Incorporated as a tax-exempt nonprofit group on December 10, 1998, Muslim Youth Camps of America (MYCA) is a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based organization whose mission is to: “bring a unique camping and Islamic learning experience to Muslim youth from around the world”; “provide an opportunity for Muslim youth to learn and grow in outdoor life, athletic skills, leadership, language and the Islamic way of life”; “create interaction with interfaith youth to promote Islamic values and an understanding of a multicultural educational environment”; “establish positive institutions in which children meet, play, pray and enjoy life in a community of living, caring and learning together”; and “teach Muslim youth about themselves and their faith in a cordial and enriching camping atmosphere.”
In 1999, MYCA tried to lease 106 acres of federal land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) in Coralville, Iowa, with the intent of building a summer-camp facility for young people on the premises. (That same property had previously served as the site of Camp Daybreak, a Girl Scouts of America facility.) MYCA stated that its own proposed campground would contain a 2,400 square-foot lodge; sleeping accommodations (in cabins and tents) for up to 60 campers plus a number of staffers; a beach; recreation trails; a 36-foot-high, dome-covered Muslim prayer tower; and a year-round convention center that could be rented out during the off-season. Construction costs were projected to be $934,000.
MYCA chairman Manzoor Ali said that his organization’s campsite would be “not exclusively for Muslims, just like [the] YMCA is not exclusive to Christians.” MYCA spokesman Bob Ballantyne concurred with that assessment. But at a land-proposal hearing, MYCA project director Mark Chaffee stated that “our outreach and marketing will be heavily towards the Muslim community, because of its underserved nature.” And according to an article in the Washington Report, MYCA representative Bill Aossey said that the new facility would be “given the name ‘Camp Heritage‘ to emphasize the importance for Muslim children of understanding their roots.”
Public controversy arose regarding MYCA’s proposed campsite when details about Aossey’s ties to radical Islamists found their way into a number of press reports. For example, Aossey was president of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Midamar Corporation—an international distributor of Halal meats prepared according to the standards prescribed by Islamic law. On its website, Midamar identified itself as a “Trusted Halal food supplier and sponsor for the annual conferences and conventions” hosted by the American Muslim Council (on whose board Aossey served), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Circle of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim American Society. Each of those organizations was known to have had links with Islamic extremist groups and, in some cases, terrorist organizations.
Further, Aossey had been a featured speaker at the 2002 and 2003 annual conferences of the Iowa Muslim Student Association. At the 2002 conference (which also featured a speech by Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center), Aossey delivered an address entitled “Martyrdom in Islam”—a reference to the purported nobility of suicide bombings and violent jihad. At the 2003 conference, Aossey was joined on the dais by CAIR executive director Nihad Awad—an ex-member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (a front group for Hamas).
Notwithstanding these controversies, the Corps of Engineers approved MYCA’s proposal in 2003 after lengthy deliberations, and ultimately presented the organization with a lease for the land in question in March 2006, thereby making MYCA the first Muslim organization in the United States to be granted federal government land. The initial term ran from March 1, 2006 through February 28, 2011; the cost to MYCA for that five-year period would be one dollar; i.e., the organization could essentially lease the land for free.
In 2006, MYCA made some preliminary progress in its campground project. This included the clearing of vegetation along an existing roadway, the grading of roads and ditches, and the removal of former Camp Daybreak structures (lodge, tent facilities, pedestrian bridges, and related debris) as specified for Year 1 in the development plan.
During the summer of 2007, MYCA contracted campground consultants from Snyder & Associates of Ankeny, Iowa to assist in future development of the site. That autumn, MYCA requested ACE approval for a substantially revised development plan designed by the Snyder group. When the Corps elected not to approve the revised plan, MYCA began to draft a 2008 proposal calling for only minor revisions to the original development plan—e.g., expanding the trail system to areas that would possibly incorporate pedestrian bridges. By the spring of 2011, however, virtually no further development had taken place on MYCA’s leased land. On April 26, 2011, MYCA notified ACE that it would not be renewing the lease.