Infiltration Watch: Who Is Teaching Whom About Islam?

Apologists for extremism lead an effort in education about Islam.
A California nonprofit dedicated to “teaching about Islam & Muslims” at U.S. high schools and college campuses features a board of advisors that is stacked with some of the most controversial activist professors in the field of Middle Eastern studies today. The imprimatur of these scholars may signal a troubling shift toward the support of proselytizing efforts and the further unraveling of Middle East Studies in America.  

The board of Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a veritable Who’s Who of Islamist apologists and activists. Leading the list is John Esposito, the founding director of the Saudi-funded Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He famously stated that the suicide-bombing Hamas organization engages in “honey, cheese-making, and home-based clothing manufacture.”

Joining Esposito on the ING board is Sherman Jackson of the University of Michigan, who was a trustee at the North American Islamic Trust and worked with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), both un-indicted co-conspirators in the U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation.

ingridmattsonToo easy: wrap a towel ’round your head and …Bingo: you’re a member of another ‘race’- now shut up, you Islamophobe, you!

There’s also Ingrid Mattson, a convert to Islam, who is a professor at the Hartford Seminary and president of the un-indicted co-conspirator ISNA. While much of her work is controversial, she is famous for a CNN chatroom interview in 2001 in which she stated that the radical Saudi Wahhabi ideology is “a reform movement” that “really was analogous to the European Protestant reformation.”

Hamza Yusuf Hanson, who is not a scholar but sits on the ING board, publicly declared his own extremism at an ISNA convention. In 1991, he reportedly delivered a speech titled “Jihad is the Only Way” to the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which is an arm of the radical organization Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan.

While Maha El-Genaidi, the founder, president and CEO of ING, does not appear openly to embrace radicalism, she reportedly has worked with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), also an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case. El-Genaidi also participated in an event sponsored by the Muslim Students Association with Siraj Wahhaj, an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

ING’s reach is wide. Its web site lists more than a dozen affiliated organizations in North America. They reflect a broad network involved in Islamic outreach (da’wa), otherwise known as proselytizing.

The list of ING affiliates includes such Muslim outreach organizations as: The Islamic Speakers Bureau of Nebraska; the Islamic Resource Group in Minnesota; the Islamic Education and Resource Network in Michigan;the Islamic Center of Cincinnati; the Organization of Islamic Speakers Midwest Illinois; the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta; the Kentucky Islamic Resource Group; the Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego; and theIslamic Speakers Bureau of Vancouver.

Because ING charges nothing for its campus speeches, hosts aren’t deterred by financial needs. Thus, with a modest 2007 budget of $356,000, the latest figure available via public tax returns, ING made an astonishing 750 classroom visits in one year, a figure that doesn’t include visits to churches, senior centers, corporations, and forums for policemen and healthcare workers. According to a recent ING newsletter, the group reached 14,000 students and adults after public schools and universities responded to a large-scale ING direct mail campaign.

ING also disseminates its message through the printed word. Access to the ING online store is now denied for reasons unknown, but a few of the organization’s publications are available on the Internet. Among them is Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture by Jack Sheehan, a former communications professor at Southern Illinois University who was also a visiting professor at Esposito’s Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. Another title is Presenting Ramadan and Eid in Elementary School: Grades K-6 Kit for Parents and Teachers, designed to generate excitement about these Muslim holy days through art, music, and “lunar activities.”

ING also appears to have created a curriculum about Islam for grades 7 through 12. It also appears that the State of California, at least at one point, used ING curriculum. However, the ING links on the California Department of Education website are now dead.

There is nothing even vaguely radical on the ING website. The organization’s behavior appears to be consistent with its message of pluralism. One might only observe that the organization attempts to whitewash the radical strains of the religion (a common theme in the work of Esposito and Mattson).

Without challenging ING’s freedom to preach, two important observations should be made.

First, it is now clear that some Middle Eastern Studies professors have ceased being observers of Islam and are now engaging in its propagation. Countless analysts have noted that Middle Eastern Studies professors substitute scholarship with apologia for radicalism. Still others openly agitate against the United States or Israel. However, it is rare to see scholars openly lend their support to proselytizing efforts of this kind.

It is too early to know whether the scholars on the ING board represent an anomaly or a trend. The motivations of Mattson and Sherman – both converts to Islam – are somewhat understandable. Esposito, a non-Muslim, is more of a mystery.

On a more practical level, elementary school, high school, or college administrators mulling a free visit from El-Genaidi’s group should be forewarned about the academic engine that powers ING. ING’s leading thinkers have a history of cavorting with apologists for radicalism-and the radicals themselves.



Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, is Director of Policy for the Jewish Policy Center and author of Al-Qaeda’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror.

12 thoughts on “Infiltration Watch: Who Is Teaching Whom About Islam?”

  1. People really shouldn’t try to write a book before learning to write the alphabets. This article is so outrageous I feel sorry for the Jewish Policy Center. I’ll give just one reason why this article is preposterous. The author thinks, for no apparent reason, that Hamza Yusuf is not a scholar. And the reason for which he thinks he is a ‘radical’ because Daniel Pipes devised a test to determine if a Muslim is radical or not. Hamza Yusuf said he failed the test. How on earth that proves anything? I can put together 5 questions and make it a test to determine if someone is a good American. The very idea would be disgusting because I’m not an American to start with and because I’m claiming that an American is not a good American if they don’t pass my test.

    This article is atrocious and the writer need to familiar himself with something called ‘open mindedness’.

  2. Oh.. its a troll site. I wasted my time. Sorry people, I wouldn’t have commented if I had seen your contents before. hee hee. keep up the good work. Good luck on the day of judgment.

  3. Pipes did not develop a test to determine if a muslim has been radicalised – this claim appears to be an “out of context” quote by Hamza Yusuf. However this is not relevent – the main concern of the author is related to the makeup of the ING and the possible directions ING future policy may take- as implied by the second last paragraph of article.

  4. Hey Dude if you adhere to the teachings of the Koran then there is no need for Mr Pipes test. The crazy zealot is seen as a pious Muslim, now run along back to your maddrassa and have a good old rock and chant session.

  5. That is relevant Kaw. If we accept the standard by which the writer is judging these Muslims and organizations then he might as well just write that ING is a terrorist organization/has sympathy for terrorists because he thinks so. The message the author is conveying is that its not enough anymore to just say that we want peace and acting according to it. An organization/person can only be regarded as peaceful if certain people think so.

  6. Hello all
    I don’t think he has judged but he raises a concern and the question is left open for the future to decide. His concerns are valid since they consider the possibly indoctrination of our kids by radical islamists, For me this would not be a healthy situation. Sheik, thank you for the link to the Pipes document. Having read it I do not feel that Pipes has proposed a test, rather he has specified several areas which might yield a useful test or method to quantify if one is a radical. But this is still an empirical and inexact science at best.
    Best regards to all


  7. Kaw, the writing is too condescending to give an impression of any real concern. The tone is judgmental. And saying Hamza Yusuf is not a scholar is so absurd it’s not even laughable. Listen to some of his public talks; they are on youtube. I appreciate your sincere reply though.

  8. Saqib,
    Others will not consider that the tone is condescending. However, the central message should remain intact regardless of whether you feel the article is condescending or not. I also do not consider Hamza a scholar however this is not the key point. The concern is the infiltration of an islamist agenda into the mainstream education system and that, in my opinion, should be stopped.

  9. It is an absolutely legitimate position for anyone to have an opinion on someone’s expertise or scholarship. But you can not just pass that kind of judgment on someone without demonstrating any justification for the opinion; particularly if this is in an article that is supposed to neutrally analyze a situation. I do understand this is not the point of the article, but as I said before this is one of the many things that seriously damaged it’s credibility.

  10. What is said is that the man is not a scholar. He has degrees in nursing and religious studies – this does not necessarily make him a scholar. First you have to define what you mean by the term scholar. Neither you nor the author have done this. The article is a comment – one persons view! It is not intended as an academic review, nor is it intended for publication in a reviewed journal. It is sufficient for its intended purpose. You are free to disagree. As regards its credibility, cross referencing validate mosts of the authors numbers. I consider the issue regarding Hamza as irrelevant at best within the intended scope of the article. For your main contention to be argued, both you and the author need to define what you respectively understand to be a scholar and you also need to bring to the table what other points you feel to have been incorrectly or inappropriately stated, . When you have both openly declared your definitions and listed the other contentious points I will rejoin the debate.

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