KISSIMMEE — Some anti-hate groups are outraged that a Saudi cleric who called on God to “terminate” the Jews and urged Muslims to shun peace with Israel is the invited keynote speaker at an Islamic conference scheduled this month in Osceola County.
CAIR’s affinity for terrorist causes is well documented in the press. At a 1994 meeting at Barry University, Nihad Awad stated succinctly, “I am a supporter of the Hamas movement.” Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper has defended Saudi Arabia’s financial aid to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
– A Bad Day for CAIR, By Evan McCormick, FrontPageMagazine.com, September 24, 2003
A newly formed group, the Universal Heritage Foundation, is sponsoring the conference and an appearance by Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais. Foundation leaders say the conference could bring thousands of people to 31 acres on U.S. Highway 192 near Florida’s Turnpike, site of a former culinary school that most recently housed a homeless shelter.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah, chairman and chief executive officer of the foundation and former president of the Islamic Circle of North America, envisions a home base in Florida’s tourist corridor that would attract Islamic scholars and promote tolerance among religious groups. Some anti-hate groups, however, fear Shah may be inviting radicals to Central Florida who will stir up prejudice and divisiveness.
“It raises questions and concerns for us about what the ultimate goal and message of the Universal Heritage Foundation is,” said Mark Medin, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The message may not be of tolerance and respect. It may be a message of intolerance and antisemitism.”
Medin said several of the more than two dozen announced speakers have links to groups that have preached hatred. The list of speakers also raised eyebrows with some terrorism experts.
Shah said his motives are pure. He also said he wasn’t aware that the man invited to be the keynote speaker, Al-Sudais, was quoted in various newspapers in April 2002 as calling Jews “the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, the killers of prophets and the grandsons of monkeys and pigs.”
Message of peace
Al-Sudais is senior imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In contrast with his previous incendiary comments, Al-Sudais spoke in Lancashire, England, in October where he preached peaceful coexistence with neighbors and respect for the law before 8,000 people at one mosque and 4,000 at another, according to published reports.
A promotional flier says Al-Sudais was invited to the Osceola conference along with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who ran for president in 2000 under the Green Party banner. Nader representatives said he does not plan to attend. Shah said Tuesday he isn’t sure whether Al-Sudais would attend, either. If he does, Shah said Al-Sudais would be required to conform to the theme of the conference, “Islam for Humanity.”
“We do not allow anybody to say anything inappropriate,” Shah said. “We’re trying to do something good.”
Rita Katz, who heads a nonprofit anti-terrorism research center in Washington, D.C., said American Muslim leaders should not invite individuals like Al-Sudais, who are “virulently intolerant of the West and other religions.”
“He’s incredibly antisemitic, and widely publicized as so,” said Katz, who heads the SITE Institute. “Post 9-11, why are they seeking someone so radical?” she asked, noting that Al-Sudais represents the conservative Saudi Wahabi sect of Islam.
Joe Kaufman, president of a South Florida group called Americans Against Hate, said Al-Sudais should be denied entry into the United States because of his antisemetic remarks, which were broadcast on Arabic TV and radio.
“The biggest fear is that the group this person will be speaking to is largely a who’s who of the most radical figures in our country from the most radical organizations in our country,” Kaufman said. “This could spark a violent act.”
No federal or state agency said it plans to prevent Al-Sudais from entering the country.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced Kaufman as an advocate of a radical Jewish group. Kaufman fired back that the council is connected to Palestinian militants. Both sides deny the accusations.
Altaf Ali, Florida director of the council, said Al-Sudais and the other speakers are highly respected and that it has been “open season” on Muslims since the 9-11 attacks.
‘Guilty by association’
“I personally have never heard any of these individuals say anything hateful,” Ali said. “Anybody associated with a mosque is immediately [considered] a terrorist suspect. We are being found guilty by association.”
In addition to Al-Sudais, the announced speakers include:
Imam Siraj Wahhaj, an “unindicted person who may be alleged as (a) conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, according to former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White. His Masjid al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y., hosted the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in a conspiracy to bomb the Holland and Lincoln tunnels in New York. Wahhaj testified as a character witness for Rahman. Wahhaj, whom his supporters say is “mainstream,” has made numerous anti-American statements.
Imam Maulana Shafayat Muhammad, principal of the Darul Uloom Institute & Islamic Training Center in Pembroke Pines. Dirty-bomb suspect José Padilla attended his mosque. Padilla, Brooklyn-born Muslim convert, is accused of plotting with al-Qaeda to explode a bomb containing radioactive materials in the United States.
Muzzamal Siddiqui, who has spoken at pro-Hezbollah rallies, supported the creation of an Islamic state in the United States and praised martyrdom for the Islamic cause, according to the SITE Institute. In spite of his statements, Siddiqui has been a guest at the White House, and he spoke at Washington National Cathedral post 9-11.
Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America and former director of academic outreach at the International Institute of Islamic Thought. Federal agencies raided the institute last year on suspicion of funneling money to suicide bombers.
Areej Zufari, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said attempted censure of the speakers is un-American.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez and Willoughby Mariano of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.