist imams have demanded, and, for the most part, have been granted the exclusive franchise for Muslim proselytization to the forceful exclusion of moderates. This surge of radical Wahhabism in our prisons has had a profound and unfortunate impact upon moderate non-Wahhabi Muslims, most notably Shi’ite Muslims and spiritual Muslims known as Sufis. Not only are they subject to religious intimidation, but moderate Islamic literature has also begun disappearing from prison libraries.

According to Paul Barrett writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anthony Cook, a Shi’ite inmate in New York, has been in protective custody since 2001, when other Muslim inmates threatened his life. Wahhabi chaplains have handed out religious literature to inmates calling Shi’ites “deviants” and “enemies of genuine Islam.” Cook relates that in 1999 in the Great Meadow State Prison, Imam Abdulkadir Elmi distributed religious literature that condemned Shi’ites as “charlatans, reeking with the stench of chicken-heartedness, insincerity, greed, cowardice and equivocation.”

Nor are these isolated cases. Shi’ite prisoners at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York have accused another disciple of Warith Deen Umar, Imam Salahuddin Muhammad of calling them “infiltrators and snitches” during Friday sermons. They say Sunni Wahhabist inmates have circulated a pamphlet, The Difference Between the Shi’ites and the Majority of Muslim Scholars, which recounts an ancient smear that Shi’ism grew out of a seventh-century conspiracy orchestrated by a Yemeni Jew, who sought “to create discord among Muslims by agitating the trible [sic] and racial differences and hostilities.” The 32-page booklet was published by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), an organization based in Riyadh, backed by the Saudi government and currently under investigation as a Wahhabi terrorist front organization.

The Saudi government also pays for these prison chaplains to travel to Saudi Arabia for worship and “study” during the hajj, the traditional winter pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their lives. The trips are courtesy of the Saudi government, funded through the Muslim World League at a cost of $3,000 a person and last for several weeks. Since the Wahhabi agenda seeks the submission to Islam of all non-believers through violent means if necessary and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in America and around the world, Saudi proselytization efforts that foster such beliefs should be unacceptable. Nevertheless, these activities are continuing.

In response to mounting criticism, in April 2004, the Office of the Inspector General released its review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) policies and procedures for the selection of individuals who provide Islamic religious services to federal inmates. It noted many problems and deficiencies (most of which have yet to be rectified) including the fact that the BOP typically does not examine the doctrinal beliefs of applicants for religious service positions to determine whether those beliefs are inconsistent with BOP security policies; that the BOP and the FBI do not adequately exchange information regarding the BOP’s Muslim endorsing organizations; that the BOP does not effectively use the expertise of moderate Muslim chaplains to screen, recruit, and supervise Muslim religious service providers; that once contractors and certain Islamic volunteers gain access to BOP facilities, ample opportunity continues to exist for them to deliver inappropriate and extremist messages without supervision from BOP staff members; that  inmates often lead Islamic religious services with only intermittent supervision from BOP staff members (which enhances the likelihood that the Wahhabi version of Islam is transmitted to inmates); and within the BOP’s chapels, significant variations exist in the level of supervision provided by correctional officers.

As a result of the review, the Bureau of Prisons placed a hiring freeze on accepting chaplains endorsed by the ISNA and by other Islamic organizations until it receives information from the FBI in order to determine whether any of the organizations should still be used as endorsers. That measure deals with the issue of chaplains hired in the future, but does not do anything about the ones who are still in place. Thus, despite the fact that America is engaged in a war against radical Islam, Wahhabists continue to operate in America’s prisons. That is because American judicial and correctional authorities lack the legal and educational expertise to differentiate between radical Islam and the more moderate streams of Islam. As Charles Colson has written:

“The courts (have) suggested that there is no violation of free exercise (of religious rights) when restrictions stem from a reasonable concern about preventing violence and hatred. In an important 1969 case (Knuckles v. Prasse) the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that so long as services in prison were of a religious nature, Muslim prisoners could have visitations by Muslim ministers and worship services that prison authorities could monitor; but if Muslim gatherings in prison proceeded along nonreligious lines and defiance of authority became the message of such gatherings, prison authorities might cancel the communal worship and ministerial visitation privileges.”

The problem however is that this case was decided decades prior to the passage of the recent religious liberty statutes, which have yet to be fully adjudicated in our courts. 

The issue of radical Islam in our prisons cannot be countered by “political correctness.” It represents a silent and potentially lethal Islamist threat that operates outside of public scrutiny, and it must be monitored carefully and dealt with effectively. The promoters of terror must be kept out of our prisons and away from the inmates they seek to exploit. As Imam Umar wryly noted:

“There is more happening in this country that most people don’t know about.”

This is one of those “happenings.” Until such time as the federal government begins to effectively monitor this rise of radical Islam amongst the captive populations of our prison system and begins accrediting moderate Islamic institutions to train its Muslim chaplains, a dangerous fifth column will continue to grow and will over time find its way from our prisons into the cities and streets of America.

End Notes

1. The Saudis have directed considerable financial resources specifically toward the American Black Muslim community. In one effort to showcase the “bounties” of Wahhabism to this target audience, the Saudis’ late King Fahd pledged $8M for a lavish mosque in shabby South Central Los Angeles. The Saudis’ Islamic Development Bank pledged an additional $295,000 for a school attached to the mosque. On October 20, 2002, the New York Times quoted Faheem Shuaibe, imam at a large predominantly black mosque in Oakland, Calif., as saying that more than 200 African-American imams had been trained to that date in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Shuaibe told the newspaper:
“This was a very deliberate recruitment process by the Saudis – trying to find black Muslims who had a real potential for Islamic learning and also for submission to their Wahabbist agenda. They are taught Islam with the intent to expand their influence. A principal target was to stop the indigenous Muslim leadership in America from tinkering with their religion.” According to Reza Safa, an authority on the manner in which Saudi Wahhabism is spread throughout the world, “as many as 90% of American converts to Islam are black.”

2. On June 23, 2003, Stephen Schwartz, Director of the Islam and Democracy Program for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies presented the following testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security:
“Wahhabi control over mosques means control of property, buildings, appointment of imams, training of imams, content of preaching including faxing of Friday sermons from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and of literature distributed in mosques and mosque bookstores, notices on bulletin boards, and organizational solicitation. Similar influence extends to prison and military chaplaincies, Islamic elementary and secondary schools (academies), college campus activity, endowment of academic chairs and programs in Middle East studies, and most notoriously, charities ostensibly helping Muslims abroad, many of which have been linked to or designated as sponsors of terrorism.”

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