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The Rise and Fall of Salafi Dawah (Parts 7-9)

Umar Lee (umarlee.com)

(This unedited  series was originally published under the same title at umarlee.com-Ed.) 

Part 7: The Decline  1999 – 2000 was a time when things started happening so fast that it was hard to keep up.         

In the Summer of 1999, there was so much being accomplished – despite the problems coming from Quran and Sunnah Society (SS) and Salafi Publications (SP) – that some of the major salafi speakers called for a meeting in East Orange (EO) in order to elect an Amir amongst themselves and become more organized and coordinate their activities for the benefit of all.         

The faction influenced by QSS was against this and protested greatly. They already wanted to go in a different direction with the dawah and take the focus off of individual, family and community development and put the focus on who is “on it” and “off it”.         

Then there were the seeming concurrent deaths of Ibn Baz, Ibn Uthaymeen and Al-Albani who all died during this period. This started a new period in which “the ulamaa” became a term to bash brothers who listened to Western speakers. “No scholars in the West!!!” they would shout at you in their efforts to discredit all Western speakers not in their clique.         

They formed a new organization Salafi Society of North America (SSNA) in New York that claimed “connection to the ulamaa”. This became the new question of the new “are you connected to the ulamaa?” era.          

In reality, the speakers that we were listening to were in fact quoting from scholars past and present, but this is not what they meant by this question. They meant are you listening to the translations of the tele-links being provided by them?         

After SSNA disappeared from play in a major way ( although still operating a masjid in Brooklyn that is home to a lot of good brothers), TROID came on the scene and took the inquisition to new heights. Every few weeks, they had a new expose on a new Western speaker that should not be taken from “according to the ulamaa”.         

There was a character assassination taken out on speaker after speaker and one by one, they were discredited with seemingly a mountain of “daleel”. This great Salafi Speaker purge would leave no survivors from the speaker’s circuit and eventually kill off the larger events that were not replaced by those who only had the power to destroy and not build.         

There was a lot of confusion during this time, and many in the rank and file tried to conceal their position on certain speakers and perhaps still benefit from the Western speakers while listening to these tele-links to show face. Just hide your books if someone came over.         

Soon, it was not good enough to remain silent on these issues. They started to demand a “bayaan” from every individual – whether written or spoken and recorded – “clarifying their position”. In this “bayaan” one would affirm their rejection of the list of “deviants” the self appointed ecclesiastical tribunal came up with and affirm their loyalty to a list of scholars many had never heard of that they were calling “the Kibaar” (i.e., the biggest scholars on earth)         

Many were forced into a corner to accept the position of the ecclesiastical tribunals. Everyone that wanted to maintain their standing in the community was forced to comply. It was a form of “thought reform”         

The penalty for not complying? … The dreaded boycott. This meant that no one would give you the salaam, nor speak to you, your wife or even your children. That being the case, this created a lot of problems inside homes as the wife would not appreciate being boycotted by her friends because her husband is not “taking the correct position” or vice versa. The obsession with “clarifying one’s salafiyyah” reached a fever pitch.         

Many took “the correct position” under social duress. Those that did not were not only ostracized, but risked having a huge “refutation” written against them on the email lists and their name dragged through the mud. They may even make up a nickname for you.Books were set on fire and thousand of tapes thrown out as TROID’s ecclesiastical edicts spread across the country. Long lists of people who were “off of it” were distributed and put on the walls of salafi masjids.          

Anyone associating with the people on the “off it” list, defended their honor, or who had their books or tapes was to be boycotted as well. The people on these lists (and those with them) could be backbitten with no problem. TROID even had a lecture entitled “Come let us backbite for and hour for the sake of Allah” that showed exactly where they thought the priorities of the Muslims should be. The entire focus became to focus on which “mistakes” people were making ( I once met with a person from TROID who told me with certainty that a good friend of mine named Idris Palmer, who this guy had never met, was a Sufi with absolute certainty, and this guy was so removed from anything remotely close to reason that I could not tell him otherwise).         

New Muslims were now immediately indoctrinated with a list of people they could not take knowledge from instead of being taught the basics of Islam in the name of “protecting this man’s deen.” The newer salafis –what few there were now holding on to the dawah – that were being taught under this new order and never knew the era when the Salafis were accomplishing things.         

The most rabid ones were obstinate and could not be reasoned with. Salafi email lists that had open membership, closed and some made all current members send an email to the administrator “clarifying their salafiyyah” or risk being thrown off the list. They refused to do any sort of reconciliation and insisted on humiliating and abusing their opponents. Anyone who was friends with someone who was friends with someone who listened to the banned speakers was accused with “tamyee” (watering down the religion) and risked abandonment.          All sense of weighing the benefit and the evil was thrown out the window. The community in East Orange became paralyzed with these TROID edicts and they demanded that Abu Muslimah step down because he was not “connected to the ulamaa” and allegedly made “anti-Saudi statements”. It did not matter that when one listened to his statement in English that this was not an anti-Saudi statement. “The ulamaa” had said to boycott him and the community split.          

There was no need to look at all of the good that was coming out of the community, because “the ulamaa said to boycott the community.”          

Since “the kibaar said to remove the children from the Islamic school in EO” many put their children in public schools or made feeble attempts to homeschool. No need to think and weigh the benefit of this boycott versus the evil that it was causing. The “kibaar” had called for a boycott and they knew best. No need to research further or stop and think about this.         

Soon, EO was nearly abandoned and all the progress that was being made as a community stopped. And it would hurt everyone … including many children.         

The fact is that the people calling for the boycotts were the people “attached to the ulamaa” and the rank and file had no way of directly talking to and explaining the evil that was happening in order to give a proper picture of what was happening. Now instead of asking the lecturers questions and concerns that they went to school and were trained to answer, everyone now had to go through these intermediaries for a translation (and might I add spin)         

All of the more reasonable and educated brothers fled from any connections to this movement as they wanted no part of this. The growth stopped and soon only those interested in this type of “on it” or “off it” attitude, were mostly remaining. Because of the long list of “deviants”, the salafi economy of tapes, books and other things started to dry up.         

The TROID inquisition got absurd and they even turned on QSS and began to cannibalize their own. QSS, after this, would slowly shrivel up and all but collapse in the US from lack of support. Who wanted it to be known that they’d gone to a QSS conference after TROID’s mandate?         

Every common person was suddenly subjected to the rules of jarh wa tadeel as if they were a narrator of hadith and people were divided between “thiqah” (trustworthy) and “matrook” (abandoned). All these things were introduced to new Muslims and it was misapplied on people relentlessly.         

Things continue to descend into chaos as people even started to ask people their position on people they had never even heard of like Abul Hasan Al-Maribee. No one knew who this man was, yet it was essential for one to take a solid position against him in order to be considered “thiqah”. Abandonment, name-calling, “exposing”, rumor-mongering, and the self appointed ecclesiastical tribunals testing peoples’ “manhaj” became the rule of the day.         

This ideological schism and TROID’s inquisition and thought reform program caused so much confusion that breakdowns in the social fabric started to breakdown. 

The Rise and Fall of the ‘Salafi Dawah’ in the US - Part 8: Boycotting and Excommunications          

Before I talk about the social breakdown, I want to address my own shortcomings as well as those of many that were around me at the time. No matter how much I try, I don’t think that I can express the great hope followed by the great pain. Some of you are probably looking down your noses at us, but I say that you don’t understand.          I don’t tell this story because I am trying to use it as fodder for you all to laugh at. This is a serious story. Lives were revived where there was no hope only to end up right back in ruin.         

lot of us - brothers and sisters - came from poor backgrounds, were poorly educated, and came from dysfunctional homes. That is me as a white man … how much more so for a black man or woman?         

Many entered the deen wounded by society and were at the bottom of the barrel. It was our belief that our demons could be exorcised by the memorization of the fatawa of scholars and by simply mimicking the ways of the scholars and running around and talking and acting as if we were not still dealing with the issues in our lives that pre-dated Islam when in fact we were dealing with these issues on a daily basis, but were afraid to speak about them to our fellow Muslims. This is one of the main places we went wrong.         

Although more of our issues were spoken on at that time – especially as opposed to now – nonetheless, there were no fatawa that told us how to deal with an indifferent mother on drugs, chemical addictions that many around me had, or being able to find a job as a convicted felon.          

When the ideological schisms happened, it revived many of the inner demons that were never fully exorcized in many. This left many brothers to attend lectures, and then after isha hit the streets and make money the only way that they knew how. This created a criminal underclass within the Salafi movement that paid lots of lip-service to the deen but in reality had lots of underlying problems. What led us to the streets has been put in our minds in our childhoods living through the harsh realities of urban life in America.          

We were angry before we took shahadah, many were killers by the time they were in high school, and had emotional issues that had never been resolved, and our anger towards life manifested itself in a harshness in the deen and a rigid approach to the dawah.          

Just as many wanted to proudly proclaim their blocks and neighborhoods and schools before Islam, so they proclaimed being “salafi” after that. The Salafi Dawah had given us something to live for, work for, fight for, and if necessary die for.          

As the TROID ecclesiastical edicts were passed around, it had a negative effect on friendships, marriages, and entire communities. Especially after TROID’s thought reform started to take affect.          Many, who’d been friends for years, were now splitting up over these issues of who is “on it” or “off it”. Marriages broke down and even ended in divorce because of arguments over these issues. There were even instances of blood brothers splitting and not speaking to one another. It ravaged the entire movement like a forest fire. Even when you spoke to an old friend, you did not know which side of the issue he was on. The trips and visits across the country stopped. Brothers stopped keeping in touch as it might end up in an argument.         

As I mentioned earlier, many more reasonable brothers did not like any of this at all and disassociated themselves from the movement completely. Others, because of the damage and evil associated with the movement, ran away from the label and refused to acknowledge it for themselves.          

The feelings of brotherhood and closeness were replaced by suspicion, fear, and eventually pain… great pain. Brothers no longer had a network of friends to stay in touch with. They no longer had anyone they would relate to. A spiraling cycle of chaos began in which we saw depression grow and the social problems begin. These brothers needed a social network and it was torn apart, ripped to shreads and stomped on         

There were brothers that were just confused from all the discord and hit the streets. Many stopped practicing and even became drug addicts and alcoholics because their tranquil world had been destroyed as their group of good friends were split, or they were abandoned by their close Muslim friends and they had no place else to go. Some went insane (no exaggeration). Others got angry and became very anti-salafi. Others even left Islam completely.          

A new term was coined - “Salafi Burnout” – to describe this phenomenon of sudden drop in Iman after (supposedly) being strong salafis. The course of action the salafis took with their lives - cutting off everyone - was now backfiring. They’d cut off their non-Muslim families and Muslims of other groups and now had no one to turn to in times of need. And it was all the more important at this point because so many had children that now needed to be raised.         

The life of the boycotted one was tough because you had no friends in the other masjids and those who liked you from the salafis – in secret - avoided you like the plague in public because they were afraid to be seen with you.         

Friendships in the remaining salafi circles became totally pretentious and phony because one had to show good face at this point and denounce the proper people like a “good salafi”. The environment became tense even amongst those “with the correct position” because everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing.         

The boycott was dreadful because you’d be left alone. You had no one to turn to. Some seemed to take pleasure in boycotting and ruining a brother’s reputation and standing in the community.  Many just could not handle it and would either submit to the inquisitors and give a “bayaan” in which they were required to denounce all the speakers on the “off it” list and accept their “kibaar” in order to be accepted into the new order. Eventually, even many of those who submitted got tired of dealing with that – especially after they started turning on each other - and left too - many of them for the streets.         

The breakdown just continued to slide down as even those remaining in the movement started to have more and more problems in their ranks such as porn addiction and other sexual problems increased. This was – in my opinion - because of the complete focus on what every one else was doing and a lack of focus on themselves.         

It was very tough coming back to the real world after living the last decade in a bubble because you felt like such a fool for not living in the real world and for not preparing yourself for life’s legitimate challenges. But more importantly, it hurt because the world had moved on and we found ourselves replaced, irrelevent and forgotten.The good feelings had been replaced with a cold and dull fist in our stomachs. Some, after returning to the real world, looked in the mirror and saw what they had become to the eyes of the world: A detached, uneducated, divorcee (or in an unhappy marriage) with a broken family, no money and no direction in life. They were almost no good to anyone…Not even their own kids. Men that were flat broke with no skills. Women were stuck with a gang of children to raise. Others stuck in bad marriages and perpetually depressed with no friends. And no longer had community support. Many felt: “What have I done to my life?!”  It was the beginning of the long and cold winter that has lasted the last 5-6 years for these brothers and sisters. They live in fear that the rest of their lives will merely be to exist instead of live.  Grown men have cried because of this feeling of helplessness and pain … the feeling that they threw their good years away for one thing: an incredibly empty feeling         

While we were living in our bubble, all that mattered was trying to “go study”, “spread the dawah” and/or “establish classes”. The entire world became where the next conference was going to be, the latest book to come out, or the latest lecture series. (In the decline, the obsession became who is the latest to be put on the “off it” list) Elections came and went. Trends came and went. People younger than us went on to graduate college, get Master’s degrees, job training, get good jobs and get into good marriages. Time had passed. Many had long since alienated their non-Muslim families and other Muslims. The brothers had become dated, out of touch and forgotten about. Relics.         

During the good times, Salafis were blissfully unaware of the latest American (or world) economic or social trends. Many hadn’t read the latest best-seller. Many of the things that mattered to salafis, mattered little to the rest of the world. Regular people were uncomfortable around them. American Salafis had become foreigners in their own homeland.          

The Complete Stranger Marriages and other moves - that are generally bad moves now - worked out much better during the good times because of the stronger brotherhood and the united cause. Once the structure began to collapse, these bad social moves became magnified and there was just no way to make these bad moves with the lack of the 1990’s structure. The social carnage was massive          If there was any hope of a reversal of this trend … that ended with the events of September 11th   

The Rise and Fall of the ‘Salafi Dawah’ in the US - Part 9 

Sometimes I wonder how different the world - and in the context of this series, the salafi movement - would be had September 11th not happened.         

I can assume that many masjids would be having anti-American khutbahs and organizing protests against President Gore’s (who would have likely been elected in 2004 after a failed Bush presidency) “pro-zionist policies”. (Remember the Muslim organizations endorsed Bush in 2000 and without 9/11 would have probably endorsed him for reelection)Other than that we can assume: Ismael Royer would be free and likely would be the leading Muslim blogger. Anwar Al-Awlaki would probably still be in America giving lectures and putting out CD lecture series, Sh. Jafir Idris and Ali At-Timimi would likely still be teaching in N. Virginia at Dar Al Arqam which, by now, would possibly have a permanent place of its own. Ali At-Timimi, Rafil Dhafir and countless numbers of others would still be free men.The Saudi money would not have stopped and the conferences would still be going on and the mahad in N Virginia still open and full of students         

Allah Knows best about any of that, but nonetheless, I firmly believe that the salafi movement in the form of TROID would have continued to dry up, wither away and die even without 9/11 … perhaps even faster as it is intellectually bankrupt. Certainly far too intellectually bankrupt to compete in the arena of ideas in the post 9/11 era.   

Ironically, the TROID faction - who eschewed real world issues - were forced to address 9/11 and come out of their shells to some extent. However, most Muslims in the US are not going to follow a triumphalist-isolationist movement that refuses to address social and political concerns in an era in which those concerns are at the forefront of peoples’ minds. This is why the social discord is so out of control on their side. In general, they are either unwilling or unable to confront social and political issues and would prefer to bury their heads in the sand.                                                                

On the moderate side, however, it makes me wonder if they would still be active and operating had 9/11 not happened. I tend to think that they would be, but that is a moot question because 9/11 DID happen, and because of it, much activity on that side of the coin was forced to stop. Salafis became pariahs and were falsely accused of supporting terrorism, and many moderate speakers were thrown in jail. After this upheaval, other speakers took themselves off the circuit. This killed off organizations like IANA almost overnight and other activities stopped. The world completely changed in a lot of ways.                                                                                                        

All of that along with the public lynching of Sheikh Ali by ideologically-driven prosecutors who had no concern for justice, the treachery of many within his circles, and the foolishness of some of his students individual actions - who got him into trouble - those who sought to destroy the salafi dawah dealt a death-blow to what had been in the DC-area.                                                                                                     

What saddens me tremendously is that other Muslims have been silent and have not spoken out against the treatment of Sheikh Ali – as a Muslim and a human being - and I can only take their silence as an endorsement of the evil injustice done to him and may Allah guide them. If this man and his students were so dangerous and violent as alleged, then how is it that two of the people who falsely testified against him - one of which still lives in the N Virginia area and freely associates in the community - are not in danger for their lives. That is because this movement was non-violent and were law abiding citizens and no one has thought of doing any such thing. This contrasts greatly with the gov’ts image of this group as a violent jihadist group.                                     

There are other Muslim groups - and I will say what must be said - Sufi groups, who seem to take great joy in his suffering.  The TROID gang also took a lot of pleasure in his suffering as well and some of them even posted as much on their internet message boards.                                                                                                               

Sheikh Ali knew the problems within the ranks of the salafis and, for years, regretted the harshness he had as a young man that turned people away and had become more and more friendly towards other Muslim groups as the years went by and wanted a spirit of brotherhood to exist between all the Muslims.                                           

The example of Sheikh Ali - who was one of the best hopes for the Salafi dawah in America - is that those who hated Islam, want to destroy the Muslim community - and do not see us as Americans and do not recognize our humanity - can in turn come into the community, destroy a peaceful group, put a leader in jail like a third world dictatorship, and the rest of the community will remain silent. If they can do it to Sheikh Ali - a man whom neither he nor his students had any blood on their hands - can be put into jail, made to serve a life sentence in prison where he has been beaten, mistreated and contracted Hepatitis, then they can do it to anyone.          

 The massive social problems that plagued the TROID side of the split, was not on the IANA side. But that was largely because many of those with social problems – largely African-Americans - were attracted to TROID’s calls to discord and chaos. And that is what made it so sad. A bowl of fruit had been offered to starving men, and TROID (and their likes) came along and took a dump in it and told everyone that this was an improvement.          

Yes, the TROID partisans would have conferences entitled “Stop the Discord” but they were a joke because they never admitted that this very discord was of their doing.         

9/11 contributed very little to the demise of the TROID side of the movement, but was devastating to the moderate side.          Before 9/11 many of the speakers, whose characters had been viciously assaulted during the TROID inquisition, were already silenced.                                         

After 9/11, many of them withdrew even further from the public light because of the additional political and legal heat that was applied. Others were forced out of the country and/or imprisoned. Homaidan Al Turki - a major moderate book publisher - was railroaded and the company hasn’t been the same since. All of this was a final nail that would give drifters nowhere to go in a search for some common sense through the madness. Now there is little left of the movement that once had so much hope.  

And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.

Quran: 3:103
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