Interview with Ahmad Yusuf: "Hamas Is a Charitable Organization"
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Ahmad Yusuf is Executive Director of United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), a prominent Islamist think tank based in Annandale, Virginia, and editor of its quarterly, the Middle East Affairs Journal. He was born in 1950 and raised in a refugee camp in Gaza. He came to the United States in 1982 and is the author of twelve books, the most recent of which is Islam wa'l-Gharb: Shahadat wa-Hiwarat.1 The origins of this interview lie in correspondence between Dr. Yusuf and the Middle East Quarterly2 in which Dr. Yusuf challenged assertions made in an interview by Steven Emerson. The Quarterly replied to those criticisms, then in turn invited Dr. Yusuf to be interviewed in these pages. Dr. Yusuf agreed to a written interview, which Daniel Pipes conducted with him through a series of exchanges between Dec. 26, 1997, and Jan. 22, 1998.
ISLAM AND ISLAMISM
Middle East Quarterly: "We want the whole world to become Muslim, because Islam is the solution to all problems."3 So spoke the Islamist mayor of a town near Ankara, Turkey; please comment on this statement and whether you agree with it.
Ahmad Yusuf: When remarks are made in languages other than English and translated, something is lost in the translation and sometimes added, even if only by inference. The mayor is trying to say that he believes in Islam; he is satisfied with it and believes, based on his experience, that everyone else would be as well. This is the same as celebrity advertising campaigns all over the world, like Michael Jordan saying, "I like Wheaties and I believe that you will too." It's an invitation to buy Wheaties. It does not imply that the mayor wishes to force non-Muslims to become Muslims. Nothing within Islamic theology or doctrine inclines the Muslim to convert others to Islam by force or through legislation.
MEQ: What does the Islamist rallying cry that "Islam is the solution" imply?
Yusuf: It means that within the guidance and laws of Islam, one can identify and access principles and practices that effect positive change, for both individuals and societies.
MEQ: Do you acknowledge a distinction between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism? Is every Muslim an Islamist?
Yusuf: To accept such a distinction means believing that the human psyche is separated into spiritual and material spheres of thought; I don't believe in that. However, I recognize diversity within the various Islamic and non-Islamic movements and political expressions.
MEQ: What do you say to Muslims living in Turkey, Algeria, and other countries who insist they are pious believers but reject the Islamist program?
Yusuf: Islam shapes human beings. It is not a club that people join but a way of living and being. It is more than an ideology. It is a very big, expansive, universal phenomenon, capable of accommodating diversity in personality, color, size, weight, height, ethnicity, language, and opinion. Its adherents agree on a common purpose, to serve God to the best of their ability and understanding. Islamists are those who dedicate their time to the goals of social, economic, and political justice; they are distinguished by their level of commitment and the time and energy they dedicate to these causes.
MEQ: The journal you edit, Middle East Affairs Journal, published an unsigned editorial that refers to the "radicals" among the Islamic opposition groups and contrasts them to the "moderates."4 Please explain the difference between these two categories and identify groups that belong to each of them.
Yusuf: "Moderates" seek to work with the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East and Africa in Muslim countries, hoping to reform them from within through democratic processes; this is the initial goal of every reform movement with a basis in Islam.
Most "radicals" are those in positions where the government has forced confrontation and who have severely limited options. They are committed to reform within their societies, but are left with few options. The outside world sees them as radical, as rejecting the rules; in reality, they have usually been forced to the fringe and targeted for elimination, so they fight back. The number of radicals in Islamic movements is small and marginal.
Countries where there are a majority of Muslims should be open to Islamic governance if that's what the people desire and democratically express. Rulers who wish to keep Islamists out of power (because they do not want to share power) and who then resort to repression, imprisonment, and murder, should be condemned by the leaders of the civilized world for violating standards of liberal democratic thought.
MEQ: "Fundamentalism is fascism" says Saïd Sadi, Algeria's leading secularist and head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy, a political party.5 Please respond to this comment.
Yusuf: I have never read, or heard this association between Islam and fascism as you have attributed it to Mr. Sadi.
MEQ: Does this statement of Sadi's represent a significant population of Muslims or is it merely a fringe opinion?
Yusuf: What I know of Mr. Sadi is that his views represent the outlook of extreme secularists in Algeria, those who are anti-Islamist and obsessed with French culture. His party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, represents less than 3 percent of the Algerian people.
MEQ: Referring to Islamists, President Husni Mubarak of Egypt said: "These people are outlaws who live on a different planet."6 Please comment.
Yusuf: President Mubarak is confronted by a phenomenon in Egypt created by the injustices of the Egyptian elite who oppress and impoverish their own people. Two prominent human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Middle East Watch, have reported that unconstitutional limits placed by the Mubarak regime upon the opposition parties has limited their opportunity to participate in Egyptian politics, leaving the youth in that country frustrated with such moderate groups as the Muslim Brotherhood, who have condemned any and all acts of violence, and who also have called for dialogue and reconciliation between all parties. These frustrated and unaligned individuals carry out acts of violence to demonstrate their frustration and hopelessness over conditions in Egypt. Dr. Carrie Wickham says that the conditions in Egypt make confrontation between the government and its people inevitable.
ISLAM AND MODERNITY
MEQ: 'Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i, leader of the Islamic revolution, has said that "The path of Islam is the path of prosperity."7 Is he correct?
Yusuf: I believe every Muslim people will experience prosperity if they understand Islam as a comprehensive way of life and structure their society to accommodate Islamic guidance and law. If Muslims don't believe this, why are we Muslims? The Qur'an supports this belief; the success of the Prophet Muhammad's community and the prosperity of Muslim society under the Rashidun Caliphate8 specifically, prove it to be true. Muslims have not only attained success in their own civilizations but have contributed to the whole world's development and prosperity.
MEQ: In contrast, Anwar Ibrahim, the deputy prime minister of Malaysia, estimates that Muslims, one-fifth of the world's population, make up more than half of the 1.2 billion people who live in abject poverty.9 What explains this situation?
Yusuf: Unfortunately, Muslim civilization in the East has been subject to many things that have limited its development and prosperity, including but not limited to colonialism, imperialism, trade inequities, embargoes, political and economic isolation, dictatorships and much else, too numerous and too complex to discuss here. I believe these circumstances will change over time.
MEQ: The late Kalim Siddiqui, a prominent London-based Islamist, wrote that "Deep down in its historical consciousness the West also knows that the Islamic civilization will ultimately replace it as the world's dominant civilization."10 Please comment.
Yusuf: Dr. Siddiqi believed that Islam—a universal and comprehensive way of life based on principles of social and economic justice—has historically been attractive to people as a way of life and as a successful catalyst for reform, and that this is increasingly the case.
MEQ: He also held that "The struggle between the emergent civilization of Islam and the decadent civilization of the West will occupy the centrestage of history for most of the 21st century."11 Is he right?
Yusuf: No one can say. But we can say that "struggle" does not necessarily mean armed conflict or violent confrontation. Struggle can be competition; it can be a simple effort for survival, legitimacy, and equality. We should resist the temptation to frame every discussion of East and West in the negative context of conflict.
AMERICA AND ISLAM
MEQ: Islamist groups in this country, including your own, argue that Americans are biased against Islam. Do you mean that Muslims suffer from systematic and institutional discrimination (a bias in the law, in political life, in publicly-expressed attitudes) or is the problem one of isolated individuals?
Yusuf: We do not argue that "Americans are biased against Islam." More than 42 percent of all Muslims in the United States are indigenous Americans, making them the single largest national grouping of Muslims in the country. I believe that Islam is a misunderstood religion, and that those who are prejudiced are usually influenced by negative stereotypes of Muslims and Islam perpetuated by those who feel it is in their interest to incite hatred against Muslims and Islam.
MEQ: I'd like to quote you a couple of statements by high-ranking U.S. government officials. John P. O'Neil, a senior Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counter-terrorism official, declared in 1996 that the "greatest threat coming to us domestically in the United States [is from] Islamic radicals." He added that "these groups have the capability and support infrastructure to attack us here if they choose to."12 Admiral William O. Studeman, then acting head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), testified to Congress on April 6, 1995, that militant Islamic groups "have established footholds within ethnic or resident alien communities here in the United States. These communities offer terrorists financial support and a source for new recruits." Please comment on the validity of these comments. Specifically, do you accept their contention that extremist groups acting in the name of Islam have set up support structures in the United States?
Yusuf: Such remarks substantiate the negative stereotypes I just noted. These officials are not speaking from first-hand experience with Muslims, or interviews with Muslims, or even contact or visits to Muslim organizations. Generally speaking, high-ranking government officials, like these two gentlemen, depend on information gathered and submitted to them by others, information that is politicized. Their opinions depend on misinformation supplied by those who feel that it is in their interest to incite hatred, fear, and conflict against Islam and Muslims in America.
MEQ: Do you personally aspire to see the United States eventually become a Muslim country?
Yusuf: Most Americans desire to see the United States become a country guided by moral principles and the laws of God, as they are understood and practiced by the majority of American people. Nothing in Islamic theology inclines Muslims to believe that every human being can, should, will, or must become Muslim, nor that every government can, should, would, or must be governed by the Shari'a, the Islamic law.
MEQ: What do you think of individuals and groups who do want the United States to become a Muslim country?
Yusuf: I am not aware of any such groups or individuals. However so long as any change comes about as a result of democratic processes and according to the Constitution, I don't see a problem.
MEQ: You really don't aspire to see the Shari'a ultimately become the guiding principle behind law in the United States?
Yusuf: No, I don't feel compelled, nor do other Muslims feel compelled, to force Islamic law on a non-Muslim American people. Islamic law has never been forced upon any community, or society, or civilization.
The Shari'a law is a natural law that exists because God exists. It is to some extent in effect wherever people are practicing the laws of righteousness and common good, whether they be Muslims or not. Those requirements unique to Islamic law (such as the prohibition on interest and on the hoarding of wealth) are not foreign, but misunderstood. Should the American people wish to make any system—Islamic, Buddhist, or other—the guiding principles for American law, that is their choice.
MEQ: Ihsan Bagby, a prominent black American convert to Islam, says of Muslims: "Ultimately we can never be full citizens of this country. . . because there is no way we can be fully committed to the institutions and ideologies of this country."13 Is he right?
Yusuf: Ihsan Bagby's remarks are no doubt an opinion based on his personal observations and experiences. I cannot judge whether it is right or wrong, for it his opinion, based on something he considers legitimate.
My opinion is different: Muslims historically have been citizens of various communities and societies. There is nothing in Islamic law that prevents them from being fully committed citizens of any country. Immigrant Muslims are here to stay: they have a commitment to America not unlike that of earlier immigrant groups.
MEQ: Iran's President Sayyid Muhammad Khatami has made a reputation for being relatively open-minded, but even he states that "censorship is an important element in Islam."14 Do you agree with him?
Yusuf: No, not as you have stated it here. But President Khatami went on to say a few sentences later, "we must use it appropriately and not as an instrument of oppression." I agree with this sentiment.
MEQ: Does that mean you oppose freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
Yusuf: Freedom of speech as it has been historically interpreted in American Constitutional law does not permit complete and unlimited freedom. Libel, slander, and other malicious speech endangering the well-being of individuals or society are not considered within the purview of the First Amendment. My opinion concerning censorship follows these same lines.
MEQ: Do you endorse Ayatollah Khomeini's edict sentencing Salman Rushdie to death?
Yusuf: Many prominent Muslim scholars disagreed with Imam Khomeini's fatwa in the Rushdie affair, such as Rashid al-Ghannushi, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and the grand mufti of Al-Azhar. Personally, before a judgment of this sort is issued, I prefer to see more dialogue among clerics, scholars, and intellectuals in search of a more balanced view.
Many Muslims were very offended by what Salman Rushdie wrote, and they did not want his book in their midst. They have that right. People who live outside of these regions do not have the right to impose their understanding of what is acceptable on others. I may take exception to the book being distributed in areas where it will lead to social unrest or offend the sentiments of the people but personally I have no problem with what Salman Rushdie writes. He can write anything he likes.
I also believe the issue was blown out of proportion by those who want to portray Islam as an intolerant religion and Muslim peoples as narrow-minded, unsophisticated, and uncivilized.
MEQ: How do you reconcile Khomeini's edict with American law?
Yusuf: In the United States the debate over capital punishment is ongoing, for the Constitution does not explicitly permit or prohibit it. Each state interprets the law on this issue according to the sentiments of its people. According to this same principle, Iran also has the right to interpret the law and legislate accordingly. The results may at times be offensive or seem unreasonable to others, but the same is true of American laws, which are sometimes considered strange by people outside of the United States.
NATION OF ISLAM
MEQ: Please assess Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam he leads.
Yusuf: This is an American phenomenon that I cannot critique, not being expert on the experiences and perceptions of African-Americans.
Everyone, however, can appreciate that Louis Farrakhan has taken on an enormous task, uplifting the bypassed segment of the African-American community out of poverty and to self-sufficiency. I watched the Million Man March on television in October 1995 and was impressed by the number of people, which was well over a million, and the fact that the gathering included both Muslims and non-Muslims, young and old. Their obvious commitment to social justice and equity in American society was very moving. Farrakhan has done something positive by stirring the consciousness of these men and inspiring them to improve their condition and rebuild their families. Others have since duplicated it but Farrakhan was first, and that means something.
MEQ: Do you regard members of the Nation of Islam as legitimate Muslims?
Yusuf: If they believe themselves to be "legitimate" Muslims, if there is such a thing, who am I to say that they are not? I don't have to accept their beliefs that are at variance with what I believe, or what other Muslims might believe.
MEQ: How do you deal with their many beliefs at variance with mainstream Islam (e.g., that only blacks can be Muslims, that W. D. Fard was God, and that Elijah Muhammad was his prophet)?
Yusuf: To become Muslim means simply professing belief in one God and in Muhammad as a prophet of God. Beyond this point, theologians are better prepared to discuss this issue; I am not a theologian.
MEQ: Please respond to Farrakhan's allegation that Middle Eastern Muslims should "clean up the ghettos in Mecca. . . . The ghettoes in the Holy City where the Sudanese and other black African Muslims live are some of the worst I've seen anywhere."15
Yusuf: Muslims around the world are anxious to see the Muslim governments return to Islam, Islamic laws, Islamic standards, and Islamic principles regarding human rights, democracy, and justice.
TERRORISM AGAINST ISRAEL
MEQ: Please comment on a recent sermon at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in which the Palestinian Authority's mufti, Ikrama Sabri, called on God to "destroy America, her agents and her allies!"16
Yusuf: Such statements are often misunderstood or deliberately translated in a way that implies that Muslim leaders or peoples hate Americans and want them to die. In this case, a cleric supposedly prays for the death of America. In my opinion—and from my first-hand knowledge of the true sentiments of many Muslim Arabs—if and when a statement of this type is made, it refers not to the American people or even America as a country, but to American policies that support the continued repression of Arab and Muslim peoples around the world. This call is like invoking a curse; it reflects a sentiment that indicates the extent to which people wish to see God destroy policies they consider evil.
MEQ: You have written that "God has promised that when the Muslims fight the Jews, the Muslims will vanquish them."17 This sounds like a call for Muslims to attack Jews in Israel, in this country, and everywhere else around the globe; is it?
Yusuf: The actual quote is, "God has promised that the Muslims will fight the Jews and defeat them." I took this from an authentic Islamic hadith (or tradition) that does not say when this defeat will happen or where. It only says that it will happen. My objective in using this quote is to assure the Palestinian people that one day justice will be realized and to encourage them to continue their struggles with the assurance of victory against the occupation. It is not a call to attack Jews in Israel or anywhere else. Palestinians as a rule are opposed to expansionist Zionism, not to the Jewish faith, or to Jews or any other race or religion.
MEQ: Is Hamas a terrorist group?
Yusuf: No. Hamas was founded during the intifada and it operated within the confines of the Geneva Convention. It later became a charitable and social service organization in the West Bank and Gaza, helping Palestinians forced off of their land and into unimaginable suffering, humiliation and poverty.
MEQ: What about the fact that one component of Hamas, namely the 'Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, claimed credit for several attacks on innocent civilians?18
Yusuf: If this makes Hamas a terrorist group, then the Israeli government is a terrorist government and the Israeli military and security forces, as well as their agents, are also terrorist. The bombings of Israelis, according to an interview on "60 Minutes" with Hamas member Hasan Salama, are at least sometimes in retaliation for Israeli terror against Palestinians.
As Ehud Sprinzak of the Hebrew University writes, "Hamas only resorted to this atrocious type of terrorism after February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli physician and army reserve captain massacred 29 praying Palestinians in a Hebron shrine."19 Since the massacre, the Israeli government has built a shrine to Goldstein in Kiryat Arba, where he is memorialized as a "martyr."20 Based on Dr. Sprinzak's observations, Hamas has used military operations to retaliate for what it feels are acts of terror by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people.
MEQ: But Sprinzak in the same sentence also characterized Hamas as engaging in an "atrocious type of terrorism"; you cannot pick and chose from his writings.
As for the shrine to Baruch Goldstein, what is your proof that it was built by the Israeli government?
Yusuf: Dr. Sprinzak's characterization is obviously a personal opinion. You cannot on one hand say that the people are responding to acts of violence initiated against them and at the same time call them terrorist.
Let me rephrase my response as it relates to Dr. Goldstein's monument. I assumed that it was approved by the government since it obviously issued a permit for the shrine to be built, thereby sanctioning it as a public memorial. Were the necessary permits not issued, the monument would have been demolished just as Palestinian homes built without permits are destroyed.
MEQ: On what basis do you claim the Israeli government is terrorist?
Yusuf: Terror can be defined as a state of intense fear or fright. So a terrorist is one who uses intense fear or fright to coerce others. In this sense of the word, every soldier is a terrorist and every government in the world sponsors terrorism to some extent. Leah Rabin, widow of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin, said prior to a meeting with Secretary Albright, "I have doubt about how much terrorism can be uprooted. We were also terrorist once, and they did not uproot us and we went on dealing in terrorist activities. Despite all the efforts of all the British army in the land, we went on with terrorism."21
Let's look at the record. Defense Minister Yitzak Rabin on January 21, 1988, issued an order of "force, might, and beatings" against Palestinian youth involved in the intifada, which led to 1,600 unarmed civilians—including women and children—being murdered for throwing rocks, plus 100,000 Palestinians wounded and 120,000 imprisoned. In February 1988, a hidden camera crew recorded the brutal bludgeoning to death of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers on an isolated hillside. Don't forget the Aqsa mosque massacre where eighteen Palestinians were murdered by trigger-happy border guards. Then there are the secret death squads that prey on Palestinian activists; Amnesty International's report on the April 1988 murder of 'Ala' al-Kurdi and three unarmed family members in the Gaza Strip points to Israeli death squads. Reuters reported in October 1988 that "these groups are deployed with verbal orders to shoot and kill those with blood on their hands."22 The purpose of these murders is pure and simple: to terrorize the Palestinian people, forcing them to leave their homes and land so they can be taken over by Jewish settlers.
MEQ: Well, I'd challenge you to produce tapes of the February 1988 event, for no such killings took place.
Yusuf: I am not in possession of the tapes, but as a journalist I viewed them, and I assumed that the severity and brutality of the beatings caused the young men to die either on the spot or soon after.
MEQ: Do you consider the suicide bombings in Jerusalem in July and September 1997,
Yusuf: In my opinion, based on Dr. Sprinzak's observations, Hamas uses military operations in retaliation for what it considers acts of terror against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.
MEQ: Are such attacks as those by Hamas legitimate "resistance"?
Yusuf: I use the word "resistance" to define the Hamas movement because that is how Hamas has defined itself; "Hamas" is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. The organization has never claimed that its military attacks are strategic but that they are always retaliatory. Hamas reserves its right to resist occupation within a purely national context, as sanctioned by the Geneva Convention. The Hamas movement is much more than these attacks; it embodies the socio-political expressions of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people and Muslims generally consider it a legitimate resistance movement.
MEQ: You have described Musa Abu Marzook, a high-ranking official of Hamas, as a "peace advocate,"23 his outlook as "moderate," and his work as "tireless efforts to find peaceful solutions."24 But in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem carried out by the 'Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas, Dr. Abu Marzook stated: "Martyrdom is the goal of every Muslim and death represents the ideal wish of the mujahid on the land of Palestine. This was not the first martyrdom operation carried out by the heroes of the Al-Qassam Battalion. It was rather one of the successive operations."25 Are these the words of a "peace advocate" and "moderate"?
Yusuf: My remarks on the character and personality of Dr. Musa Abu Marzook are based on a relationship established during our years together in college. My assessment of him as a person is not limited to his Hamas affiliation and is not framed by the activities of Hamas. Musa has always been a very pragmatic person who dislikes conflict and especially violence. He is the one who called for a Hamas truce with the Israeli government and an end to the violence that kills civilians. The statement you quoted is a political analysis of the situation in Palestine by Dr. Abu Marzook.
MEQ: Noting that the Hamas covenant (Article 32) cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and in two places26 calls for the killing of Jews, do you consider Hamas to be an antisemitic organization?
Yusuf: Every paper we have published by experts analyzing the Hamas movement has said there is no evidence Hamas is antisemitic or that its activities are directed toward Jews by virtue of their race or religion. Hamas policies are directed toward the Israeli occupation and are limited to Palestine.
MEQ: Did you participate in drafting the Hamas covenant?
Yusuf: It is strange that you would ask this question; I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. The answer is no.
MEQ: Have you written any communiqués issued by Hamas?
MEQ: Would you in principle be willing to do so?
Yusuf: Does every editor in chief of a Middle East journal write Hamas communiqués? If not, what would be my compelling interest? The answer is no.
TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
MEQ: Do you condemn those who claim to have acted on behalf of Islam in carrying out terrorism in the United States, including the Iranian government, which stood behind David Belfield's July 1980 murder of Ali Akbar Tabatabai; El-Sayyid Nossair who killed Meir Kahane in November 1990; Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and the five groups associated with him27 who bombed the World Trade Center in February 1993; and 'Ali Hasan Abu Kamal, the gunman atop the Empire State building in 1997 who, inspired by Hamas ideology, shot seven tourists, killing one?
Yusuf: All of the people that you have mentioned denied the charges against them. If you have quotes from these people to prove that they made these claims, I would like to see them.
In respect to the last tragic event, the 1997 murder and suicide committed by 'Ali Hasan Abu Kamal, the media never reported any link of his to Hamas, nor did the police report. There was also no mention of his being influenced by Hamas literature. And suicide, which is how Dr. Abu Kamal's family described his death, and which I believe the New York coroner's report confirmed, is against Islamic law.
MEQ: Is Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman—the blind Egyptian likely to spend the rest of his life in an American jail for masterminding a series of attempted bombings on New York landmarks following the World Trade Center explosion—a terrorist?
Yusuf: I don't know any details of the case against Sheikh Omar, nor have I seen the evidence or transcripts from the trial, nor do I know what evidence was used to convict him. I do know, based on reports aired by the mainstream American media, that there were some problems with the evidence presented by the prosecution against him having to do with the FBI lab. I also understand that there was some question about the reliability of the testimony given by FBI employees in support of the questionable evidence. Many observers believe the sheikh is a victim of a very sophisticated set-up.
MEQ: Do you believe he was guilty as charged, of "seditious conspiracy," meaning an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States?
Yusuf: I am not familiar with the details of the case and cannot make a judgment about this or give an opinion on it.
MEQ: The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in its annual report on "hate crimes" against Muslims has characterized the prosecution of Sheikh Abdel Rahman as a case of religious bias against Muslims.28 Do you agree with this characterization?
Yusuf: CAIR's representation is based on the way the case was publicized, not on the evidence, as only those actually in the courtroom heard the evidence, and I don't think anyone at CAIR followed the case that closely. Many Muslims believe that much of the media coverage of the sheikh and the whole World Trade Center incident was extremely biased and hateful.
MEQ: The Federal government introduced telephone records at the trials of the World Trade Center bombing and related plots showing toll records that your organization, the United Association for Studies and Research, was in telephone contact with Mohammed Saleh, a Yonkers gas station operator who was to supply fuel oil for the attempted bombings of the Manhattan bridges, tunnels and landmarks. Please explain this connection.
Yusuf: I have no knowledge that the person you have mentioned ever called the UASR office. However, UASR's telephone number is in every journal issue, every pamphlet, and every book we publish. We have no way of knowing every person that calls the institute. We do not record calls, and we do not keep a log.
MEQ: Did you personally speak on the telephone to Mohammed Saleh?
Yusuf: No, I have never spoken to the Mohammed Saleh to whom you are referring.
MEQ: Do you know who at UASR did?
Yusuf: I don't know that anyone did.
UNITED ASSOCIATION FOR STUDIES AND RESEARCH
MEQ: Please tell us about the United Association for Studies and Research: when was it founded, by whom, and for what purpose?
Yusuf: The United Association for Studies and Research was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1989. It was incorporated to establish an institute that conducts research on international Islamic movements, that publishes on this and related subjects, and that promotes dialogue and understanding among ideologically disparate groups. The work of UASR is geared towards building bridges between the Western and Muslim worlds. We make every effort honestly and accurately to reflect the conditions in the Muslim world, and to publish and provide a forum for Muslim writers and thinkers from the region who would not otherwise be published.
The UASR has opened a line of communication that can lead to understanding and peace by facilitating dialogue among groups and individuals who would otherwise not come together. Our publications have opened windows that were previously closed. This commitment to broadening the arena of international dialogue and debate on the future of the Muslim world has led many to form adverse opinions about UASR.
MEQ: As we understand it, the UASR was originally located in Worth, Illinois, where it was called the International Center for Research and Studies (ICRS). We would appreciate learning about the reasons for the change in location and name, as well as something about your role in ICRS.
Yusuf: ICRS is not now affiliated with UASR and never has been. It is an organization that once published a book that I wrote eleven years ago, prior to UASR being stablished.
MEQ: Can you tell us something about UASR's sources of funding, including the nature of the funds, if any, from foreign sources?
Yusuf: UASR's tax returns are filed annually with the IRS, and I believe that they are a matter of public record.
MEQ: Does UASR receive funding from other Islamic organizations, for example, the Muslim World League, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, or the SAAR Foundation?
Yusuf: UASR receives funding from journal subscribers, people who purchase its books, and from those who attend its events. We occasionally receive contributions from supporters, both individual and institutional, who understand the importance and validity of our work.
MEQ: UASR lists the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in its materials as a donor to UASR; does this mean you answer to WAMY?
MEQ: You wrote in a publication of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) about a 1983 trip you took to Peshawar, Pakistan, during which you personally transferred funds collected by the U.S.-based MAYA to 'Abdallah 'Azzam, a leader of the anti-Soviet jihad movement.29 We also note that MAYA has advertised in UASR publications. Could you explain to us the relationship between UASR and MAYA?
Yusuf: No formal relationship exists between UASR and MAYA. I was personally and individually a member of MAYA and one of the staff editors of the MAYA magazine. I traveled to Pakistan as a journalist with a delegation of other journalists who were covering the Afghan refugee crisis on the Pakistani border. MAYA had collected funds for the Afghan refugees and that money was legally delivered by one of its executive committee members.
It may come as a surprise, but there is no doubt that Muslims in America, through their support of the Afghans, made a significant contribution to the fall of communism and the end of the cold war. Some of this effort was conducted in collaboration with the American government, a collaboration in some circles referred to as the CIA jihad!
MEQ: In mailings to its subscribers, UASR has sent copies of pamphlets published by the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a Dallas-based Islamist group that former senior counter-terrorism official Oliver Revell has publicly called a "Hamas front."30 We would be grateful if you could tell us about the relationship between UASR and IAP. Specifically, do the two organizations engage in joint activities?
Yusuf: There is some cooperation between most of the mainstream Muslim and Arab organizations in the United States. This does not make us, contrary to what Steven Emerson has said, a "terrorist network." Our cooperation has stabilized the Muslim community in the United States and helped its members become good citizens and a prosperous population contributing to the good of this country. Muslim organizations have worked tirelessly to eliminate the alienation that affects immigrants to new countries, and to bring Muslims into the mainstream of American society. Without these organizations and the hard work of their employees, Muslims in America would lack many of the basic services they require, especially since immigration reform has left many immigrants without access to social services.
MEQ: Did Musa Abu Marzook have a role in the founding and operation of UASR?
Yusuf: Yes, he was one of the founders and served as president of UASR; that was four years prior to his association with Hamas. The purpose of UASR as set forth in its constitution and as I have explained here, confirms that Dr. Abu Marzook is not a radical, and that he desires simply to expose the truth about the occupation. The UASR today is the result of Dr. Abu Marzook's brilliance in his understanding of the importance and need for dialogue.
MEQ: In June 1991, UASR co-sponsored a conference (with the International Institute of Islamic Thought) that included Ramadan Abdullah Shallah as a speaker. Dr. Shallah at that time was head of the World Islam Study Enterprise (WISE) in Tampa, Florida; since November 1995, he has been in Damascus where he has led Islamic Jihad. Do you regret your association with Dr. Shallah?
MEQ: Do you still have ties to him?
Yusuf: There were never any "ties." Dr. Shallah was invited as a researcher to present a paper at an open and public conference, as were forty other scholars and researchers. The conference was sponsored by several groups, and I don't recall who recommended Dr. Shallah, though we were pleased with his presentation.
MEQ: What did he talk about?
Yusuf: From what I can recall, the title of his presentation was, "Challenges Facing the
MEQ: Do you condemn his present activities?
Yusuf: I have no way of specifically knowing what his present activities are.
MEQ: Sami Al-Arian, the founder of WISE and a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is under investigation by the FBI for his role in running Islamic Jihad from Tampa. Do you believe, as some Islamic groups have contended, that this investigation is merely an attempt to punish him for unpopular political views?
Yusuf: Until there is proof or reason to substantiate this investigation, we assume that Dr. Al-Arian is being targeted because of his political views and possibly because he is Palestinian.
A newspaper in southern Florida quotes the assistant U.S. attorney saying, "I can neither confirm or deny the existence of an investigation."31 It goes on to say that Dr. Al-Arian is being investigated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for immigration violations. According to the article, two years have passed and Dr. Al-Arian has yet to be charged with anything. There was an FBI and a U.S. Customs investigation on the INS charges, but to date no charges have been brought and his secret file contains only newspaper clippings!
1 Cairo: Dar ath-Thaqafa li'n-Nashr wa't-Tawzi', 1998.
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