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Wahhabis’ Terrorism: From Matarya to Boston

Forward:

I lived in Matarya, Cairo, Egypt from 1976 until I left the country in 2001, and I still carry some painful memories from that period of my life; but I lived in Boston, Massachusetts for one year (2003-2004) and oppositely I carry many happy memories from that city. Yet the common factor in both experiments is Wahhabis’ terrorism of which details are outlined below:

First: Matarya, Cairo: 2000-2001

In early 2000, the Forum of Ibn Khaldoun was at its peak of success and so was the Ibn Khaldoun Center. As the moderator, I held the Forum weekly and it openly discussed the difficult issues in Egypt where some of the brightest minds in Egypt and the Arab World participated.

The center also held monthly forums called the Diplomatic Club, where I invited national and foreign ambassadors, diplomats, and they were covered by an array of media and newspapers as well as representatives from some embassies.

The Ibn Khaldoun Forum was a place where minorities, like Egyptian Shias and Quranists, could speak freely. I was second in command to Dr. Saad Eldien Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s leading human rights and democracy advocates.  The audience also included some informants for the State Security Police.  Ibn Khaldoun Center’s activities reached its peak with two projects: Reforming the National Curriculum of Education, andTeaching Egyptians Their Democratic and Electoral Rights.

The forum was so influential that Mubarak had enough and decided to arrest some of the Quranists who attended the Forum in early 2000.   Subsequently, Saad Eldien Ibrahim and   other employees of the center were arrested in June 2000.   

Newspapers across Egypt announced the arrest of Dr. Ibrahim and me, although I was not arrested at that particular time, but was expected to be at any minute. A police car, from Almatarya Police Station was regularly parked in front of my house spying on my movements and waiting to arrest me once they got their orders to do so.

The State Security Police called my home more than once to investigate my whereabouts. I also learned that my fellow Quranists who had been arrested had also been tortured to admit that they deny Islam’s duties and that I am the one who had taught them to deny such Islamic rituals.

My life became miserable where I forced myself to research the Saudi opposition of Wahhabism to escape the fear of getting arrested.

I thought of a way out in recalling some of my past experiences:
   Nearly two years earlier (in 1999) I was invited to a conference in London about Wahhabi radicalism. I went and met with the organizer, Dr. Khalid Duran, and Canadian human rights lawyer, Alexander Epstein whom I reached out to.  Mr. Epstein recommended to me that I get a Canadian visa, but I already had the American visa with Khalid Duran’s help and invitation to attend a 2001 conference in NY discussing peace in the Middle East. The invitation covered travel and accommodation arrangements for the duration of the conference from October 19th to the 22nd, 2001.  

On the Sunday before, I was contacted by a fellow Quranist saying that he was interrogated by the State Security Police and he knows I was to be arrested on that Wednesday, now that they have the proper confessions. I made a booking to fly out of Egypt on Tuesday, the 16th of October 2001.

I was not relieved until the plane left Egypt’s air-space. I took a deep breath and cried.

Second: In America:

I met with Khalid Duran and Dr. Abdelghany Boshawar at the conference and asked them at the end: “Each one of you is going home now, what will I do with all my books and paper and handwritten work while I have no place to go?”

Dr. Khalid Duran, God bless him, connected me with Immigration lawyer Irving Spitzberg, where we met in Washington and agreed on all the details. I lived for a few days with Dr. Duran until Dr. Boshawar helped me to find a room for rent for three weeks with a few young North African immigrants. I also kept searching and posted an ad looking for a room in a nearby mosque- Dar Al Hijra. I quickly met an Egyptian and moved to live with him. I stayed with him for two years   until my wife and my youngest son, Monir, arrived in the US. The three of us moved together to Boston where I lived an important year of my life in the US.

During the early period in Washington DC, I faced two facts that challenged my inherited Egyptian culture:
     I was running away from the Wahhabi radicalization and Saudi influence that made my life in Egypt a living hell. Almatarya was a center for Wahhabis and still is. Four radical mosques around my apartment back in Matarya used to even curse me and their followers would walk outside my home to intimidate me. They enjoyed safety from the police and I had to suffer from both of them, not to mention the role played by the Saudi ambassador in pushing the Egyptian State Security Police to persecute the Quranists, as well as pushing his media Sheikhs and anchors to declare us infidels on national TV.  I escaped hell in Egypt and came to find it in the US. I was surprised to find it in the biggest mosque in Virginia, Dar Al Hijra, and I was also surprised to find it in Boston.
     Such a frightening fact was only paralleled by another unexpected fact that defied the culture upon which I was raised: hating Jews. I was surprised to learn that some of the noblest people I dealt with in the US were Jews because of how I was brainwashed in Egypt against the Jews.  I learned that one of the best humans I have ever met, Alexander Epstein, was Jewish. This noble man came from Toronto to Washington DC to meet me and he recommended me for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), where I received a three months fellowship, salary and health insurance. Back then I did not even have a bedroom and lived on a couch in the living room of my Egyptian friend with a weekly budget of seven dollars. This changed because of Alexander Epstein.

After working with NED, I was granted another fellowship at Harvard University to research how to reform education in Islamic schools in the US. The Scholars at Risk organization-- an organization that helps persecuted scientists and thinkers--granted me the fellowship. I was also surprised to learn at the conference they organized for hosting me that they were Jewish. I spoke to them about my persecution experience in Egypt and they were moved. Years later, I met some of them again and they still remembered what I said.

The biggest surprise came from my lawyer, Irving Spitzberg who is another one of the best humans I ever knew, along with his Catholic wife Virginia. I was truly amazed by their eagerness to help and their great humanitarian consciousness in how they helped me and others like me.  They both became like a family to me in the US and they continued to help me and my children after they arrived to the US after the official approval of my political asylum, when I petitioned to bring my wife and three minor children (Monir, Sameh, and Hossam) to join me. My wife and Monir (11 years at the time) arrived first. Hossam and Sameh were delayed for a few months and caught up with us in Boston.

It was a blessing from Allah (SWT) that Monir and my wife’s petition, as well as my one year Harvard fellowship were approved around the same time. I asked my wife to book her flight as soon as possible to DC. In one day, I travelled to Boston, started my new job, and rented an apartment in Boston with Dr. Marlene Tadros’ help - God bless her. I travelled back to DC to receive my wife and son, and we took the train from Washington to Boston, where we stayed for one year.

Third: In Boston:

The same surprises happened in Boston also. In the same room I worked at in Harvard, my coworker was a Jewish Israeli from Tel Aviv who also received a fellowship. We became friends quickly. Back then, I still did not have any furniture in the new apartment, so I asked him where I can buy used furniture, and he promised me to drop some furniture by. I told my wife, but she was very scared and asked “How could you give this Israeli our address? He will kill us, no doubt about it.”  I failed to convince her of his good intentions. When he arrived, she locked herself in the room. My friend came with another Jewish friend of his and they both carried the furniture up the stairs to the third floor where I lived. They refused my help and kept working until they put the furniture in place and left without even having a cup of tea. It was a good lesson for my wife and it changed her. Two years later, we hosted an Israeli lady at my apartment in Virginia, and my wife was happy to have her.

On the other side, there was another cruel surprise awaiting us in Boston. It is a city famous of being the American brain. It is socially liberal and has many great universities. I thought that the Muslim diaspora would be as open minded in Boston, unlike Virginia. But one day, something happened that I will never forget. I was walking in the city with my wife during sunset and I wanted to pray the Sunset prayer. I asked about a mosque, and I was told of the nearest mosque. I was excited to pray in a real mosque after years of being forced to pray in my home. I entered the mosque with more excitement. It was a small green mosque of two floors, where the ground level was for women, and that is where my wife went. I went up to the second level dedicated for men. Near the entrance, there was the washing station with a wide open room for people to wait. I looked around and noticed so many Arabic slogans and ads that are anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and call for Jihad against the West while glorifying many terrorists.

In a second, I glanced through my memories of persecution back in Matarya, Egypt by Wahhabism, the assassination attempts I suffered in their mosques, and I realized I am in real danger. The Wahhabi Imams know my face, as well as my name. I prayed quickly and went down and asked my wife to hurry up. As I was waiting, I overheard the religious lesson given to women at the mosque, which was filled with horrible Wahhabi radicalism. We left the mosque, never to return to that street again.

During the year I spent at Harvard, I applied for jobs in the Arabic/Islamic/Middle Eastern departments; there were plenty of jobs available, some of which were a perfect match with my expertise, like a lecturer in Islamic History or in Tafseer and Hadith. I met with some people of the hiring committee and I was informed that I would never be hired for those jobs because these are grants from the Gulf Wahhabis. Moreover, the Human Rights Program was adjacent to the Islamic Sharia Program that was established by King Fahd of Saudi, and I met the director of the program, who is a Middle East specialist who used to travel to Saudi Arabia a few times a year. One time, I met him and he had a Saudi guest who appeared to be a Saudi Security officer following up on how Harvard is spending the Saudi money. Despite attesting to my unique qualifications in the field, the program director apologized for not being able to write me a recommendation letter or to offer me a job.

Through funding, Wahhabism controlled the Arabic and Islamic departments at Harvard and other universities in the US. During my search for a university job, my suspicion of Wahhabi control over Arabic and Middle Eastern studies departments in American universities - in order to prohibit discussing Wahhabism - was confirmed.

So while Harvard’s Scholars at Risk was helping me, the Wahhabi influence was also following me in the US, despite escaping it in Egypt. I lost hope in finding a job in Boston and went back to Northern Virginia.

I established the International Quranic Center with Irving Spitzberg’s help, and our Ahl Al Quran site in its Arabic and English sections:

http://www.ahl-alquran.com/arabic/index.php

http://www.ahl-alquran.com/English/main.php

I then received an email from one of the community leaders in Boston, Charles Jacob. I later learned that he is a human rights advocate, fighting slavery in Africa and defending persecuted Muslimsin Darfur, and that he is a noble Jew too. He mentioned how the Wahhabis secured a prime real estate land in Boston through the Mayor and the Governor and that they are about to build the biggest Wahhabi mosque in the East Coast.  In order to face such Wahhabi trend, Jacob and other community leaders decided to establish the Citizens for Peace and Tolerance Organization, which is led by three directors: A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim. They asked me to be the Muslim director, and I was happy to join.

After the grand announcement of opening the mosque in Boston, Fox news aired reportage about the mosque and discovered that the radical Sheikh, Al Qaradawy, is one of the board members of the mosque. They also discovered that one of the main mosque organizers was sentenced to jail for terrorism activities.  Some of these leaders were also later arrested and sentenced to jail on terrorism charges. Fox channel put the mosque under the spot light, and many media outlets reached out for my opinion. I repeatedly said that I am not against building a mosque or those who are building it, but rather I am against Wahhabism that they espouse and see it as a danger to Islam and the US. I told the story about the small mosque in Boston and what I read in it. I also asked the mosque to be open for All Muslims (Shias, Sunnis, Sufis, Ahmedis, and Quranists) in order to represent the Islamic tolerance and the American notion of religious freedom.

The campaign succeeded in raising the awareness so much that the mosque officials sued me on basis of defamation. They also sued Fox news and other people from Boston. We appointed a lawyer, and in the first meeting I asked a question that bothered me a lot then: will I be imprisoned if they win? It would be a tough position to be in, especially for a thinker like me who was in jail once already, and knows from experience that while one might leave jail later, jail will never leave him/her, even if this is an American prison. The lawyer assured me that this is a civil case, and if I lose, there would be a financial retribution, not a jail time. I thought of an Egyptian proverb “The wind cannot take much from tiles!”

I was accused by the plaintiff of receiving money from the Citizens for Peace and Tolerance for participating in the campaign, which the plaintiff presented as totally wrong, and our lawyer requested to present all our legal documents in exchange for their legal documents, which would expose their funding sources. Only then, the plaintiff decided to drop the case.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the girlfriend of one of the suspects said that he was a normal young man until he started going to the Boston mosque. This reminds me of a crime that happened in 2003 that was reported by American newspapers and by the Saudi newspaper “Middle East,” that is based in London. Two Moroccan young men were living together in California, one Muslim and one Jewish. The Muslim guy started going to a Wahhabi mosque, and eventually killed his Jewish friend in the name of Jihad.

In Conclusion:                                                    

When I remember my suffering in Matarya, I fear for Boston.

Back in Matarya, Wahhabi Salafists had no problems with the State Security and both agreed on persecuting me. Matarya is currently a war zone of terrorism, and there are ongoing battles with the security forces after ousting Morsi.  

Salafis in Boston could not scare me except through the case that they dropped, but they continue spreading Wahhabism in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, nobody from the administration is paying attention to this threat.

I said in Egypt and in the US that the only peaceful way to confront Wahhabi terrorism is through ideological war from within Islam, just like the Quranists do. This is not allowed in Egypt because of the strong Saudi influence. This is also difficult in the US because of the Saudi funding.

I still fear for my beloved Boston, may Allah keep it and its people safe.


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