Published with the support of Campus Progress and the Center for American Progress, Al-Talib is the news magazine of the Muslim Students Association of UCLA (MSA UCLA). Founded in 1990 and staffed entirely by unpaid students, it is the largest Muslim-student publication in the United States. As of 2011, the press run for each edition of Al-Talib was approximately 20,000 copies distributed to more than 150 locations (mostly mosques, community centers, and college campuses) in over 40 states. All told, the magazine’s estimated national readership is about 56,000.
Al-Talib’s major “topic points” include “spirituality, politics, Islamic history, and challenges facing Muslim-Americans.” Its mission is to “serv[e] the American community with deeper understanding of events that occur throughout the world”; “to remain an independent forum for a diverse spectrum of views and concerns”; and “to correct the mainstream media’s misconceptions about Islam and enlighten the readers of the true teachings of Islam.”
Through its outreach program for prison inmates, “Al-Talib is made available to the incarcerated population as it may be their only sourc[e] of news and consciousness to international events [sic].” The goal of this initiative is to win converts to the Islamic faith.
In July 1999, Al-Talib featured a cover story titled “The Spirit of Jihad,” which said: “When we hear someone refer to the great mujahideen Osama bin Ladin [sic] as a ‘terrorist,’ we should defend our brother and refer to him as a freedom fighter; someone who has forsaken wealth and power to fight in Allah’s cause and speak out against oppressors.” The same piece characterized bin Laden as a “philanthropist.”
In November 2000, Al-Talib praised the ideas of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor who believes that Islam must conquer the world by means of “jihad and the rifle alone.” “We pray that Sheik Azzam’s dream of a true Islamic state comes true,” said Al-Talib.
In another 2000 issue of Al-Talib, MSA‘s then-national president, Atlaf Husain, called for the American Muslim community “to rally behind one of its own” — specifically, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown), former Minister of Justice for the Black Panthers. At the time, Al-Amin was on trial for having killed a police officer. “Each of us needs to show our unwavering support for [Al-Amin], his family, and his community,” said Husain, “because Imam Jamil is not the only one on trial. The Muslim presence in America is on trial.”
On September 9, 2001, Al-Talib co-sponsored (with UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union) a benefit dinner titled “Justice for Imam Jamil Al-Amin.” A featured speaker at this event was Abdul-Alim Musa, who accused America of practicing “apartheid” and “Nazism”; characterized the U.S. as “the most skillful oppressor that the world has ever known”; and praised Al-Amin for having threatened, during his days as a Sixties radical, to “burn America down.” Another featured speaker was the anti-Semite Hamza Yusuf, who claimed that because America had been “ungrateful for the bounties of Allah,” the nation now stood “condemned” to “a very terrible fate.”
Also in September 2001, Al-Talib featured a cover story titled, “Philippines: the Forgotten Jihad,” where the author lamented the media’s “targeted distortion” of Islamic terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf: “The marginal Abu Sayyaf are actually beneficial for the United States because they give the United States a reason to be in the Philippines. After all, America is just helping the government get past its nasty Muslim problem, nothing else.” The same article referred to then-President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “the butcher of Baghdad” and “his henchwoman,” respectively.
The November 2001 edition of Al-Talib featured three full-page, color advertisements soliciting donations for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), and the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). One month later, each of these pseudo-charities would be closed down by federal agents for funding al Qaeda and Hamas terrorists. After the three organizations had been shuttered, Al-Talib publisher Mohammad Mertaban said: “If [the money] goes to families of those who have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t understand how people can label Palestinians ‘terrorists.'” When Mertaban was asked to give his views on suicide bombers in Israel, he replied, “We’re in no position to condemn a suicide bombing because none of us has experienced what [the Palestinians have] been through under 53 years of oppression.”
In December 2001, Al-Talib and Alkalima (the newspaper of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union) jointly published a special report entitled “Zionism: The Forgotten Apartheid,” which not only complained that “the Zionists continue to colonize, torture and ethnically-cleanse in the name of the ‘peace process,’” but also condemned the “Zionist-controlled world media” which “has been purposefully distorting and misconstruing world events too long.” The report included a section praising Hamas and Hezbollah as “resistance movements against Zionist aggression,” and as noble providers of vital social-welfare benefits. Other articles in the report were titled: “‘Israeli’ Apartheid: The Chilling Facts”; “Zionist Torture Exposed”; “Examples of ‘Israeli’ Human Rights Violations”; “‘Israel’s’ Nuclear Weapons: Proof of Their Relentless Terror”; and “Stop U.S. Foreign Aid to ‘Israel’ Now.” All references to Israel were accompanied by scare quotes, to emphasize that the authors did not recognize Israel as a legitimate entity.
A 2002 article in Al-Talib lamented the sudden demise of the Holy Land Foundation, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Benevolence International Foundation: “Immediately after the closures, the Muslim American community was stunned. How three of the nation’s largest Muslim charities could be made inoperable at the peak of the giving season of Ramadan seemed unbelievable.”
The February 2002 edition of Al-Talib contained an advertisement for an upcoming MSA West-sponsored event honoring “The Legacies of Hassan Al-Banna [founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood] and Malcolm X.”
In 2008, Al-Talib’s articles archive contained a section titled “The Muslim Witch Hunt,” which depicted modern-day Muslims as the latest in a long line of groups that had been unfairly scapegoated by American society — e.g., women “who allegedly practiced witchcraft” in the 17th-century, World War II-era Japanese Americans, and “communist or a red sympathizer[s]” in the 1950s. Other articles in this section condemned America’s “arrogance,” its “torture” of Muslim prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, its “Islamophobia,” and its “Modern McCarthyism.”
A March 2011 article in Al-Talib charged that “Tea Party members” and other “extremely right wing and politically conservative” people harbored an irrational “hatred towards Islam and Muslims.” That same month, another Al-Talib piece complained that the U.S. gave “$3.175 billion to Israel” each year in order to help the latter “buy more F-22s and M16s.” Yet another March 2011 piece demanded that UCLA demonstrate its commitment to developing a “culture of respect, tolerance and acceptance of all communities” by “passing a ‘diversity’ requirement in the general education curriculum” which would “expose every student to the task of living civilly with people of different origins, backgrounds, orientations, and beliefs.”