STATEMENT OF IMAM AL-HAJJ TALIB ‘ABDUR-RASHID REGARDING JUNE 15, 2011 HEARING

June 16, 2011
THE MAJLIS ASH-SHURA OF METROPOLITAN NEW YORK
Islamic Leadership Council
P.O. Box 170647, Jamaica, NY 11417
Tel: 718-848-8952 Fax: 718-848-8955
http://www.nymajlis.org/

12 Rajab 1432 A.H.
June 14, 2011 C.E.

The Honorable Peter King
U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security
339 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515


STATEMENT OF IMAM AL-HAJJ TALIB ‘ABDUR-RASHID REGARDING JUNE 15, 2011 HEARING

Dear Chairman King:

I , Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid , have been a Muslim Chaplain in New York prisons since 1977. I am the Vice-President of the Muslim Alliance in North America, President of the Islamic Leadership Council of NY, and the imam of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, located in New York City. As such, I speak on behalf of their respective constituencies. I am writing with respect to the Committee on Homeland Security’s June 15, 2011 hearing entitled, “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons.” In particular, I am addressing the many inaccuracies found in the written submitted testimony of witness Patrick Dunleavy. I do so in the spirit of truth, and in order to correct the public record on his assertions.

Under your leadership, The House Committee on Homeland Security has chosen, as have others bodies before it, to examine the validity of claims of radicalization of Muslims in American prisons. Most expert testimony in similar hearings has identified rare and isolated examples of these phenomena – usually associated with street gangs – as in the classic case of Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheed (the Assembly of Authentic Islam) or JIS, in New Folsom Prison, in California. The same experts have cited no evidence of broad, community-wide patterns of such criminal behavior cloaked in Islamic garb in the prisons, but all have warned of the possibility of it occurring without certain precaution

The same can be said of the testimony of Patrick Dunleavy, Deputy Inspector General (Ret.) of the New York State Department of Correctional Services. His submitted testimony is typical of individuals in the post- 9-11 world who are or have been brought before the public in various venues, declaring expert knowledge of Islam and Muslims at home and abroad, but whose assertions belie the authenticity of their claimed expertise. Mr. Dunleavy is not an expert on Islam, Muslims, or the much-discussed idea of "radicalization," and yet he has submitted testimony which contains a number of fallacious statements worthy of rigorous critique.

The numerous inaccuracies therein are particularly alarming when one considers that Mr. Dunleavy was once a Deputy Inspector General for the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the NYS Dept. of Correctons. His claim to awareness of “individuals and groups that subscribe to radical, and sometimes violent, ideology that have made sustained efforts over several decades to target inmates for indoctrination” and post‐release radicalization programs, is both self-serving and self aggrandizing. He is the author of a forth-coming book on the subject.

With regards to his testimonial inaccuracies, Dunleavy began his exposition on the Darul-Islam Movement[1] by referring to “a little known mosque in Brooklyn, New York, called Dawood” as home of the movement. The name of the mosque he is referring to is Yasin Mosque –not Masjid Dawud or the Islamic Mission of America. By the time of the birth of the Dar Ul Islam Movement in 1962, Masjid Dawud was hardly “little known”. It is the oldest mosque in New York City. The origins of the Darul-Islam Movement in Yasin Mosque have been well written about, and Mr. Dunleavy’s error in this most basic fact is flagrant.

Continuing, Mr. Dunleavy mis-identifies Imam Warith Deen Umar as a former “head of Ministerial Services for the NYS Dept. of Corrections”. The Imam was never that. He was a Ministerial Program Coordinator for Muslim Chaplains, answerable to the Commissioner of Ministerial Services. Dunleavy further says that Imam Umar was one of ” …two of the first converts to Dar‐Ul Islam who later became the head of Ministerial Services for the New York State”. This is totally inaccurate and false. Imam Umar’s background is a matter of public record and he has never been a member of the Darul-Islam Movement.

The other Imam whom Dunleavy refers to as one” …of the first converts to Dar‐Ul Islam” is Jamil Al Amin, (the former H. Rap Brown). This too is inaccurate. The Darul-Islam movement and other Sunni Muslim organizations and congregations like The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, had been doing prison ministry work for years before Al-Amin came to learn about Islam. Undoubtedly, Dunleavy’s mention of Imam Al-Amin as being hailed by El-Qaida is intended to bring shock value to his testimony.

One of the known tactics used by El-Qaida, a bonafide terrorist organization, is to use the name of African American activists and freedom fighters as a means for establishing a spurious solidarity with African American Muslims –who are the largest single group of indigenous Americans who have accepted Islam. A couple of years ago they did the same thing by invoking the name of Malcolm X, and their transparent tactics were roundly criticized and rejected throughout the nation by Muslims themselves[2].

Mr. Dunleavy conflates Muslim belief according to the Sunni order of Islamic orthodoxy with Salafi interpretations of the same in his use of the term “Sunni/Salafist ideology”, identifying it as “…the dominant force in the prison mosques”. This conflagration misrepresents the nature of Islam as a religion and body of law, as opposed to derived interpretations of Islamic doctrine.As noted by the Pew Research Center, “An overwhelming majority of Muslims are Sunnis…” [3] Thus it is only logical and natural that the majority of Muslim prisoners in America would share belief and practice with the mainstream global body of Muslims.

In her April 5 , 2007 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, Janice Fedarcyk, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, Los Angeles Field Office, stated with regards to “Islamic Radicalization” – “ Ideologies that radicalized inmates appear most often to embrace include the Salafi form of Sunni Islam (including revisionist versions commonly known as ‘prison Islam’) and an extremist view of Shia Islam similar to that of the Government of Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah”.[4]. While her characterizations are in need of elucidation, it is clear that a “form” of a faith is not the mainstream expression of it

Mr. Dunleavy’s description of Muslims of Middle Eastern background arrested for crimes of fraud and violence, and incarcerated in New York prisons as “…inspiring deference from theMuslim inmates and the Muslim chaplains” is presented without evidence. This writer was the Muslim Chaplain at Sing-Sing prison from 1986 -1997 and this certainly was not the case there.

Dunleavy describes these prisoners as having access to the telephones of Muslim Chaplains for whom some of them worked, (hinting that convicted Muslim criminals working for Muslim Chaplains is suspicious, singling out the Muslims when obviously he wouldn’t say that about Christian or Jewish prisoners working for their chaplains) and claims this gave them “…the ability to call anywhere in the world without the call being subject to monitoring by prison security personnel”. Where did Investigator Dunleavy get this false information from?

Prison telephones in most chaplains’ offices are not wired for direct dialing. They go through a switch board where operators monitor all calls, who is making them, and to where, and calls cannot be made out of state, much less out of the country. In those facilities where there is direct dialing, not only calls monitored, but any call made from any chaplain's offices can be traced. The phone calls are all attached to codes. Each chaplain has their own code, thus when calls are made it can easily be determined who made the calls or at least where the calls were made from. Therefore a record exists of all calls. These are effective security measures designed to prevent telephone abuse of any kind, for any reason, in the prison system. One would think that Mr. Dunleavy would know that. Then again he worked in an office in Albany, NY – not in a prison

Mr. Dunleavy does cite his source of information for his claim that “In 1999, two years prior to 9/11, several law enforcement agencies received information regarding radical Islamist activity in the prison system”, as informants –who are not always a reliable source of information, in prison or out.

He further mentions the men convicted in the 2009 Riverdale Synagogue Bombing plot – those dubbed “the Newburgh Four”; James Cromitie, Laguerre Payen, David Williams, and Onta Williams. Contrary to Dunleavy’s claim that the men were radicalized in prison, trial testimony cited no evidence of prison radicalization of them as Muslims. The Former New York State Dept. of Corrections employee states correctly that the four men apparently did not know each other while they were incarcerated, and that they met each other after their release. His assertion however that they “…met while attending a local mosque connected to a prison ministry” is false.

As reported extensively in the media, the men met because they all lived in the poor Black section of Newburgh, and had engaged in petty crimes. Imam Salahuddin Muhammad - the Imam of Masjid Al-Ikhlas - the mosque referred to by Mr. Dunleavy, has attested to the fact that while one of the men (Cromite, the alleged recruiter of the others ) had occasionally attended the mosque, that he was not a regular worshipper there and that the others scarcely worship there – if at all. The Imam has a law suit in against Mr. Dunleavy for the careless, sensationalist reporting that he has displayed in his testimony.

Dunleavy mentions controversial statements attributed to Imam Warith Deen Umar, the former Muslim Ministerial Program Coordinator for the New York State Department of Correctional Services. He mentions that the comments were made to a Wall Street Journal reporter, but does not mention that the comments were made after Umar had retired from correctional service, and that in his 25 year career no such inflammatory statements were made by him in the prison setting where he worked and trained others in ministerial work. He retired with recognition of the excellence of his work.

Dunleavy’s claim that “…to date, no Islamic organization has been appointed to fulfill the role of a verifiable ecclesiastical body that would certify Islamic clergy in the prisons of New York prior to hiring”, and that “there been any formal determination as to how a vetting process would take place, or what the standards of vetting would be” are less than truthful.

He mentions The Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of New York as one such certifying body. However he seems to question the judgment of a body that would certify formerly incarcerated persons like Zulqarnain Abdu Shahid, who began working for the city of New York as a Muslim Chaplain in 1997 - a decade after his release from prison and demonstrated productivity in society.

Does Mr. Dunleavy know that Imam Abdu Shahid earned a double Master’s degree after his release from prison, and worked as a counselor for former addicts and homeless men? When convicted men and women dedicate themselves to God and use their faith as an anchor for reformation of their souls and their lives, they often return to prison as volunteers and sometimes Chaplains, to help others. Perhaps Mr. Dunleavy does not believe in redemption. Like the the Muslim Alliance in North America, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York does. Unlike Mr. Dunleavy, we are not only interested in Abdu Shahid’s criminal past.

The “expert” selected by you has related in his testimony a sensationalist tabloid account of Abdu Shahid’s 2010 arrest at his place of employment, the Manhattan House of Detention, in New York City, where he was Senior Chaplain and performed his duties in excellent fashion. Abdu Shahid, as Dunleavy relates, was arrested one day for allegedly “…attempting to smuggle dangerous contraband” (which were not box cutters by the way) into the facility.

Dunleavy does not mention that on two separate occasions a subsequently convened New York Grand Jury refused to indict Imam Abdu Shahid, and that the case was eventually thrown out of court. This is why the former Muslim Chaplain applied for reinstatement, and even now is in arbitration. How is it that Mr. Dunleavy, an investigative expert witness, is unaware of these facts?

Mr. Dunleavy’s description of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York as consisting of “…several Islamic clergymen with mosques in the greater New York area” is correct, as is his depiction of some of them as leaders the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA). This writer is one of them. Somehow though he implies that the controversial shooting in Detroit, Michigan of MANA member Imam Luqman Abdullah[5], and the organization’s continued support of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, render the Muslim Alliance in North America, and by extension The Islamic Leadership Council of New York, unsuitable as a source of ecclesiastic endorsement.

This logic of guilt by association is problematic at best. In America there are all matter of political beliefs and perspectives and people are entitled to them. Within the context of Correctional systems, what matters is whether or not those beliefs are propagated within prison walls. “ The record of both the Majlis Ash-Shura of NY and MANA is spotless in that regard, and the honorable efforts of the Majlis in New York , and MANA across the country, in providing advocacy for the poor, and working for social upliftment, human reclamation and social justice, are noteworthy for their excellent contributions to American society. This is known by some members of Congress –even as it is unfortunately completely unknown to others.

Mr. Dunleavy’s claim that “there is certainly no vetting of volunteers who provide religious instruction, and who, although not paid, wield considerable influence in the prison Muslim communities” is again, false. The New York State Department of Corrections not only screens prison correspondence. Its Muslim Chaplains, who are themselves screened and vetted as are all religious workers and volunteers, monitor the inmate ranks for all instances of extremism- religious, political, or otherwise. They also preach against all forms of criminality – not just terrorism, and with good results. Several months ago, when mail of an extremist nature directed towards Muslim inmates slipped into an upstate prison from the outside , the prisoners themselves brought the literature to the Muslim Chaplain, who promptly reported it to officials.

Mr. Dunleavy’s final recommendations for initiatives for the prevention of the radicalization of Muslim inmates are not in and of themselves unusual, and they should be examined within the context of other such recommendations made throughout the years by different groups and authentic experts. The problem is not Mr. Dunleavy’s recommendations, it is the inaccuracy of his facts and analysis, which do not help those sincerely concerned committee members to understand the problem, and make informed decisions about its solutions.

Yes, there are, in various parts of the country, Muslim criminals who have recruited other Muslims in prison and out, for the continuation of criminal careers or activity, by any name. That should come as a surprise to no one because it is what criminals do. Recidivism is a reality within the American prison system, regardless of faith or none. However no religion is to be blamed for those who fail to save their souls through reformation of their character and lives. Muslim prisoners commit crimes in spite of Islam, not because of it.

A thorough congressional investigation should inquire of experienced and knowledgeable prison officials, experienced Muslim Chaplains, and representatives of the thousands of Muslim formerly incarcerated persons who have been truly reformed as the result of their embrace of an authentic world religion. Better still – why not ask their families and neighbors? This would give a more accurate picture of the problem and its solution, than political theatrics.

Respectfully,

Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid
Amir/President
The Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of NY

Cc: All Shura members, MA, MANA

Executive Committee: Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, President; Dr. Mohammad Yousufuddin, 1st VP; Dr. Khurshid Khan, 2nd VP; Dr. AbdelHafid Djemil, General Secretary; Imam Abdul Azeem Khan, Treasurer; Br. Naji Almontaser, Member; Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Member

Footnotes

[1] “ The Darul-Islam Movement (1962-1983) has been described variously as a “distinctly Muslim American Movement” seeking to “define the ‘middle course” for wholesome Islamic practice in America”, “…the main and the largest indigenous Sunni organization in America”, and “…the most influential African American Islamic Philosophy”. See African American Islam by Aminah Beverly McCloud, 1995, Routledge The Muslims of America edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, 1991 ,Oxford University Press, and The Dar Ul Islam Movement: An American Odyssey Revisited by Sh. Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim Al Amreeki, 2010 Jummah Productions

[2] See “U.S. Muslim Leaders Denounce Al-Qaeda’s Slur Towards Obama”, http://articles.cnn.com/2008-11-21/us/obama.muslim.remark_1_qaeda-zawahiri-house-slaves?_s=PM:US, and “ Imam Johari Abdul-Malik and Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid on Zawahari’s Statements on Obama” http://muslimmatters.org/2008/11/22/imam-johari-malik-imam-talib-abdur-rashid-on-zawaharis-statements-on-obama/

[3] Mapping the Global Muslim Population, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 2009

[4] http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/testimony/277.pdf

[5] See NAACP Supports Investigation into the Shooting Death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah ,official resolution, http://naacp.3cdn.net/7851ace3b51fdeba1b_ram6bnfu6.pdf

Posted with the permission of the author. Read the author's blog here.
 

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