- Campus organization of Muslim students
- Claims that jihad is a peaceful endeavor that focuses on personal, spiritual growth
Established in 1955, the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS) is a student organization whose mission is to “mee[t] the social and religious needs of the Muslim community at Harvard [University] and to promot[e] Islamic awareness on campus.”
Classical Art and Archaeology professor David Mitten, who converted to Islam in the 1960s, currently serves as a faculty adviser to HIS. In the September 20, 2001 issue of the Harvard University Gazette — published just nine days after the 9/11 attacks — Mitten was quoted saying: “The level of understanding of Islam is abysmally low in this country, even among educated people. Muslims see in this crisis an opportunity to speak out and show what their faith really is, that it’s compatible with the pluralistic and free society of the United States.” He added that the concept of jihad, or holy war, which the 9/11 hijackers had cited as a justification for their acts of mass murder, was anathema to most modern-day Muslims. “True jihad,” Mitten said, “is the constant struggle of Muslims to conquer their inner base instincts, to follow the path to God, and to do good in society. Muslims believe that to take one life is like killing all of humanity.”
In the same edition of the Gazette, HIS president Shah Mohammed stated: “There is absolutely nothing in the Islamic tradition that supports what has happened [on 9/11]. In Islam, attacking innocent people is forbidden. Human life is considered sacred.”
During his tenure as HIS president, Zayed Yasin (a 2002 Harvard graduate) and his organization held a charity dinner to raise funds for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and the Red Crescent (affiliated with the International Red Cross). When Yasin was widely criticized for seeking to help HLF, which was suspected by the U.S. government of funding Islamic terrorism, he decided to send all of the money to the Red Crescent.
Also during his time with HIS, Yasin signed a divestment petition calling for Harvard to cut its financial ties with fifteen separate corporations — including McDonald’s, IBM, and Motorola — simply because they conducted business with, or in, Israel.
In early 2002 Yasin was named by Harvard as one of three students who would speak at the University’s June 6 commencement ceremony. He prepared a speech for this event and titled it “My American Jihad.” When he was questioned about the rationale underlying his choice of title, he explained that the term jihad had no violent connotations and signified nothing more than an individual’s “inner struggle to do the right thing.” Asserting that his critics were ignorant of the word’s actual definition, Yasin said that his chief objective (in making his commencement address) would be to “reclaim the word for its true [peaceful] meaning” and to inform his audience that “jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable,” but rather should be thought of as a quest “to promote justice and understanding in ourselves and in our society.”
Under pressure from the University, Yasin eventually softened the title of his talk to “Of Faith and Citizenship: My American Jihad.” Then Harvard, aiming to avoid controversy of any kind, removed the words “My American Jihad” from the title as it appeared in the commencement programs. Yasin made it clear, however, that the word jihad would remain “central to the speech.” Among his remarks to his fellow graduates were the following:
“Jihad, in its truest and purest form, the form to which all Muslims aspire, is the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests. It is an individual struggle for personal moral behavior. Especially today, it is a struggle that exists on many levels: self-purification and awareness, public service and social justice. On a global scale, it is a struggle involving people of all ages, colors, and creeds, for control of the Big Decisions: not only who controls what piece of land, but more importantly who gets medicine, who can eat.”
Yasin’s depiction of jihad, like the aforementioned depictions by David Mitten and Shah Mohammed, are entirely contradicted by the writings of Islam experts such as Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Bat Ye’or, who have explained that Muslim history is in fact replete with acts of jihad manifested as a boldly offensive, permanent war of conquest aiming ultimately to achieve Islam’s dominion over the human race at large. Menahem Milson (professor emeritus of Arabic Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) elaborates: “Islamist jihad has two goals, both global. One of these is to wage war against the main infidel power, the U.S., and all of its allies…. The other goal is to topple the evil regimes in the Muslim countries, because their leaders are only outwardly Muslim. It is thus a religious obligation to fight them, depose them, and establish a truly Islamic regime in their place. The ultimate goal of jihad is to impose Islam on the entire world as the only true religion.”
HIS has participated several times in the Muslim Students Association’s (MSA) annual “Ramadan Fast-a-Thon” along with nearly 280 fellow Muslim organizations (mostly chapters of MSA). The purpose of this event is to raise, through temporary fasting, public awareness of hunger and homelessness in Muslim communities. Recent endorsers of the Fast-a-Thon include:
- Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who has supported the terrorist mastermind Omar Abdel Rahman and the convicted cop-killer Jamil Al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown)
In March 2005, HIS held its annual Islam Awareness Week. Among the featured presentations were:
(a) Islam, Hip-Hop & Black America: “Islam and African American culture are not commonly perceived as related, but are in fact intimately linked.”
The presenter, a hip-hop journalist named Adisa Banjoko, delivered a 45-minute speech about Islam’s influence on hip-hop cultures. He attributed hip-hop’s rising popularity to a decrease in funding for art programs in America’s “education establishment”; these cutbacks, he said, had inspired young blacks to explore new forms of self-expression and rebellion. “If you’re not going to teach us poetry,” Banjoko elaborated, “I’m going to teach myself poetry my own way with my own rhythms.” Adding that “most African-American males do not relate to the Bible and do not trust the Bible,” he explained that Islam held greater appeal to a larger portion of the black population. Notably, Banjoko identifies his introduction to former Black Panther Kiilu Nyasha as a watershed moment in his personal life, and as a motivating factor in his conversion to Islam at age 21.
(b) Sharia 101: Islamic Law Demystified: “Veiling, beheading and concerns about individual freedom permeate contemporary understandings of Islamic Law. Yet, like the earlier Mosaic Law, Sharia is a comprehensive system, offering personal, moral and social guidance. Come to gain a macroscopic understanding of Sharia, including its sources, aims, and interpretation.”
The presenter of this seminar was Suheil Laher, a Muslim chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The author of numerous articles extolling the virtues of jihad, Laher has frequently quoted Abdullah Azzam’s declaration: “Jihad and the rifle alone! No negotiations; No conferences; and No dialogues.” (Azzam is Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.) Laher was once affiliated with Care International, the now-defunct Muslim charity that served as the Boston branch office of the New York-based al-Kifah Refugee Center, from which Islamic Group leader Omar Abdel-Rahman funded and planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
(c) Media Madness: Why Stereotypes Suck: “Come to an entertaining exploration of a serious topic — the detrimental effects of stereotypes in the media on the civil liberties of Muslims, Arabs, and others in America today.”