The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) was founded in September 1968 as the American affiliate of Jamaat-e-Islami, South Asia’s largest Islamist group. Jamaat’s militant wing, Hizbul Mujahideen — aka Hizb-ul Mujahideen — owned the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was living at the time of his death.
ICNA was established as a “non-ethnic, non-sectarian, open-to-all, independent” grassroots organization. Its goal is “to seek the pleasure of Allah … through the … establishment of the Islamic system of life as spelled out in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad.” Toward this end, ICNA endeavors to: “invite mankind to submit to the Creator by using all means of communications”; “motivate Muslims to perform their duty of being witnesses unto mankind by their words and deeds”; “organize those who agree to work for this cause in the discipline of ICNA”; offer educational and training opportunities to increase Islamic knowledge, to enhance character, and to develop skills for all those who are associated with ICNA”; “oppose immorality and oppression in all forms, and support efforts for civil liberties and socio-economic justice in the society”; “strengthen the bond of humanity by serving all those in need anywhere in the world, with special focus on our neighborhood across North America”; and “cooperate with other organizations for the implementation of this program and unity in the ummah [Muslim community].”
Based in Queens, New York, ICNA’s activities include training camps, study circles, speakers’ forums, night vigils, seminars, and retreats.
ICNA has established a reputation for bringing anti-American radicals to speak at its national conferences, events that draw between 10,000 and 12,000 attendees on average. Moreover, experts have long documented the organization’s ties to Islamic terrorist groups. Yehudit Barsky, a terrorism expert at the American Jewish Committee, has said that ICNA “is composed of members of Jamaat e-Islami, a Pakistani Islamic radical organization similar to the Muslim Brotherhood that helped to establish the Taliban.” (Pakistani newspapers have reported that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a leading architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was offered refuge in the home of Jamaat e-Islami’s leader, Ahmed Quddoos.) On September 27, 1997, another Pakistani Islamist leader, Maulana Shafayat Mohamed, played host to an ICNA conference at his Florida-based fundamentalist madrassa (religious school), which served as a recruitment center for Taliban fighters.
In 2000, CNSNews.com made public a press release, originally posted on a Middle Eastern website, from a July 2000 ICNA meeting, which read: “Jamaat e-Islami’s supporters have an organization in America known as ICNA …” The press release also recounted some of the views expressed at the aforementioned ICNA meeting. These included an exhortation that “Islam must be translated into political dominance”; pleas for support for “jihad” in “Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq [against U.S. forces], southern Sudan, and … in Bosnia/Kosova [sic]”; an appeal for unity among Pakistani Muslims against “Hindu Brahmins and Zionist Jews”; and an endorsement of Muslim women’s inclusion in carrying out jihad. One Islamic leader present at the ICNA event complained about “human rights violations” being carried out by the U.S. government against the terrorist mastermind Omar Abdel Rahman, spiritual leader of Egypt’s Islamic Group.
In part because of such revelations, ICNA is now under investigation by U.S. authorities for possible connections to terrorist groups. In December 2003, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee requested that the Internal Revenue Service provide detailed information on 25 U.S. Muslim organizations, including ICNA.
In March 1996, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell stated, “One of the groups with Hamas ties is the Dallas-based Islamic Association for Palestine in North America, which, in turn, apparently is allied with the Islamic Circle of North America in New York.” The New York Daily News reports that ICNA has been “probed by FBI counter-terrorism agents” for “terror ties.”
Terrorism analyst Steven Emerson claims that ICNA has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological forebear of all radical Islamic movements — including Hamas and al-Qaeda. Documents show that Hamas officials have participated in previous ICNA events. “The ICNA’s hatred of the Jews is so fierce,” writes Emerson, “that it taunted them with a repetition of what Hitler did to them.” In his book American Jihad, Emerson expounds: “The ICNA openly supports militant Islamic fundamentalist organizations, praises terror attacks, issues incendiary attacks on western values and policies, and supports the imposition of Sharia [Islamic law].”
Joe Kaufman, co-founder of Americans Against Hate, reports that ICNA “has been linked to terrorist financing and has used the web to promote different terrorist groups, including Hamas, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Taliban.”
ICNA was named in a May 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document — titled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America” — as one of the Brotherhood’s 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that shared the common goal of destroying America and turning it into a Muslim nation. These “friends” were identified by the Brotherhood as groups that could help teach Muslims “that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands … so that … God’s religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions.”
Also named in the Muslim Brotherhood document were:
ICNA has established a reputation for promoting radical Islamist perspectives at its annual conferences. For example:
* In 2000, ICNA held its 25th national convention in Baltimore. One of the featured speakers was Tayyib Yunus, head of ICNA’s youth section, who used the occasion to appeal to American Muslims to send their children to Chechnya in order to wage jihad. Said Yunus: “We all want to see our youth to succeed to become doctors, to become engineers; but how many of you can actually say that you want to send your sons to jihad, to Chechnya? How many of you can actually say that you want to send your youth to fight in jihad?”
* Speaking at a December 2002 conference sponsored by ICNA and MAS, Muslim cleric Shaker Elsayed complained in Arabic “about the subject unfairly named suicide bomber, homicide bomber, murderers, or killers. Our answer to this issue is simple … The Islamic scholars said whenever there is an attack on an Islamic state or occupation, or the honor of the Muslims has been violated, the Jihad is a must for everyone, a child, a lady and a man. They have to make Jihad with every tool that they can get in their hand … and if they don’t have anything in their hand then they can fight with their hand without weapons.”
* A cognate view was expressed at an Islamic conference in Orlando, Florida, co-sponsored by ICNA. The keynote speaker at this event expressed support for suicide bombers, dismissed the notion that Muslims had any involvement with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, asserted that the U.S.-led war on terror was a Zionist plot intended to wipe out Muslims and Islam, and argued that attacks on affirmative action programs were attributable to “the rise of the Jewish cracker.”
* A “Leadership Development Seminar” that ICNA’s West Coast branch hosted in 2003 featured a session titled “Gone but Not Forgotten: Imam Hassan al-Banna and Maulana Maududi,” honoring the respective founders of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami. ICNA’s 2005 national conference advanced a similar theme in a session titled, “The Making of the Proper Muslim from the Perspectives of Al Banna and Al Maududi.”
* At ICNA’s 2009 national conference, Egyptian Islamist Ragheb Elsergany stated that “the greatest” means by which Muslims can “please Allah” is by waging “jihad in the way of Allah.” He explained that this includes giving financial support to “the fighters, and the mujahideen [Islamic warriors] and the besieged, and those in need there in Palestine.” “Allah has entrusted us with the money for our brothers and sisters,” Elsergany elaborated, “to confer upon the people of Palestine the surplus of our money. This is their right. They are the ones who face the Zionists with their chests, their nerves, their lives, their children, their holy places and their sacred places.”
* Elsergany spoke again at ICNA’s 2011 national conference, where he predicted that “liberation” would eventually come to all of the world’s jihadist battlefronts: “We have lived under and now after the dawning of the light [the Egyptian Revolution]; soon there will be a greater dawning with the liberation of Palestine, the liberation of Chechnya, the liberation of Kashmir, the liberation of Turkestan, the liberation of South Sudan, of all the lands usurped from the Muslims. If God wills, it is coming.”
* At ICNA’s national conference in May 2012, Yasir Qadhi—an American Muslim scholar of Pakistani descent who has called for an Islamic theocracy to replace democracies wherever they exist—voiced satisfaction over the notion that America’s capitalist economic system “has been destroyed and demolished.” “This is a Pharonic society that we enjoy the pyramids,” he said, “but you cannot enjoy pyramids without millions of slaves. And this is what this society has become.”
As stipulated by ICNA by-laws, entry-level ICNA members are required to study a curriculum replete with extremist literature that includes Towards Understanding Islam, a book that promotes violent jihad against non-believers. The author is Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, founder of Jamaat-e-Islami.Another title on ICNA’s reading list is The Commitment, authored in 1996 by Shamim Siddiqi during his tenure as director of the group’s Dawah and Publications Department. This book exhorts Muslims to reject Western law while embracing only Sharia. It also says that every Muslim is obliged, in accordance with ICNA’s charter, to help transform the U.S. into an Islamic state, even if such an endeavor requires that he “lays down his life for the cause.”The book exhorts Muslims to reject Western law while embracing only Sharia:
* “Allah (SWT) had ordained a complete guidance, Al-Islam, to follow. It governs each and every aspect of human life. It must be followed in its entirety. Allah’s authority must be accepted in every walk of life. Only Allah’s given code of conduct (Shariah) should be practiced. Then only the demands of Iman [faith] in Allah are fulfilled.”
* “Islam denies all authorities other than Allah. It denies the concept that while in the church/mosque/synagogue, one worships Allah and when outside, he obeys Caesar and man-made laws. There is no diarchy in Islam. Such duality of a character is clearly hypocrisy and it is totally forbidden in Islam.”
Siddiqi’s book also says that American Muslims are obliged, in accordance with ICNA’s charter, to transform the US into an Islamic state. Writes Siddiqi: “either [the believer] succeeds in establishing Allah’s Deen [religion] in the society where he lives or lays down his life for the cause.”
According to IPT: “The next level of ICNA membership is designated “Members of the General Assembly [MGAs],” which requires a more intensive educational platform, as well as a new pledge. MGAs are held to a higher ideological standard than regular members, with the privilege of sitting in on meetings of the Majlis-e-Shura, or governing board, and expanding the inner circle of those who identify with ICNA’s ideology.” Prospective MGAs must vow that:
* “I have thoroughly studied the aqeedah [belief], goal, methodology and program of ICNA. After its proper understanding, I affirm that the establishment of Allah’s Deen in this world is the goal of my life. I am joining ICNA for the achievement of this very purpose. I have no other objective in mind except the attainment of Allah’s pleasure and the success in the Hereafter.”
* “I have studied the Charter and By-laws of ICNA and do hereby pledge that I shall fully abide by its discipline, insha-Allah.”
Moreover, prospective MGAs must complete a reading list that includes radical, pro-jihad texts by Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Syed Qutb. Says IPT: “The membership guides don’t simply promote reading radical books: They single out extreme and violent sections of the text for members to study in more detail.”
A number of required titles on ICNA’s reading list were removed from the organization’s web pages after the Investigative Project on Terrorism ran a series of articles in 2010-11 exposing their radical nature. But this does not mean that ICNA altered its ideology in any substantive way; it merely became more circumspect.
In the post-9/11 era, ICNA has taken a strong stand against the U.S. war on terror, the American military incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Patriot Act (characterizing it as an assault on the civil liberties of Americans, particularly Muslims). A member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, ICNA in 2001 received a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
ICNA chose not to endorse or participate in the May 14, 2005 “Free Muslims March Against Terror,” an event whose stated purpose was to “send a message to the terrorists and extremists that their days are numbered . . . [and to send] a message to the people of the Middle East, the Muslim world and all people who seek freedom, democracy and peaceful coexistence that we support them.”
ICNA reports that its “representatives visit public schools sharing knowledge of Islam as an attempt to correct the misrepresentations often found in secular reading materials.” In pursuit of this objective, ICNA has formed an affiliation with the website DawaNet, which advocates turning public schools into forums for Islamic proselytizing. Among the suggestions offered to Islamic activists on that website is the following: “It is highly recommended that all Muslim students carry Dawa flyers in their schoolbags and purses to pass them on to their friends at school. To obtain free Islam brochures for distribution, contact the Islamic Circle of North America.”
On numerous occasions, ICNA has explicitly excluded non-Muslims from its public gatherings. In September 2004, for example, ICNA sparked widespread controversy when, in cooperation with the management of the Great Adventure Theme Park in New Jersey, it organized a “Great Muslim Adventure Day” that barred non-Muslims from the park on that day. This annual tradition is still observed.
ICNA is listed as an endorser of C. Clark Kissinger‘s revolutionary communist movement World Can’t Wait, and as a signatory of the latter’s mission statement, entitled “Call to Drive out the Bush Regime.” This statement alleges that the U.S. government “is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights”; “is openly torturing people, and justifying it”; “puts people in jail on the merest suspicion”; and “is moving each day closer to a theocracy, where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule.”
ICNA has many subdivisions throughout the United States. One of these is ICNA South East Region, currently based in Atlanta but originally founded as a Florida enterprise. Its current website is devoted to announcements of the organization’s various events and projects. But the old website, which was abandoned as a result of public criticism, featured links to the official websites of Hezbollah and Hamas. Also appearing on the old website (from March 1, 2000 through September 27, 2001) was the following message: “Remember Your Fellow Chechnyan Muslims. ICNA requests all Muslims around the world to include Chechnyan Muslims in their daily and Qunut prayers. We must show our spiritual and material support for our brothers and sisters being oppressed by the brutal Russian forces.” Directly under the message was a link to the website, www.Qoqaz.net (a.k.a. “Jihad in Chechnya”), which was a project of Azzam Publications, an organization named for Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam. Qoqaz.net was created specifically to raise finances and recruit fighters for al Qaeda-related groups and the Taliban.
In 1993, ICNA strongly condemned the Oslo accord which sought to establish peace between the Palestinians and Israel. In a joint statement with the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Islamic Committee for Palestine, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Arab Youth Association, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Muslim Students’ Association, ICNA charged that Israel’s creation in 1948 “had involved the unjust and illegal usurpation of Muslim and Christian lands and rights,” and declared that “to recognize the legitimacy of that crime is a crime in itself and any agreement which involves such recognition is unjust and untenable.”
In January 2000, ICNA’s Message International published a series of six articles on Muslim icons of the past, under the banner “Great Leaders of Last 100 Years.” One of ICNA’s “great leaders” was Iran’s deceased dictator Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Khomeini piece, which described him as a man “destined to be more than a great authority on Ja’fari jurisprudence (Shia law),” was written by UC Berkeley Professor Hamid Algar.
ICNA’s main charitable apparatus is an entity known as ICNA Relief. In August 2006, ICNA Relief was the top donor and partner to the Pakistani charity Al Khidmat Foundation (AKF), at the same time that AKF took a delegation to Damascus, Syria to hand-deliver nearly $100,000 to Hamas global leader Khaled Mashal at his residence. Mashal thanked the group and said that Hamas would continue to wage “jihad” against the “Zionist yoke” (Israel). ICNA Relief thereafter continued to work directly with AKF, which in 2015 named, as its president, former ICNA Secretary General Muhammad Abdus Shakoor.
ICNA’s 2010 handbook laid out a five-level strategy towards achieving a “united Islamic state, governed by an elected khalifah in accordance with the laws of shari’ah (Islamic law),” right in line with the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine of gradualism.
Houriya Ahmed, a researcher at the London-based Centre for Social Cohesion, says: “The irony of groups like ICNA is that they take advantage of democratic values to spread a message that is monolithic, anti-democratic, and isolating. They want to implement Sharia law in place of Western government…. Organizations like ICNA are also smarter than their parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Whereas the Pakistani group openly preaches its intolerant views, this group [ICNA] presents a smoother message in line with American values. However, its ideology and aims actually contradict democratic values and law.”
On October 19, 2011, ICNA was one of 57 organizations to co-sign a letter that Farhana Khera, executive director of an Islamic organization called Muslim Advocates, wrote to Barack Obama’s then-Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (and later CIA director) John Brennan. The letter demanded that Obama officials “purge all federal government training materials of biased materials”—that is, materials that they claimed were biased against Islam—and “implement a mandatory re-training program for FBI agents, U.S. Army officers, and all federal, state and local law enforcement who have been subjected to biased training.” Joing ICNA as signatories were such groups as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Relief USA, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
The Obama Administration immediately complied with the letter’s demands. Dwight C. Holton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, emphasized that same day that training materials for the FBI would be purged of everything that Islamic supremacists deemed offensive: “I want to be perfectly clear about this: training materials that portray Islam as a religion of violence or with a tendency towards violence are wrong, they are offensive, and they are contrary to everything that this president, this attorney general and Department of Justice stands for. They will not be tolerated.”
On March 5, 2012, ICNA launched an initiative known as Defending Religious Freedom, Understanding Shariah, for the purpose of combating “Islamophobia” and dispelling Americans’ negative attitudes regarding Islamic law.
In the fall of 2012, former ICNA president and secretary-general Ashrafuzzaman Khan was indicted for war crimes by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, for his involvement in the torture and execution of 18 political opponents in 1971 during Bangladesh’s fight for independence from Pakistan. The investigation into Khan’s crimes was coordinated by Sanaul Huq, Inspector-General of Bangladesh’s national police force. Said Huq: “They abducted an eye doctor, and then gouged his eyes out before killing him and dumping his body. They abducted a cardiologist and cut out his heart before killing him and dumping his body. They kidnapped a woman journalist, and cut her breasts off before killing her. Her decomposing body was later found with her breasts cut off. These victims were chosen because they were leading figures in the independence movement.” In addition, the driver of an assassination squad identified Khan as the “chief executioner” who, on one occasion, had personally shot and killed seven teachers.
A July 27, 2013 interfaith dinner held by an ICNA chapter in Frederick, Maryland featured local officials and Christian clergy. One of the speakers, ICNA president Zahid Bukhari, told the audience: “Discrimination is a part of the American way. The only way to control that is to make alliances.” This recommendation was consistent with the strategy outlined in the aforementioned 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document listing ICNA as one of 29 Islamist organizations that shared the common goal of destroying America and turning it into a Muslim nation.
In November 2013, a war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced former ICNA Secretary General Ashrafuzzaman Khan (Ashrafuz Zaman Khan) to death by hanging for the murder of 18 people described as prominent intellectuals, during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Khan had served as a death squad leader for the then-paramilitary wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, al-Badr. Khan had also served a stint as ICNA’s National Vice President, and another stint as president of ICNA’s New York chapter.
In early 2014, ICNA’s Chicago chapter published an educational guide that repeatedly referenced the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood figures Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Among other things, this guide:
Abdul Rauf Khan — who has served variously as ICNA’s Assistant Executive Director and as Secretary of ICNA Florida and ICNA Relief Florida — has used social media to post videos dedicated to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood. He also has been photographed wearing Muslim Brotherhood garb.
In recognizing Black History Month in February 2021, ICNA posted onto its national website and social media a graphic containing — along with the logo of its social services division, ICNA Relief — images of famous black Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.