Founded in 1996 and affiliated with Cordoba University in Ashburn, Virginia, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) is a privately held institution “dedicated in its entirety to teaching and research in Islamic Studies”—with a particular focus on “the American experience of Islam and Islamic studies in the United States and the West.”
Describing itself as “the first Muslim-run, graduate-level Islamic studies institution of higher education in the United States,” GSISS offers a 36-credit-hour Master of Arts program in Social Studies/Islamic Studies, which students can complete in a ten-month period. The curriculum for this course of study seeks “to link the modern social sciences to the traditional classical Islamic sciences in a serious and scientific way,” so as to “assist in discovering an intellectual direction that bridges the potential conflict in paradigms between Western civilization and the classical Islamic legacy.” Students in this program—who have access to GSISS's 35,000-volume library—commonly go on, after graduating, to become imams, academics, non-profit directors, and chaplains in hospitals, prisons, or the U.S. military. Indeed, GSISS is the only school credentialed by the Department of Defense to certify Muslim chaplains for the American armed forces. The school's first graduating class completed its studies in 1999.
In October 2001 the U.S. Treasury Department created a multi-agency task force known as Operation Green Quest, which began an intensive investigation of the funding sources of Islamic terrorism in the United States and abroad. Over the ensuing five months, this federal probe uncovered an intricate, Saudi-sponsored network of 24 financial, charitable, and ostensibly religious entities identified with Muslim and Arab concerns in the U.S., most of them headquartered in Northern Virginia. The keystone of this Virginia network was the Saar Foundation; GSISS and IIIT were among the other organizations involved.
On March 20, 2002, U.S. law-enforcement agents raided the homes and offices of key GSISS personnel, including its founder, Taha Jabir al-Alwani; its dean of students, Iqbal Unus; and one of its board members, Jamal Barzinji. Investigators accused al-Alwani in particular of having taken steps to conceal alleged payments to Palestinian terrorists. A crucial piece of evidence seized by investigators was a letter in which al-Alwani had advised his friend, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Sami al-Arian, to construct a "facade" to disguise a $50,000 donation to one of al-Arian's alleged PIJ terror fronts in the United States. Press reports later identified al-Awani as one of al-Arian's "unindicted co-conspirators" in a terror-fundraising operation.
In March 2003, the ChevronTexaco Foundation awarded GSISS a $100,000 grant for a its Project LIGHT (Learning Islamic Guidance for Human Tolerance) program, “designed to empower members of the Muslim community to respond to prejudice expressed against many individuals and communities, especially South Asians, Muslims and Arabs after the September 11th tragedy.” Rooted in the premise that American society was rife with anti-Muslim bias, this project trained 40 Muslims from 10 mosques in techniques of “conflict resolution” and “identifying bigotry.” The participants were then dispatched to various locations in metropolitan Washington, DC to give small-group presentations on the evils of anti-Muslim prejudice.