9/19/2004, "A rare look at secretive Brotherhood in America," Chicago Tribune, Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Sam Roe and Laurie Cohen, Tribune staff reporters
"Over the last 40 years [since 1960s], small groups of devout Muslim men have gathered in homes in U.S. cities to pray, memorize the Koran and discuss events of the day.
But they also addressed their ultimate goal, one so controversial that it is a key reason they have operated in secrecy: to create Muslim states overseas and, they hope, someday in America as well.
These men are part of an underground U.S. chapter of the international Muslim Brotherhood, the world's most influential Islamic fundamentalist group and an organization with a violent past in the Middle East. But fearing persecution, they rarely identify themselves as Brotherhood members and have operated largely behind the scenes, unbeknown even to many Muslims.
Still, the U.S. Brotherhood has had a significant and ongoing impact on Islam in America, helping establish mosques, Islamic schools, summer youth camps and prominent Muslim organizations. It is a major factor, Islamic scholars say, in why many Muslim institutions in the nation have become more conservative in recent decades....
In recent years, the U.S. (Muslim) Brotherhood operated under the name Muslim American Society, according to documents and interviews. One of the nation's major Islamic groups, it was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 after a contentious debate among Brotherhood members.
Some wanted the Brotherhood to remain underground, while others thought a more public face would make the group more influential. Members from across the country drove to regional meeting sites to discuss the issue.
Former member Mustafa Saied recalls how he gathered with 40 others at a Days Inn on the Alabama-Tennessee border. Many members, he says, preferred secrecy, particularly in case U.S. authorities cracked down on Hamas supporters, including many Brotherhood members....
When the leaders voted, it was decided that Brotherhood members would call themselves the Muslim American Society, or MAS, according to documents and interviews.
They agreed not to refer to themselves as the Brotherhood but to be more publicly active. They eventually created a Web site and for the first time invited the public to some conferences, which also were used to raise money....An undated internal memo instructed MAS leaders on how to deal with inquiries about the new organization. If asked, "Are you the Muslim Brothers?" leaders should respond that they are an independent group called the Muslim American Society. "It is a self-explanatory name that does not need further explanation."
And if the topic of terrorism were raised, leaders were told to say that they were against terrorism but that jihad was among a Muslim's "divine legal rights" to be used to defend himself and his people and to spread Islam.
But MAS leaders say those documents and others obtained by the Tribune are either outdated or do not accurately reflect the views of the group's leaders.
MAS describes itself as a "charitable, religious, social, cultural and educational not-for-profit organization." It has headquarters in Alexandria, Va., and 53 chapters nationwide, including one in Bridgeview, across the street from the mosque there....
MAS collected $2.8 million in dues and donations in 2003--more than 10 times the amount in 1997, according to Internal Revenue Service filings.
Spending often is aimed at schools, teachers and children, the filings show. The group has conducted teacher training programs, issued curriculum guides and established youth centers. It also set up Islamic American University, largely a correspondence school with an office in suburban Detroit, to train teachers and preachers.
Until 18 months ago, the university's chairman was Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent cleric in Qatar and a spiritual figure of the Brotherhood who has angered many in the West by praising suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq. The U.S. government has barred him from entering the country since late 1999. He says that action was taken after he praised Palestinian militants.
In the Chicago area, MAS has sponsored summer camps for teenagers. Shahzeen Karim, 19, says a camp in Bridgeview inspired her to resume covering her hair in the Islamic tradition.
"We were praying five times a day," Karim says. "It was like a proper Islamic environment. It brought me back to Islam."
At a summer camp last year in Wisconsin run by the Chicago chapter of MAS, teens received a 2-inch-thick packet of material that included a discussion of the Brotherhood's philosophy and detailed instructions on how to win converts.
Part of the Chicago chapter's Web site is devoted to teens. It includes reading materials that say Muslims have a duty to help form Islamic governments worldwide and should be prepared to take up arms to do so.
One passage states that "until the nations of the world have functionally Islamic governments, every individual who is careless or lazy in working for Islam is sinful." Another one says that Western secularism and materialism are evil and that Muslims should "pursue this evil force to its own lands" and "invade its Western heartland."...
Brotherhood has grown in influence
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt more than seven decades ago, is among the most powerful political forces in the Islamic world today.
1928: The Muslim Brotherhood is formed in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna to promote a return to fundamental Islamic beliefs and practices and to fight Western colonialism in the Islamic world.
Late 1930s: The Brotherhood starts forming affiliated chapters in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
1948: The Brotherhood is implicated in the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Nuqrashi, who had banned the group. Al-Banna denies involvement.
1949: The Egyptian government retaliates for Nuqrashi's assassination by killing al-Banna.
1954: A Brotherhood member tries to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and fails. Nasser executes several of the group's leaders and incarcerates thousands of its followers.
1962: The Cultural Society is created as the first Brotherhood organization in the United States. Society members help establish numerous Islamic organizations, mosques and schools.
1966: Sayyid Qutb, a Brotherhood ideologue who urged Muslims to take up arms against non-Islamic governments, is executed by Nasser's regime.
1982: In Hamah, Syria, at least 10,000 people are killed by government troops suppressing an uprising by the Brotherhood.
1993: The Muslim American Society, initially based in Illinois and now in Virginia, is created to be a more public face of the Brotherhood in the U.S.
2002: Tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters fill the streets of Cairo during a funeral for group leader Mustafa Mashhour on Nov. 15.
2003: U.S. authorities investigating alleged terrorism funding describe Virginia businessman Soliman Biheiri as the Brotherhood's "financial toehold" in the U.S. Biheiri denies any terrorist links.
2004: The Egyptian government rounds up dozens of Brotherhood supporters, freezes members' assets and ousts one of its backers from parliament."
"Tribune foreign correspondent Evan Osnos, staff reporter Stephen Franklin and Hossam el-Hamalawy contributed to this report."