The Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada, or MSA (also known as MSA National), was established mainly by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in January 1963 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Nyack College theologian Larry A. Poston writes that “many of the founding members of this agency [MSA] were members of, or had connections to,” the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-i-Islami. The three most significant founders of MSA were Hisham al Talib, Jamal Barzinji, and Ahmed Totanji, and all of whom were MB leaders of Iraqi descent. Other noteworthy individuals who served as early co-founders of MSA were Mahboob Khan and Malika Khan.
The creation of MSA resulted from Saudi-backed efforts to establish Islamic organizations internationally in the 1960s, for the purpose of spreading its Wahhabist ideology across the globe. According to Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy: “The Saudis over the years set up a number of large front organizations, such as the Al Haramain Foundation, the Muslim World League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and a great number of Islamic ‘charities.’ While invariably claiming that they were private, all of these groups were tightly controlled and financed by the Saudi government and the Wahhabi clergy.” Moreover, these organizations commonly shared personnel, money, and institutional affiliations.
The Saudis’ first foray into the United States came in the form of MSA, which, like the aforementioned Saudi-based groups, received its major funding and direction from Riyadh. According to a February 2008 New York Times report, MSA, from its earliest days, “pushed the [Saudi] kingdom’s puritan, Wahhabi strain of Islam.” In the 1960s and 70s, adds the Times piece, MSA chapters “advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations and would brook no criticism of Saudi Arabia.” In subsequent years, a number of additional Islamist organizations would grow out of MSA, whose own website states: “MSA National was the precursor of ISNA [the Islamic Society of North America], ICNA [the Islamic Circle of North America], MAYA [the Muslim Arab Youth Association], IMA [the Islamic Medical Association of North America], AMSS [the Association of Muslim Social Scientists], AMSE [the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers], MYNA [Muslim Youth of North America], Islamic Book Service, and the North American Islamic Trust.”
Stating that its mission is “to serve the best interest of Islam and Muslims in the United States and Canada so as to enable them to practice Islam as a complete way of life,” MSA presents itself as an apolitical, religious and cultural organization. In reality it is a radical political force and a key lobbying organization for the Wahhabi sect of Islam, telling students that America is an imperialist power and Israel an oppressor nation. MSA speakers routinely spew anti-Semitic libels and justify the genocide against the Jews which is promoted by Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and by the government of Iran. The Center for Security Policy’s Alex Alexiev states:
“The majority of Muslim Student Associations at U.S. colleges are dominated by Islamist and anti-American agendas, as are most of the numerous Islamic centers and schools financed by the Saudis. Intolerance and outright rejection of American values and democratic ideals are often taught also in the growing number of Deobandi schools that are frequently subsidized by the Saudis.”
Hamid Algar, a faculty member at UC Berkeley, is the biographer of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and one of the world’s leading historians of Islamic spirituality. In his 2000 publication, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, Algar candidly acknowledged MSA’s historical ties to radical Islam:
“Some Muslim student organizations have… functioned at times as Saudi-supported channels for the propagation of Wahhabism abroad, especially in the United States. The [MSA] was established in 1963, one year after the Muslim World League [MWL] with which it had close links. Particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, no criticism of Saudi Arabia would be tolerated at the annual conventions of the MSA … The organization has, in fact, consistently advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaati Islam…. Although the MSA progressively diversified its connections with Arab states, official approval of Wahhabism remained strong.”
In 2007, a New York Police Department report characterized the MSA as an “incubator” for Islamic radicalism. That assessment was echoed by Former FBI Special Agent John Guandolo, who described the group as “a recruitment tool to bring Muslims into the Brotherhood,” and as the “focal point” for the MB in America. “Their goal, both from their senior leaders, presidents of MSA’s around the country, national leadership, is to implement Islamic government here in the United States,” Guandolo explains. “And they say that.”
Since its founding, MSA has grown into the most influential Islamic student organization in North America. It currently has chapters on nearly 600 college campuses; just over 150 of these chapters are affiliated with the national organization, while the remainder are independent entities whose policies and views may differ from those of MSA National.
MSA’s activities are guided at all times by a set of Islamist agendas that emphasize the importance of gaining power in the U.S., one campus at a time. Toward that end, the organization has published an MSA Starter’s Guide: A Guide on How to Run a Successful MSA, which states:
“It should be the long-term goal of every MSA to Islamicize the politics of their respective university … the politicization of the MSA means to make the MSA more of a force on internal campus politics. The MSA needs to be a more ‘In-your-face’ association … For example, the student body must be convinced that there is such a thing as a Muslim-bloc.” The Guide further advises: “Aim to rise within the ranks of the Union [student government] and to get on selected executive committees … I cannot stress this enough, the Union has vast powers that Muslims need to control.”
In its quest for increased influence, MSA devotes many of its efforts and resources to the practice of da’wa — i.e., proselytization which consists of “inviting” non-Muslims, or “infidels,” to join the Islamic faith. Nyack College theologian Larry A. Poston characterizes MSA as “undoubtedly the most activist of the da’wa organizations in America.” In January 2005, former MSA UCLA member Ahmed Shama said:
“The only justification … that Muslims have to live in this country is da’wa…. [I]f we are not doing something to invite people to Islam, Muslims and non-Muslims, then we are missing the point what Islamic Movement is about…. The end goal of everything I was talking about is the establishment of, the reestablishment of, Islamic form of government.”
In 2007, MSA National’s website featured a document entitled, “Da’wa: Time to Come Out of Our Boxes,” advising MSA members to strategically adapt their da’wa to the particular cultural sensibilities of North Americans. For example: “Instead of using ‘Holy War’ to translate the word Jihad, use a more comprehensive and proper term like, ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’… Try to use language that is more appealing to North Americans.”
“[T]he women’s liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed by God to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad … The Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith or Sunnah) are the sources from which every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties. … Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable to God in glorifying and worshipping Him — setting no limits on her moral progress. Also, Islam established a woman’s equality in her humanity with men. … In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. … The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today, even in the West.”
Part and parcel of MSA’s da’wa strategy is to make the presence of Muslim students and traditions increasingly ubiquitous on college and university campuses. According to MSA’s Muslim Accommodations Task Force (MATF), campus MSAs can achieve this goal by demanding that their universities become more “Muslim-friendly,” and by claiming that a school’s failure to do so would make Muslim students feel like outcasts.
Consistent with this strategy, the MATF has prepared and published guides (for MSA student leaders) on such topics as “How to Establish a Prayer Room on Campus,” “How to Achieve Islamic Holidays on Campus,” and “How to Achieve Halal Food on Campus.” These guides direct Muslim students to present their demands in the context of multiculturalism and civil rights. “Most campuses,” explains one publication, “include respecting diversity as a part of their mission statement. They consider enrollment of diverse students an asset to the community, as they enhance the classroom learning experience and enrich student life. Try to find these statements specific to your campus, and explain that recognition of Islamic holidays would serve as a practical example of upholding these ideals.”
According to the same MATF publcation, such recognition would also serve to right wrongs done to Muslims on campus: “If any cases of bias against Muslims took place on campus in the recent past, present the proposal as an opportunity to foster cooperation and increase understanding.” It would be a simple matter of civil rights, says the guide: “Additionally, if special holiday recognition is being offered to other faith communities (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant), Muslims have strong grounds to make a petition for equal consideration of their holiday requirements.”
Such tactics are part of MSA’s stealth jihad, consisting of nonviolent initiatives whose long-term goal is the incorporation of Sharia law into the legal and social systems of the United States by non-confrontational means.
This is precisely the strategy which was outlined in a 1991 Muslim Brotherhood internal document — titled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America” — which named MSA 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:
MSA’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood continue, unabated, to this day. In January 2011, for example, keynote speaker Amir Abdel Malik-Ali recited the MSA “pledge of allegiance” at the MSA West Regional Conference:
“Allah is my lord. Islam is my life. The Koran is my guide. The Sunna is my practice. Jihad is my spirit. Righteousness is my character. Paradise is my goal. I enjoin what is right. I forbid what is wrong. I will fight against oppression. And I will die to establish Islam.”
That pledge is an adaptation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s credo: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
Since 9/11, MSA has made extensive use of the politics of victimization. In the days immediately after the attacks, for example, the organization stated: “In light of the Bush administration’s casting blame for the attack on Osama Bin Laden, MSA National recognizes that Muslim students on college campuses will be subject to backlash.” Characterizing American homeland-security policies as explicit assaults against Islam, a subsequent MSA document, titled America: Post 9/11, stated: “Soon after [9/11], the attacks against our religion began at the hands of the media and the political establishment.”
Also in the post-9/11 era, MSA has expressed resistance, outrage, and cynicism vis à vis virtually every high-profile arrest of any Muslim American charged with terrorist activity. When former University of South Florida (USF) professor Sami al-Arian, for instance, was arrested for directing U.S. operations for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that campus’s MSA chapter expressed its “shock” and “deep concern” that al-Arian was being persecuted for his “political views.”
Charging that America’s post-9/11 foreign policy was being driven by imperialism, MSA steadfastly opposed the U.S. military intervention against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, calling instead for a “police investigation” and a hearing before the International Criminal Court. Numerous MSA chapters organized rallies demanding a ceasefire and held “Solidarity Fasts” to honor Afghans who, the MSA predicted, would face massive starvation as a result of the war.
Even before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, MSA had opposed every U.S. policy towards Baghdad during the preceding twelve years. For instance, the organization had condemned the United Nations-authorized sanctions as “nothing short of a systematic genocide being carried out against civilian people.” Likewise denouncing former president Bill Clinton‘s 1998 military strike against Iraq after Saddam Hussein had expelled all UN weapons inspectors from his country, MSA announced that its “brothers and sisters in Iraq are once again being terrorized by the self-appointed champions of democracy.”
In the course of its aggressive protest activities against America’s Middle East wars, MSA developed strong working ties with numerous activist groups of the extreme Left. Among them were the Black Radical Congress, the Free Palestine Alliance, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, the Korea Truth Commission, the Mexico Solidarity Network, the Nicaragua Network, the Young Communist League, and the Young Peoples’ Socialist League.
Also in the early 2000s, MSA was an influential steering-committee member of International ANSWER, a front organization of the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party. Moreover, local chapters of MSA were signatories to a February 20, 2002 document, composed by the Revolutionary Communist Party front group Refuse & Resist, condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. The document likened the U.S. government to a “police state” that subjected “Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants” to “disappearances,” “indefinite detention,” “round-ups,” “secret military tribunals,” “denial of legal representation,” and “denial of any due process.”
MSA strongly opposes the Patriot Act, which it describes as an “infamous” piece of legislation. The organization’s chapters across the United States have similarly denounced virtually every other national-security initiative implemented by the U.S. government since the 9/11 attacks, on grounds that those initiatives target Muslims unfairly.
MSA’s depiction of Muslims as victims of such egregious discrimination is consistent with the organization’s preoccupation with the supposed epidemic of “Islamophobia.” In November 2010, for instance, MSA was scheduled to conduct an event titled “Curing Islamophobia, in Every Student-Body.” Similarly, in January 2011 in Atlanta, MSA National held an “Eradicating Islamophobia” conference which it described as follows:
“There are two sides to every story. Unfortunately, one side has dominated the media, causing misconceptions and controversy concerning Islam. This conference brings together powerful leaders and speakers from around the world to dispel the myths and promote peace and concern for humanity; the principles Islam is founded on. The education given will reflect what the majority of Muslims throughout the world believe, that Islam is a Religion of Peace and a Help for Humanity.”
Noteworthy MSA-related news items from recent years include the following:
Patrick Poole, an anti-terrorism consultant to law enforcement and the military, observes that “one of the darkest secrets of the MSA, certainly never advertised by the organization or mentioned in their publications, is a rather lengthy list of top MSA leaders who have been arrested and convicted on a wide array of terrorism charges, ranging from material support of terrorist groups to being actively involved in terrorist plots.” “It is important to stress,” adds Poole, “that these are not fringe figures in the MSA organization, but some of its top leaders.” In August 2010, Poole published this partial list of such individuals:
Other noteworthy MSA figures with ties to terrorism include the following:
Writer Jonathan Dowd-Gailey has made some insightful observations about how the MSA has affected Americans’ view of Muslims, both in the United States and around the world:
“Ironically, although one of the founding missions of the MSA is to increase favorable awareness of Muslim life among non-Muslims, the effect of the MSA’s activities is the opposite: they confirm the worst suspicions of American society at large. The MSA’s refusal to identify jihadists and jihadist sympathizers within its ranks, its indiscriminate opposition to U.S. policies following the September 11 attacks, its vitriolic anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, and its solidarity with ‘Leftover Left’ radical activist organizations, together reinforce an image that the MSA, and by extension, Muslim college students, are a divisive, angry, and potentially violent group on our campuses. By monopolizing the Muslim student voice in America with ‘radical chic’ to create a ‘single Muslim bloc,’ an opportunity to forge a healthy discourse on the diverse attitudes of Muslim students is lost to the confrontational language of radical dissent and resistance.”
Intolerant of ideological non-conformity, MSA has ostracized Muslim students who do not share its anti-American, anti-war views. For example, when Oubai Shahbandar, an Arizona State University (ASU) student of Muslim heritage, expressed support for the Iraqi invasion, he suffered condemnation from MSA members who, he said, “personally attacked” him “for not being a real Muslim” and for being “a hater of Arabs and Muslims.” “We are told [by MSA that] America’s foreign policy is based on racist neo-imperialism, Shahbandar reported. “We are taught that national security is a foul epithet to be reviled; we are told the Jews and Israel are to blame for the hatred against us.”
Speakers for Muslim Student Groups
By Discover The Networks