Dr. Benjamin Carson captivated the media’s attention with his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, but another attendee deserved some of the spotlight: Sayyid Syeed, the interfaith liaison for the Islamic Society of North America, who was recorded in 2006 saying, “[O]ur job is to change the constitution of America.”
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) originates in the Muslim Brotherhood, but has been embraced on a bi-partisan basis. FBI sources reporting back to the mid-1980s identified it as a Brotherhood front. In 2007, the U.S. government designated ISNA an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorism-financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation, listing it as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity.
A 1991 Brotherhood memo, which describes its “work in America as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within,” likewise mentions ISNA and several of its components as its fronts. In 2009, a federal judge upheld ISNA’s designation as an unindicted co-conspirator because of “ample” evidence linking it to Hamas.
The same 1991 memo lays out how the Brotherhood network must “posses a mastery of the art of ‘coalitions,’ the art of ‘absorption,’ and the principles of ‘cooperation.’” It explicitly talks about using the “hands” of the “nonbelievers” to advance its agenda.
The work of ISNA and its allies in forging interfaith partnerships is undoubtedly a fulfillment of this directive. ISNA has used these interfaith relationships to slam its critics as “Islamophobes,” as it did at an event on January 15 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.
Sayyid Syeed, ISNA’s Secretary-General from 1994 to 2006, is now the Director of ISNA’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances. New footage has been released of him stating in 2006, “[O]ur job is to the change the constitution of America,” as seen in the film, The Grand Deception.
Syeed and ISNA were invited to the National Prayer Breakfast at which President Obama spoke. Syeed also addressed about 100 evangelical leaders during the Middle East/North Africa Prayer Breakfast. Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, ISNA’s Director of Community Outreach, also spoke.
The National Prayer Breakfast was organized by the Fellowship Foundation and hosted by co-chairs Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Other speakers included Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) and, ironically, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), one of the brave congressmen who wrote letters asking for investigations into the relationships between ISNA and other Brotherhood legacy groups and the U.S. government.
Shortly after the National Prayer Breakfast, Syeed was the keynote speaker at the annual legislative conference of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was attended by over 700 faith community leaders, and the Coalition includes the Minnesota Council of Churches, Minnesota Catholic Conferences, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Islamic Center of Minnesota. He also spoke at the University of St. Thomas’s Muslim Christian Dialogue Center.
Syeed’s preaching is echoed by Muzammil Siddiqi, a member at large of ISNA’s board of directors. He was also the president from 1997 to 2000. He has spoken in support of the long-term implementation of Sharia Law and said in 2001 that Muslims “should participate in the [democratic] system to safeguard our interest and try to bring gradual change for the right cause, the cause of truth and justice. We must not forget that Allah’s rules have to be established in all lands, and all our efforts should lead to that direction.”
The rhetoric of both ISNA officials is in line with the Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine of gradualism, a phased approach towards implementing Sharia-based governance. Contrary to the Al-Qaeda-type Islamists, Brotherhood Islamists encourage involvement in secular democratic governments if necessary.
Terms made popular by these governments are even reinterpreted through Islamist lenses. Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi preaches, “What I am for is a genuine type of democracy, for a society driven by the laws of Sharia that is compatible with the values of freedom, human rights, justice and equity.”
The Islamist orientation of ISNA is also apparent in the guest speakers it has and the causes it chooses to, or chooses not to, champion. Last year, Tunisian Islamist Rachid Ghannouchi was booked to speak at its annual convention. Last month, ISNA hosted Somalia’s Muslim Brotherhood-linked President.
On the other hand, secular democratic activists opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood are never given a platform. ISNA is silent when crowds of Egyptians protest the Muslim Brotherhood. ISNA says not a word when tens of thousands of Muslims stand against Islamists in Bangladesh in what has been called “the first time ever in the Muslim world there has been a popular uprising against the fascism of Islamist parties.”
ISNA’s presence at the National Prayer Breakfast is exactly what the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood envisioned when it told its network to master “the art of ‘coalitions.’”
The Institute on Religion and Democracy sponsored this article.
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