See also: American Society for Muslim Advancement
Born in Kuwait in 1948, Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a New York City mosque. He holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Columbia University. His father was the late Muhammad Abdul Rauf.
From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Faisal Abdul Rauf acquired seven low-income apartment buildings in New Jersey -- five in Union City and one each in North Bergen and Palisades Park. In 1989, Union City’s Community Development Agency awarded Rauf $384,000 in grants to help him renovate three of those properties. But in March 1992, Rauf -- citing “heavy and unforeseen additional carrying costs” estimated at $87,000 -- asked then-Union City mayor Bob Menendez for $80,000 in city funds to help him cover his expenses temporarily; it is not known whether Rauf ever received that money. Two weeks after contacting Menendez, however, Rauf got approval on nearly $1.3 million in construction loans from the affordable-housing trust fund of Hudson County, New Jersey -- and subsequently another $630,900 from the state -- on condition that he agree to rent the units at “affordable” rates through 2017.
Notwithstanding that influx of county and state money, Rauf's properties remained in a state of disrepair, with tenants complaining not only about a lack of heat and hot water, but also about infestations of roaches, bedbugs, and rats. Moreover, Rauf became seriously delinquent in his mortgage payments. Thus in July 1992, one lender initiated a foreclosure action on the $400,000 mortgage covering two of Rauf's properties. In 1995 another lender sued to foreclose on three additional loans to Rauf totaling $1.65 million. In the end, all these situations were resolved without foreclosure.
In 1990 Rauf became affiliated with the al-Farah Mosque (which was founded in 1981 by the Turkish Sheikh Muzaffer Ozakin) in lower Manhattan. Seven years later, he established the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), a New-York based nonprofit organization which has been run by Rauf's third wife, Daisy Khan, since 2005. (ASMA's original name was the American Sufi Muslim Association.)
Rauf is a permanent trustee of an Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) which his father founded in New York City. Until September 28, 2001 -- seventeen days after 9/11 -- the ICC employed Imam Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, who later would say that “only the Jews” could have perpetrated the 9/11 attacks; that if Americans only knew about this Jewish culpability, “they would have done to Jews what Hitler did”; and that Jews “disseminate corruption in the land” and spread “heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs.” Gemeaha’s successor at the ICC, Omar Saleem Abu-Namous, said there was no “conclusive evidence” proving that Muslims were responsible for 9/11.
In a 60 Minutes interview that aired on September 30, 2001, Rauf said that the 9/11 attacks were part of a larger Islamic “reaction against the U.S. government politically, where we [the U.S.] espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and [yet] where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries.” "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened," Rauf elaborated, "but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened." Rauf further stated that “because we [Americans] have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world,” it could be said that “[i]n fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”
On another occasion, Rauf took up this theme again: "We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children."
Rauf has clearly suggested that terrorism is an understandable, even if unjustified, response to American actions in Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere in the Middle East:
"How do you tell people whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives have been destroyed, that this does not justify your actions of terrorism. It's hard. Yes, it is true that it does not justify the acts of bombing innocent civilians, that does not solve the problem, but after 50 years of, in many cases, oppression, of U.S. support of authoritarian regimes that have violated human rights in the most heinous of ways, how else do people get attention?"
Rauf has praised Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a Muslim scholar (associated with the Muslim Brotherhood) who supports Palestinian suicide bombings, as "a very, very well known Islamic jurist, highly regarded all over the Muslim world." He has also expressed respect for the late Egyptian cleric Muhammad Tantawi (who likewise endorsed suicide bombings) and Egypt's Chief Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa (who has endorsed Hezbollah and defended Islam's use of the death penalty for apostasy).
Rauf, who has been entrusted with the task of conducting post-9/11 sensitivity training for the FBI, contends that Muslims have been unfairly targeted by law-enforcement authorities in recent years. "There's no doubt we've been profiled since 9/11," he said in 2005. "The Patriot Act has kind of made Muslims -- there's a sense of 'guilty till proven innocent' rather than the other way around."
In the summer of 2002, Rauf began lecturing on Islam at the 750-acre campus of Chautauqua Institution, located in western New York State. Around that time, he also befriended Karen Armstrong, who later wrote the foreword for Rauf's 2008 book, What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America.
Journalist Andrew McCarthy has revealed that What's Right with Islam was originally published in 2004 in Malaysia, under a different title: A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. What's Right with Islam was a “special, non-commercial edition” of the book and was produced after the original, with Feisal’s cooperation, by the Islamic Society of North America and the International Institute of Islamic Thought. Both of those organizations are American tentacles of the Muslim Brotherhood. McCarthy explains the meaning of the term Dawa, from the book's title:
"Dawa, whether done from the rubble of the World Trade Center or elsewhere, is the missionary work by which Islam is spread.... [D]awa is proselytism... "The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread, and defend sharia. Scholar Robert Spencer incisively refers to dawa practices as 'stealth jihad,' the advancement of the sharia agenda through means other than violence and agents other than terrorists. These include extortion, cultivation of sympathizers in the media and the universities, exploitation of our legal system and tradition of religious liberty, infiltration of our political system, and fundraising. This is why Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the world’s most influential Islamic cleric, boldly promises that Islam will 'conquer America' and 'conquer Europe' through dawa."
Rauf's book suggests that the “American Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law” (i.e., sharia). The author concludes, therefore, that the “American political structure is sharia-compliant.” “The only truly clashing area” between the Constitution and sharia law, he once claimed, “is the penal code, and no Muslim has the intention of introducing that to America. The penal code is the area that people in the Western world are worried about – but these are things that aren’t even observed today in most of the Muslim world. Apart from the Taliban and a few places like that, where do you see this happening?”
In December 2007 Rauf promoted his book at a Malaysia gathering of Hizb ut Tahrir, an organization that seeks to impose sharia on the United States and other countries worldwide.
Rauf depicts jihad as the Islamic world's defensive reaction to Western provocations, rather than as a seminal Islamic tradition of aggression that long predated any Muslim interactions with the West. In March 2004 the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Rauf as saying: “The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets.” In one particularly significant passage, the Herald article stated: “Imam Feisal ... said there could be little progress [in American-Islamic relations] until the U.S. acknowledged backing dictators and the U.S. President gave an 'America Culpa' speech to the Muslim world.”
In a June 2005 interview, Rauf was asked whether non-Muslims should be troubled by the Qur'an's assertion that people from other religious traditions should be mistreated, subjugated, or killed. Rauf replied that “many of these verses were revealed in certain contexts where the Prophet [Muhammad] and his followers were not allowed to practice their religion,” and thus “permission was granted to the Muslims to fight those who fought them for that reason.” “The vast history of Islam through the 14 centuries of history,” Rauf added, “has proven that except for certain moments in history, the predominant attitude of Muslims toward non-Muslims, especially to Jews and Christians, was one of friendship, was one of engagement.” In 2009, Rauf took up this theme again, writing: “Religious freedom is at the core of Islam.”
Rauf believes that Muslim charities have been subject to undue scrutiny since 9/11. In 2005 an interviewer asked him to comment on the fact that “some Islamic charities are being investigated for terrorist ties.” Rauf replied: “We believe that a certain portion of every [Islamic] charity has been legitimate. To say that you have connections with terrorism is a very gray area. It's like the accusation that Saddam Hussein had links to Osama bin Laden. Well, America had links to Osama bin Laden – does that mean that America is a terrorist country or has ties to terrorism? It's that type of logic.”
In 2008 Rauf revisited the question of whether sharia could be effectively incorporated into Western legal and political systems. He hailed Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for the “forward thinking” that had led Williams to advocate on behalf of “plural jurisdiction,” which would permit Muslim enclaves in Britain to be governed by a separate set of laws consistent with sharia. In March 2009, Rauf said that “Islamic law and American democratic principles have many things in common,” and he claimed that sharia's endorsement of “political justice” and “economic justice … for the weak and impoverished” is a creed that “sounds suspiciously like the Declaration of Independence.”
Rauf's "Shariah Index Project" -- whose stated goal was to "define, interpret and implement the concept of the Islamic State in modern times" -- drew heavily on the work of John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed.
Together with such luminaries as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Ziad Asali, Ingrid Mattson, Dalia Mogahed, and diplomat Dennis Ross, Rauf was a leading voice in the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement, which in September 2008 issued a 154-page recommendation paper -- a number of whose suggestions (on how to improve America's relationship with Muslims globally) were eventually adopted by President Barack Obama's administration. The paper specifically called on the U.S. to engage opposition parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt, and to use intermediaries to immediately engage Hamas -- in hopes of moderating the terror group.
Rauf contends that authentic Islam is highly respectful of women's rights and freedoms. In a 2009 piece he penned for the Huffington Post, Rauf stated: “The Prophet Muhammad has been known as the first feminist. … Gender equality is an intrinsic part of Islamic belief.” In response to suggestions that Islam could benefit from a movement to purge the faith of unsavory elements such as its treatment of women, Rauf has said flatly: "Islam does not need a reformation."
In a 2009 interview, Rauf endorsed the 1979 Iranian revolution which established a theocratic Islamic state.
In a May 7, 2010 sermon he delivered in New York City, Rauf seemed to suggest that the perpetrators of 9/11 may not actually have been Muslims. “Some people say it was Muslims who attacked [the U.S.] on 9/11,” he said, before drifting into another topic.
In a June 2010 interview with newsman Aaron Klein on New York's WABC Radio, Rauf was asked whether he agreed with the State Department's designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Rauf replied:
"I'm not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.... I'm a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder. I do not want to be placed, nor do I accept to be placed in a position of being put in a position where I am the target of one side or another."
Since 2004, Rauf and ASMA have pursued a project known as the Cordoba Initiative, whose mission is to recapture an “atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect” in “Muslim-West relations.” Funded by numerous countries that are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, this Initiative aims to build a 13-story, $100 million mosque/Islamic Center just 600 feet from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The proposed name of the structure -- "Cordoba House" (or, alternately, "Park 51") -- implies conquest. Indeed, the first Cordoba mosque was built upon the ruins of a Christian church in the Spanish city of Cordoba after the Muslim conquest of Christian Spain in the 8th century AD. (For a detailed discussion of the significance of Cordoba in Islamic history, click here.)
In August 2010, the State Department announced that it would be sending Rauf on a taxpayer-funded trip (costing $16,000) through the Middle East to foster "greater understanding" about Islam and Muslim life in the United States. This was Rauf's fourth U.S.-sponsored trip to the region. The first two took place in 2007 (during the Bush administration), and the third was in early 2010. State Department spokesman Darby Holladay stated that while Rauf "has been advised not to engage in fund-raising activity" during his August 2010 trip, the Department had "no information" regarding the specifics of Rauf's activities while traveling.
Rauf had previously said that he would seek funds from overseas to finance the $100 million mosque project but offered no specifics. A spokesman for the project refused to say whether Rauf would accept money from Iran.
It is known that Rauf received some funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. He also received, through ASMA, $3 million in donations from the government of Malaysia, but for three consecutive years he failed to declare those receipts to the IRS.
In September 2010, it was learned that Faiz Khan, a founding member and former director of ASMA, had asserted that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" for which Muslims had unfairly been made scapegoats. Khan also serves on the advisory board of Muslims for 9/11 Truth and is a founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, known as MUJCA. On MUJCA's Web site, Khan wrote:
"The prime factor for the success of the criminal mission known as 9/11 did not come from the quarter known as 'militant Islam,' although the phenomenon known as 'militant Islamic networks' may have played a partial role, or even a less than partial role -- perhaps the role of patsy and scapegoat."
"I am certain of a few things," added Khan. "... The towers and WTC 7 could not have collapsed without controlled demolition place from the 'inside.'" In 2006, Khan told a gathering of 9/11 deniers in Chicago that "the most logical explanation" for 9/11 is that the hijackers were working for corporate America and that the heroin trade creates "billions of dollars" that are laundered by "Citicorp and Procter & Gamble."
On September 13, 2010, Rauf said that critics of his Cordoba Initiative were being "absolutely disingenuous" in characterizing the proposed mosque site as "hallowed ground," given the fact that it was a location "with a strip joint around the corner, with betting parlors ..."
Also in September 2010, Rauf was asked whether it might be wise to move the proposed mosque site to another location farther from Ground Zero. He said:
"If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. And I'm less concerned by the radicals in America than I'm concerned by the radicals in the Muslim world.... The danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security ... The concern for [i.e., safety of] American citizens who live and work and travel overseas will increasingly be compromised. If the radicals are strengthened, and if we do move [the mosque] it will strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression, violence against our country."
During 2010, Jamal Barzinji became became one of a number of noteworthy partners who helped promote Rauf's Cordoba Initiative.
In November 2010, it was reported that Rauf and his fellow Cordoba House developers were trying to secure a $5 million “community and cultural enhancement” grant from the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation, which was authorized to oversee $20 billion in federal aid that had been allocated to help rebuild the area destroyed by the 9/11 attacks.
In mid-January 2011, Rauf announced that he would no longer be the chief religious figure in the Cordoba House / Park 51 project, but would thenceforth play a lesser, behind-the-scenes, role supporting the endeavor. This change may have been caused by a souring of relations between Rauf and Sharif El-Gamal, the president and chief developer of Park 51. Rauf's replacement was Imam Abdallah Adhami, who has ties to Imam Siraj Wahhaj, whom prosecutors named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Holding a degree in architecture, Adhami had designed Wahhaj's Brooklyn mosque, Masjid al Taqwa. Moreover, on his Sakeenah.org website, Adhami had prominently highlighted Wahhaj. Because of controversy sparked by these radical associations, by summer 2011 Adhami would also step down from his leadership post with the Park 51 project.
For information on subsequent developments in the Park 51 project, click here.
In a 2011 speech, Rauf, in an effort to ban public criticism of Islam, said: “I believe that the insulting or mocking of others’ religious symbols, icons, prophets, etc. should not fall within the realm of free speech.”
In February 2013, New York-based businessman Robert Leslie Deak, a Muslim convert who had given Rauf and ASMA some $167,000 in donations for the express purpose of combating anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, charged that Rauf had embezzled those funds (plus millions more) from ASMA to spend on such things as "a luxury sports car, personal real estate, entertainment, lavish trips and vacations with [his lady friend] Evelyn Adorno and support of Evelyn Adorno, gifts and other personal uses.” In a lawsuit against Rauf, Deak and his wife (Moshira Soliman) sought up to $25 million in punitive damages.
In addition to his work with ASMA, the New York-based Rauf taught Islam and Sufism at the now-defunct Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew's Church. Today he serves as an adviser to the Interfaith Center of New York; sits on the board of trustees of the Islamic Center of New York; and is a member of the World Economic Forum Council of 100 Leaders (Islamic West dialogue).
In addition, Rauf is a key member in the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, the single biggest donor ($366,000 as of June 2010) to the Free Gaza Movement.