The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) was established in March 1999 by board members and former staffers of the American Muslim Council (AMC). Georgetown University academic John Esposito was also instrumental in CSID’s founding, and later went on to serve as vice chair of the organization. According to Islam scholar Daniel Pipes, “CSID is part of the militant Islamist lobby. It is well-disguised, and has brought in all the Islamist trends, giving them a patent of respectability.”
CSID’s membership consists of academicians, professionals, and activists—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—from across the United States. The group’s stated mission is to “hel[p] researchers, policymakers, activists and fellow citizens understand the wide range of issues involved in the question of Islamic democracy,” and to merge Islamic and democratic political thought “into a modern Islamic democratic discourse.” Toward that end, CSID seeks to produce scholarship that will “spread knowledge in the Muslim community”; “improve the mainstream American community and policymakers’ understanding of Islam’s approach towards individual freedom, civil rights, and political pluralism”; and counter “widely held prejudices and misconceptions” about Islam and Sharia law.
Further, CSID regularly sponsors lectures, panel discussions, workshops, seminars, academic conferences, and other activities related to Islam and democracy. These events have been held not only in the United States, but in numerous countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa as well. The organization also produces such publications as Muslim Democrat (the CSID newsletter) and Democracy Watch (which seeks “to disseminate the truth about real progress—and/or regression—in democratization and reform efforts in the Arab world”).
CSID founder and president Radwan Masmoudi, a Tunisian engineer who resides in the United States, affirms that his organization aims “to contribute to the promotion of democracy, good governance, freedom, and human rights in the Arab and Muslim world.” “Our [Americans’] old policy of giving tacit (and sometimes not so tacit) support to dictators and oppressors in the Arab and Muslim world,” he elaborates, “will only exasperate [sic] the situation and make the situation much worse.”
In its early years, CSID organized two major international conferences in Nigeria and Sudan. These events—titled “What is Sharia?”—were intended to explore ways that Islamic law “can be modernized and updated, through the process of Ijtihad, to address the needs of the Muslims in the 21st century.” President Masmoudi said at the time:
“Sharia in Arabic simply means ‘rule of law,’ and therefore we cannot be against it.… [Its] punishments (stonings and amputations) were not invented by Islam.… The majority of Islamic legal scholars are now of the legal opinion that these punishments can be changed to more modern and/or culturally acceptable forms of punishments for … crimes [such as] theft, rape, adultery, murder, drugs, etc.”
In a similar vein, then-CSID fellow Muqtedar Khan lamented that many people around the world were blind to the profound decency and humanity that pervades Sharia law. Said Khan:
“Most non-Muslim critics and often ignorant Muslim advocates of the Sharia (the Islamic Way) equate the Sharia to Hudud laws, the stringent punishments for fornication (flogging), theft (amputation), and adultery (stoning). The [objective] of the Sharia is to establish social justice, equality, tolerance, and freedom of religion in societies. The Hudud laws are a tiny part of the Sharia…. Yes, I believe that when the Sharia is interpreted and implemented by educated, enlightened, and compassionate people it will establish social justice and coexist harmoniously with a democratic polity.”
CSID’s executive director in 2002 was Abdulwahab Alkebsi, a former AMC staff member. Before joining CSID, Alkebsi had worked for the Islamic Institute in Washington, DC. By 2004 he was running democracy programs in Iraq, for the National Endowment for Democracy; some of those programs promoted the Iraqi Communist Party.
“Most of CSID’s Muslim personnel are radicals,” wrote Daniel Pipes in March 2004. One such individual was CSID fellow Kamran Bokhari, who, according to Pipes, “also happens to have served for years as the North American spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, perhaps the most extreme Islamist group operating in the West.”
Numerous members of the early CSID board of directors were associated with the American Muslim Council, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Some board members were even agents of the Saudi government, a leading sponsor and funder of Wahhabism across the globe. Among CSID’s former directors are such notables as:
On March 19, 2004, CSID and the U.S. Institute of Peace co-hosted a Washington, DC conference focusing on whether an Islamic reformation might be a positive development. A guest panelist at the event was Muzammil Siddiqi, who had served as president of the Islamic Society of North America until late 2001 and was listed as the Muslim World League‘s official representative in the United States.
According to The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, CSID’s 2009 annual conference featured such noteworthy speakers as Tariq Ramadan (grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna); Rashad Hussain (U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference); Anwar Ibrahim (a Malaysian opposition politician, affiliated with the International Institute of Islamic Thought); Salah Ali Abdulrahman-Islah (affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Bahrain); Ruhail Gharaibeh (a member of the Islamic Action Front, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan); and Daniel Brumberg (United States Institute of Peace). The Report stated that this CSID conference “represents perhaps the largest public gathering of global Muslim Brotherhood leaders and U.S. government officials to date.” Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke at the event.
In 2011, CSID hosted a Washington, DC forum that featured Hamadi Jebali, secretary-general of al-Nahda, the largest Islamist political party in Tunisia. Al-Nahda’s leader, Rashid Ghannouchi, has been described by an Egyptian news outlet as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood “abroad.” He is connected to the global Brotherhood movement though his membership in the European Council for Fatwa and Research and his high-ranking post with the International Union of Muslim Scholars; both organizations are led by Yusuf Qaradawi, the most influential Brotherhood leader in the world today. Ghannouchi is also a founding member of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, a Saudi organization with close ties to the Brotherhood.
CSID’s current board of directors is composed of scholars, activists and leaders from the Muslim community and North American academia. The board president, as noted above, is Radwan Masmoudi; the board chair is Asma Afsaruddin, a professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University.
CSID vice chair Antony Sullivan has many ties to Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the United States, including the Association of Muslim Social Scientists, the United Association for Studies and Research, and the Circle of Tradition and Progress—the latter of which was co-founded by Yusuf Qaradawi.
CSID maintains a friendly relationship with the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada (MSA). For example, on October 12, 2005, CSID president Radwan Masmoudi was the featured speaker at an MSA-sponsored event titled “The Future of Democracy in the Muslim World,” held at the University of North Carolina. In May 2008, CSID’s 9th annual conference (held in Washington, DC) was co-sponsored by the MSA of George Washington University.
CSID has received much funding in the form of grants from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; the National Endowment for Democracy; the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative; and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Additional support for CSID has been provided by many individual donors. Moreover, the organization has gotten funding from the Earhart Foundation.
On its website, CSID identifies several organizations as “research institutions” whose work could be “useful” to its readers. Among these are the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and the International Institute of Islamic Thought.