The Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB) was established in 1969 by a handful of Muslim families who held weekly meetings and Friday prayers at Johns Hopkins University. As their faith community grew in size over the years, so did their need for a larger facility. In 1982, ISB purchased an eight-acre lot at its current location and promptly built the Masjid Al-Rahmah mosque. Today ISB is Maryland’s largest Islamic facility, administering also a full-time K-12 school, a Quran Academy, a health clinic, a nursery, a Sunday school, a youth group, and an interfaith group. Belonging to a network of mosques controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), ISB aspires “to be the anchor of a growing Muslim community with diverse backgrounds, democratically governed, relating to one another with inclusiveness and tolerance, and interacting with neighbors in an Islamic exemplary manner.”
An archived Internet action alert that ISB posted a number of years ago regarding the protracted Chechen War against Russia, lauded “the Mujahidin [jihadists] in Chechnya” for their ability “to defend themselves” and to pose “a formidable threat to [the] heavily armed Russian Army.” Emphasizing that “it is … our responsibility as Muslims all over the world to help them in their Jihad effort,” the communique solicited donations “to help the Refugees and Mujahidin in their struggle.” Meanwhile, a page on ISB’s archived “Official English Site” linked to a “Jihad in Chechnya” feature on the website of Azzam Publications, an al Qaeda-affiliated site that was: (a) named in honor of Osama bin Laden‘s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, and (b) renowned for its fervent support of jihad and “martyrdom” operations. Still another archived ISB web page provided a link to the homepage of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Shortly after 9/11, ISB hosted a number of guest speakers who later went on to become prominent advocates of, and recruiters for, Islamic jihad, including the American-born al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Sudanese native and longtime Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamad Adam El-Sheikh, who co-founded the Muslim American Society in 1992, served two stints as ISB’s imam, from 1983-89 and 1994-2003. During his tenure with ISB, El-Sheikh was also a regional director for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), an organization that was later (in 2004) shut down by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its support for Islamic terrorism. IARA’s parent organization, the Islamic African Relief Agency, likewise funneled money to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist entities.
El-Sheikh left ISB in August 2003 to succeed Anwar al-Awlaki, who had recently relocated to Yemen, as imam of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. In 2004, El-Sheikh defended Palestianian suicide bombings against Israel: “If certain Muslims are to be cornered where they cannot defend themselves, except through these kinds of means, and their local religious leaders issued fatwas to permit that, then it becomes acceptable as an exceptional rule, but should not be taken as a principle.”
In 2010, a member of ISB was arrested for planning an attack against a U.S. Army recruiting office. According to the Mediaite news portal, ISB refused to cooperate with the FBI in its investigation of the matter.
In May 2013, imam Yaseen Shaikh, who would join ISB as a resident scholar just a few weeks later, delivered a sermon characterizing homosexuality as a mental disorder and “something which we despise.”
Over the years, ISB has worked closely with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In 2014, for instance, two ISB officials joined with CAIR representatives in a news conference condemning Israel’s military response to the continuous barrage of rockets that Hamas terrorists in Gaza had been firing into southern Israeli towns. Because many of those rockets were launched from densely populated areas, some of Israel’s counter-strikes inevitably, though inadvertently, killed and injured Palestinian civilians. This prompted ISB president Muhammad Jameel to accuse Israel of committing “genocide in the name of self-defense.” Moreover, Jameel and ISB general secretary Abid Husain together exhorted the United States to pressure Israel into ending the embargo it had imposed on Gaza in 2007 (to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and their components from allies in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere). “The U.S. government must not remain silent about Israel’s indiscriminate assault and unjust use of force,” said Husain. “The right of a nation to defend itself does not extend to unrestrained aerial bombardments of civilian populations and must be condemned**.”
**On February 3, 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech at ISB in which he depicted American Muslims as victims of widespread bigotry and violence: “We’ve seen [Muslim] children bullied, we’ve seen mosques vandalized…. [W]hen any part of our [American] family begins to feel separate or second class, it tears at the heart of our nation…. If we’re serious about freedom of religion—and I’m talking to my fellow Christians who are the majority in this country—we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths.”
ISB’s religious services are gender-segregated, with women strictly relegated to the back portion of the mosque.