The Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada, or MSA (also known as MSA National), was established mainly by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in January 1963 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Nyack College theologian Larry A. Poston writes that “many of the founding members of this agency [MSA] were members of, or had connections to,” the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-i-Islami. The three most significant founders of MSA were Hisham al Talib, Jamal Barzinji, and Ahmed Totanji, and all of whom were MB leaders of Iraqi descent. Other noteworthy individuals who served as early co-founders of MSA were Mahboob Khan and Malika Khan.
The creation of MSA resulted from Saudi-backed efforts to establish Islamic organizations internationally in the 1960s, for the purpose of spreading its Wahhabist ideology across the globe. According to Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy: “The Saudis over the years set up a number of large front organizations, such as the Al Haramain Foundation, the Muslim World League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and a great number of Islamic 'charities.' While invariably claiming that they were private, all of these groups were tightly controlled and financed by the Saudi government and the Wahhabi clergy.” Moreover, these organizations commonly shared personnel, money, and institutional affiliations.
Stating that its mission is “to serve the best interest of Islam and Muslims in the United States and Canada so as to enable them to practice Islam as a complete way of life,” MSA presents itself as an apolitical, religious and cultural organization. In reality it is a radical political force and a key lobbying organization for the Wahhabi sect of Islam, telling students that America is an imperialist power and Israel an oppressor nation. MSA speakers routinely spew anti-Semitic libels and justify the genocide against the Jews which is promoted by Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and by the government of Iran. The Center for Security Policy's Alex Alexiev states:
“The majority of Muslim Student Associations at U.S. colleges are dominated by Islamist and anti-American agendas, as are most of the numerous Islamic centers and schools financed by the Saudis. Intolerance and outright rejection of American values and democratic ideals are often taught also in the growing number of Deobandi schools that are frequently subsidized by the Saudis.”
Hamid Algar, a faculty member at UC Berkeley, is the biographer of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and one of the world's leading historians of Islamic spirituality. In his 2000 publication, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, Algar candidly acknowledged MSA’s historical ties to radical Islam:
“Some Muslim student organizations have… functioned at times as Saudi-supported channels for the propagation of Wahhabism abroad, especially in the United States. The [MSA] was established in 1963, one year after the Muslim World League [MWL] with which it had close links. Particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, no criticism of Saudi Arabia would be tolerated at the annual conventions of the MSA … The organization has, in fact, consistently advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaati Islam.... Although the MSA progressively diversified its connections with Arab states, official approval of Wahhabism remained strong.”
In 2007, a New York Police Department report characterized the MSA as an “incubator” for Islamic radicalism. That assessment was echoed by Former FBI Special Agent John Guandolo, who described the group as “a recruitment tool to bring Muslims into the Brotherhood,” and as the “focal point” for the MB in America. "Their goal, both from their senior leaders, presidents of MSA's around the country, national leadership, is to implement Islamic government here in the United States," Guandolo explains. "And they say that."
Since its founding, MSA has grown into the most influential Islamic student organization in North America. It currently has chapters on nearly 600 college campuses; just over 150 of these chapters are affiliated with the national organization, while the remainder are independent entities whose policies and views may differ from those of MSA National.
“It should be the long-term goal of every MSA to Islamicize the politics of their respective university … the politicization of the MSA means to make the MSA more of a force on internal campus politics. The MSA needs to be a more ‘In-your-face’ association … For example, the student body must be convinced that there is such a thing as a Muslim-bloc." The Guide further advises: "Aim to rise within the ranks of the Union [student government] and to get on selected executive committees … I cannot stress this enough, the Union has vast powers that Muslims need to control."
In its quest for increased influence, MSA devotes many of its efforts and resources to the practice of da’wa -- i.e., proselytization which consists of “inviting” non-Muslims, or "infidels," to join the Islamic faith. Nyack College theologian Larry A. Poston characterizes MSA as “undoubtedly the most activist of the da’wa organizations in America.” In January 2005, former MSA UCLA member Ahmed Shama said:
“The only justification ... that Muslims have to live in this country is da’wa.... [I]f we are not doing something to invite people to Islam, Muslims and non-Muslims, then we are missing the point what Islamic Movement is about.... The end goal of everything I was talking about is the establishment of, the reestablishment of, Islamic form of government.”
In 2007, MSA National’s website featured a document entitled, “Da'wa: Time to Come Out of Our Boxes,” advising MSA members to strategically adapt their da’wa to the particular cultural sensibilities of North Americans. For example: “Instead of using 'Holy War' to translate the word Jihad, use a more comprehensive and proper term like, 'struggle' or 'striving'... Try to use language that is more appealing to North Americans.”
"[T]he women's liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed by God to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad … The Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith or Sunnah) are the sources from which every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties. … Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable to God in glorifying and worshipping Him -- setting no limits on her moral progress. Also, Islam established a woman's equality in her humanity with men. … In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. … The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today, even in the West."
Part and parcel of MSA's da'wa strategy is to make the presence of Muslim students and traditions increasingly ubiquitous on college and university campuses. According to MSA's Muslim Accommodations Task Force (MATF), campus MSAs can achieve this goal by demanding that their universities become more "Muslim-friendly," and by claiming that a school's failure to do so would make Muslim students feel like outcasts.
Consistent with this strategy, the MATF has prepared and published guides (for MSA student leaders) on such topics as “How to Establish a Prayer Room on Campus,” “How to Achieve Islamic Holidays on Campus,” and “How to Achieve Halal Food on Campus.” These guides direct Muslim students to present their demands in the context of multiculturalism and civil rights. “Most campuses,” explains one publication, “include respecting diversity as a part of their mission statement. They consider enrollment of diverse students an asset to the community, as they enhance the classroom learning experience and enrich student life. Try to find these statements specific to your campus, and explain that recognition of Islamic holidays would serve as a practical example of upholding these ideals.”
According to the same MATF publcation, such recognition would also serve to right wrongs done to Muslims on campus: “If any cases of bias against Muslims took place on campus in the recent past, present the proposal as an opportunity to foster cooperation and increase understanding.” It would be a simple matter of civil rights, says the guide: “Additionally, if special holiday recognition is being offered to other faith communities (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant), Muslims have strong grounds to make a petition for equal consideration of their holiday requirements.”
Such tactics are part of MSA's stealth jihad, consisting of nonviolent initiatives whose long-term goal is the incorporation of Sharia law into the legal and social systems of the United States by non-confrontational means.
This is precisely the strategy which was outlined in a 1991 Muslim Brotherhood internal document -- titled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America” -- which named MSA as one of the Brotherhood’s 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that shared the common goal of destroying America and turning it into a Muslim nation. These “friends” were identified by the Brotherhood as groups that could help teach Muslims “that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands ... so that ... God's religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions.” Also named in the Muslim Brotherhood document were:
“Allah is my lord. Islam is my life. The Koran is my guide. The Sunna is my practice. Jihad is my spirit. Righteousness is my character. Paradise is my goal. I enjoin what is right. I forbid what is wrong. I will fight against oppression. And I will die to establish Islam.”
That pledge is an adaptation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s credo: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
Since 9/11, MSA has made extensive use of the politics of victimization. In the days immediately after the attacks, for example, the organization stated: “In light of the Bush administration's casting blame for the attack on Osama Bin Laden, MSA National recognizes that Muslim students on college campuses will be subject to backlash.” Characterizing American homeland-security policies as explicit assaults against Islam, a subsequent MSA document, titled America: Post 9/11, stated: “Soon after [9/11], the attacks against our religion began at the hands of the media and the political establishment.”
Also in the post-9/11 era, MSA has expressed resistance, outrage, and cynicism vis à vis virtually every high-profile arrest of any Muslim American charged with terrorist activity. When former University of South Florida (USF) professor Sami al-Arian, for instance, was arrested for directing U.S. operations for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that campus's MSA chapter expressed its “shock” and “deep concern” that al-Arian was being persecuted for his “political views.”
Charging that America's post-9/11 foreign policy was being driven by imperialism, MSA steadfastlyopposed the U.S. military intervention against Afghanistan's Taliban regime, calling instead for a “police investigation” and a hearing before the International Criminal Court. Numerous MSA chapters organized rallies demanding a ceasefire and held “Solidarity Fasts” to honor Afghans who, the MSA predicted, would face massive starvation as a result of the war.
Even before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, MSA had opposed every U.S. policy towards Baghdad during the preceding twelve years. For instance, the organization had condemned the United Nations-authorized sanctions as “nothing short of a systematic genocide being carried out against civilian people.” Likewise denouncing former president Bill Clinton's 1998 military strike against Iraq after Saddam Hussein had expelled all UN weapons inspectors from his country, MSA announced that its “brothers and sisters in Iraq are once again being terrorized by the self-appointed champions of democracy.”
Also in the early 2000s, MSA was an influential steering-committee member of International ANSWER, a front organization of the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party. Moreover, local chapters of MSA were signatories to a February 20, 2002 document, composed by the Revolutionary Communist Party front group Refuse & Resist, condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. The document likened the U.S. government to a "police state" that subjected "Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants" to "disappearances," "indefinite detention," "round-ups," "secret military tribunals," "denial of legal representation," and "denial of any due process."
MSA strongly opposes the Patriot Act, which it describes as an "infamous" piece of legislation. The organization's chapters across the United States have similarly denounced virtually every other national-security initiative implemented by the U.S. government since the 9/11 attacks, on grounds that those initiatives target Muslims unfairly.
MSA's depiction of Muslims as victims of such egregious discrimination is consistent with the organization's preoccupation with the supposed epidemic of "Islamophobia." In November 2010, for instance, MSA was scheduled to conduct an event titled “Curing Islamophobia, in Every Student-Body.” Similarly, in January 2011 in Atlanta, MSA National held an “Eradicating Islamophobia” conference which it described as follows:
"There are two sides to every story. Unfortunately, one side has dominated the media, causing misconceptions and controversy concerning Islam. This conference brings together powerful leaders and speakers from around the world to dispel the myths and promote peace and concern for humanity; the principles Islam is founded on. The education given will reflect what the majority of Muslims throughout the world believe, that Islam is a Religion of Peace and a Help for Humanity."
Noteworthy MSA-related news items from recent years include the following:
In 2002, James Madison University’s MSA sponsored a “Jihad” panel that included Dr. Abdulrahman Hijazi, who had previously extolled an Islamic suicide bomber as a “martyr” whose actions were animated by hopes of securing “the mercy of Allah” by way of “one of the greatest good deeds, which is jihad.”
At the 7th annual MSA West Conference held at the University of Southern California in January 2005, former MSA UCLA member Ahmed Shama said: “We want to restore Islam to the leadership of society.… The goal … is the reestablishment of the Islamic form of government.” Shama praised Hamas and Hezbollah for being “uncompromising” on their principles, and for refusing to “shake hands with the other side.” He lauded the terrorist leader Muqtada al-Sadr for “legitimately fighting against [U.S.] occupation” in Iraq. He identified Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the “mainstream Islamic movement.” And he praised Hamas’ resolve that “the only solution to the current [Israeli] occupation is military resistance.”
At the February 2006 MSA West Conference at Sacramento State University, guest speaker Abdel Malik-Ali praised the late Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and rejoiced at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s failing health. He also said, “Last week, we were all feeling so good – we were all feeling so good – because of what happened with Hamas” – a reference to the fact that the terrorist group had just won a large percentage of seats in the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections.
At MSA's West Zone Conference on the UC-Berkeley campus in April 2007, MSA West president Amir Mertaban delivered a speech in which he emphasized the importance of unwavering loyalty to all fellow Muslims, regardless of what transgressions they may have committed: “Don't ever compromise on Islam! And don't ever compromise on your Muslim brothers and sisters in which you have no evidence. Osama bin Laden- I don't know this guy. I don't know what he did. I don't know what he said. I don't know what happened. But we defend Muslim brothers and we defend our Muslim sisters to the end.... In every aspect of Islam you are confident. Four wives? Yes men are allowed to have four wives within this context. Jihad? Yes Jihad! Jihad is the tightest thing in Islam. Don't compromise on these little things. Be proud of it. Why? Because Islam is a perfect religion.”
Each year since 2005, MSA and many of its campus chapters have participated in "Israeli Apartheid Week," a series of events designed "to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns" against the Jewish state.
Patrick Poole, an anti-terrorism consultant to law enforcement and the military, observes that "one of the darkest secrets of the MSA, certainly never advertised by the organization or mentioned in their publications, is a rather lengthy list of top MSA leaders who have been arrested and convicted on a wide array of terrorism charges, ranging from material support of terrorist groups to being actively involved in terrorist plots." "It is important to stress," adds Poole, "that these are not fringe figures in the MSA organization, but some of its top leaders.” In August 2010, Poole published this partial list of such individuals:
In August 2010, a Boston news outlet reported that Tarek Mehanna — an MSA official at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science, was facing indictment on terrorism material-support charges.
In September 2009, Fox News reported that Omar Hammami, who had served as president of the University of South Alabama's MSA in 2001-2002, was now a top official with al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group linked to al Qaeda.
In April 2003, FBI agents, who had secretly videotaped foreign student members of MSA who were illegally engaged in weapons training, raided the apartment of Hassan Alrefae and Jaber Al-Thukair, Arizona State's MSA president and vice president, respectively. The raid was part of a larger investigation into possible terrorist training by foreign-born MSAers.
In June 2006, Ali Asad Chandia, who had served as president of the Montgomery College (Maryland) MSA in 1998 and 1999, was convicted on terror charges as part of a Northern Virginia jihad network; he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for three separate counts of conspiracy and material support to the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
In February 2010, Aafia Siddiqui – a woman who had been captured in 2008 with explosives, deadly chemicals, and a list of New York City landmarks – was convicted of attempting to murder a U.S. Army captain while she was incarcerated and being interrogated by authorities at a prison in Afghanistan. Described variously as “al-Qaeda’s Mata Hari” and “Lady al-Qaeda,” Siddiqui had previously been radicalized by the MSA chapter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied neuroscience.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, who served as president of the University of Arizona MSA in the mid-1980s, went on to become one of al Qaeda’s co-founders and its logistics chief. In September 2002, the U.S. government listed Julaidan as a specially designated global terrorist, identifying him as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, and as a director of the Rabita Trust, which had already been designated a terrorist finance entity that supported al-Qaeda.
University of Idaho MSA president Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, who operated nearly a dozen Arabic-language websites for anti-American, pro-suicide-bombing clerics, was accused by federal authorities of using his academic studies as a cover for terrorist support activities. Al-Hussayen was eventually acquitted on the terrorism charges. In addition, immigration charges against him resulted in a mistrial. Nevertheless, Al-Hussayen was deported to Saudi Arabia in June 2004 after agreeing to a deal with federal prosecutors.
In December 2009, Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam, who had served as the president of MSA’s D.C. Council, was arrested in Pakistan along with four other D.C.-area men (all of whom were also active in MSA). All five were charged with plotting to join the Jaish-e-Muhammed terrorist group with plans to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; all five were convicted in a Pakistani court in June 2010 and sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.
Syed Maaz Shah, secretary of the University of Texas-Dallas MSA chapter, was arrested in December 2006, for his involvement in paramilitary training at an Islamic campground, where he was preparing to join the Taliban in order to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Shah was convicted on weapons charges in May 2007.
Ziyad Khaleel, president of the Columbia College (Missouri) MSA, was a representative of the Islamic Association for Palestine (a Hamas front). He also registered and operated the English-language website for Hamas, and served as al Qaeda’s chief procurement agent in the United States during the 1990s. Among the items Khaleel purchased was a $7,500 satellite phone for Osama bin Laden. That phone, dubbed by intelligence authorities as the “jihad phone,” was used to plan the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings.
Asan Akbar was an American Muslim extremist who attended the MSA-controlled student mosque at the University of California, Davis. After college, he joined the U.S. Army and, in the early hours of March 23, 2003, he intentionally detonated a grenade amidst sleeping members of his 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division stationed in Kuwait -- killing two and wounding fifteen. Not long before this incident, Akbar, who had been reprimanded for insubordination, reportedly told his mother that he felt the military was persecuting him because he was a Muslim.
Ahmad Totonji, one of MSA’s initial founders, became a key player in the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SAAR network (of more than 100 Northern Virginia companies, charities, and organizations with interlocking boards of directors), which had financing ties to al Qaeda, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
Other noteworthy MSA figures with ties to terrorism include the following:
Abu Mansoor al-Amriki: an American-born member of al Shahab, a Somali Islamic militant group aligned with al Qaeda
Ahmed Totanji, a Muslim Brotherhood member who co-founded MSA, and who was once a member of the Safa Group, which funneled money to terrorist organizations
Hisham al Talib, a Muslim Brotherhood member who co-founded MSA, and who was once a member of the Safa Group, which funneled money to terrorist organizations. Al Talib also co-founded the SAAR Foundation, which the FBI and the U.S. Customs agency believe was established to raise funds and launder money for international terrorist groups.
Writer Jonathan Dowd-Gailey has made some insightful observations about how the MSA has affected Americans' view of Muslims, both in the United States and around the world:
“Ironically, although one of the founding missions of the MSA is to increase favorable awareness of Muslim life among non-Muslims, the effect of the MSA's activities is the opposite: they confirm the worst suspicions of American society at large. The MSA's refusal to identify jihadists and jihadist sympathizers within its ranks, its indiscriminate opposition to U.S. policies following the September 11 attacks, its vitriolic anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, and its solidarity with 'Leftover Left' radical activist organizations, together reinforce an image that the MSA, and by extension, Muslim college students, are a divisive, angry, and potentially violent group on our campuses. By monopolizing the Muslim student voice in America with 'radical chic' to create a 'single Muslim bloc,' an opportunity to forge a healthy discourse on the diverse attitudes of Muslim students is lost to the confrontational language of radical dissent and resistance.”
Intolerant of ideological non-conformity, MSA has ostracized Muslim students who do not share its anti-American, anti-war views. For example, when Oubai Shahbandar, an Arizona State University (ASU) student of Muslim heritage, expressed support for the Iraqi invasion, he suffered condemnation from MSA members who, he said, “personally attacked” him “for not being a real Muslim” and for being “a hater of Arabs and Muslims.” "We are told [by MSA that] America's foreign policy is based on racist neo-imperialism, Shahbandar reported. "We are taught that national security is a foul epithet to be reviled; we are told the Jews and Israel are to blame for the hatred against us."
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