Abdul El-Sayed, potentially the nation's first Muslim governor, sounds like the quintessential progressive politician. According to his website, the Michigan Democrat upholds "strict separation of church and state," and vows to "defend the right of all Americans to pray as they choose." He also opposes discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
This son of Egyptian immigrants also has an impeccable pedigree for public office. He's a Rhodes Scholar with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan, a doctorate in Public Health from Oxford University, and an M.D. from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2015, when El-Sayed was just 30 years old, he was appointed executive director of the Detroit Health Department, becoming the youngest health commissioner ever to serve a major U.S. city.
Not surprisingly, those opposing El-Sayed's candidacy, claiming he has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and is being groomed by far-left billionaire George Soros to become the "next Barack Obama," are being dubbed Islamophobes and conspiracy theorists. In a Vice article, Muslim journalist Beenish Ahmed attributed the allegations to a "vile political climate" and "right-wing paranoia about Sharia law."
El-Sayed denies any ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. And according to one fact-checking website, though El-Sayed received a fellowship to attend medical school from the foundation of Paul and Daisy Soros (George Soros's older brother and his wife), "there's no indication that George Soros is tied to the foundation, or to El-Sayad."
The problem, however, is that despite these vehement denials and inconclusive evidence tying El-Sayed to George Soros, El-Sayed has substantial connections to the Muslim Brotherhood in both his past and present. So the suspicion that El-Sayed may harbor Islamist convictions and be a Trojan horse are not unfounded, especially given the reality of what some have dubbed a "stealth jihad."
El-Sayed and the Brotherhood Stealth Model
According to the Middle East Forum, the Muslim Brotherhood differs from other radical jihadist groups in strategy, but not in goals. Both the Brotherhood and groups like ISIS seek to destroy the West and establish Sharia, or Islamic, law. But while groups like ISIS promote a military means of conquering the West, the Brotherhood, as stated in its internal documents, seeks to penetrate and destroy Western civilization from within — "'sabotaging' its miserable house by their (own) hands."
As a result, the Brotherhood tends to be "more deceptive in language and appearance," actively recruiting Muslim professionals and intellectuals, who can infiltrate Western legal and social systems without detection.
As one correspondent with the Middle East Forum put it, both the Brotherhood and militant jihadists will "shout Allahu Akbar and bomb Israel, support jihad, and support the violation of the rights of women and non-Muslims. One will do it openly and loudly while wearing his primitive Islamic dress and his untidy beard, but the other will be a PhD holder from Oxford University or the Sorbonne, and he will do it cunningly and secretly while wearing his German or French suit and a tidy beard, from an air-conditioned office, all the while making deals with the Americans."
So the ideal Brotherhood politician would be someone who secretly harbors radical Islamic convictions, but looks, acts, and talks like a mainstream, major-party candidate. This candidate would not hide his Muslim identity, but instead would leverage it for political advantage, making Islam sound moderate and appealing to values like multiculturalism.
Publicly, El-Sayed espouses a very tolerant form of Islam, once remarking that he was running for public office "because of the values my Islam teaches me" like beliefs in "equity" and "the fundamental rights of all people." El-Sayed also frequently talks about people of different faiths coming together, upholding his "extremely diverse" family as a model. (El-Sayed's father, Mohamed El-Sayed, married a white woman who converted to Islam. So now, through his step-mother, El-Sayed has a grandmother who's a Presbyterian and apparently, an uncle who's an atheist.)
Yet these espoused liberal convictions don't seem very congruent with some of El-Sayed's past and present associations, prompting suspicions that he fits the stealth Brotherhood profile. While a student at the University of Michigan, El-Sayed was "an active member" and vice-president of the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) – a group founded mainly by members of the Muslim Brotherhood for the express purpose of spreading Wahhabist ideology — an austere form of Islam that insists on literal interpretation of the Quran and views those who disagree as enemies.
The MSA bills itself as a networking and support group for Muslim students. But according to terrorism expert Patrick Poole, the MSA "has been a virtual terror factory. Time after time after time again, we see these terrorists . . . MSA leaders, MSA presidents, MSA national presidents — who've been implicated, charged and convicted in terrorist plots."
The extensive list of MSA terrorists includes Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Queda senior recruiter and organizer who was the first U.S. citizen to be targeted and killed in a U.S. drone strike. During his tenure at Colorado State University, al-Awlaki was president of the campus MSA. Similarly, Ramy Zamzam, convicted in Pakistan for attempting to join the Taliban and kill U.S. troops, was president of the MSA's Washington, D.C. council. And then there's Omar Shafik Hammami, the former president of the MSA at the University of South Alabama, who abandoned his wife and infant daughter to join the terrorist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The MSA's pledge is almost identical to that of the Muslim Brotherhood and states, "Allah is my lord. Islam is my life. . . . Jihad is my spirit. Paradise is my goal. I will die to establish Islam." As an executive in an MSA chapter, El-Sayed certainly would have recited this pledge repeatedly.
I emailed El-Sayed's office, inquiring about his prior involvement with the MSA, but it did not respond. The office also denied my request for an interview.
El-Sayed's involvement with the MSA, however, is not his only association that raises red flags. El-Sayed's father-in-law is Dr. Jakaku Tayeb, former president and current board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Michigan.
Like the MSA, CAIR purports to be mainstream — simply a "grassroots civil rights and advocacy group." Yet many have asserted that it's really a terror group with board members and staff who have been accused and/or convicted of terrorist charges. In 2007, CAIR was actually named by federal prosecutors as "unindicted co-conspirators" in a criminal plot to support the terrorist group Hamas.
Some, like Dick Manasseri, spokesman for Secure Michigan, have also expressed concerns that El-Sayed wants to promote Sharia law. There's no doubt that El-Sayed and his wife, Sarah Jakaku, are Sharia compliant. Jakaku wears a hijab in public. And in a 2010 radio interview about his courtship and marriage, El-Sayed said he didn't touch his wife when they were courting because "in my interpretation of Islamic law, I wasn't allowed to touch her until after we were married."
Of course, these are personal matters, which would seemingly have no bearing on holding public office. However, according to Manasseri, "Sharia adherents believe ... that Sharia is the supreme law and takes precedence over any man-made law."
This makes El-Sayed's support for making Michigan the nation's first "sanctuary state" especially disconcerting. Adopting sanctuary status would mean giving the state permission to defy federal immigration officers and essentially, violate the U.S. Constitution. This, Manasseri said, would open the door for legal pluralism, which many see as a first step to embracing Sharia.
El-Sayed — a Prototype of the Movement?
Though El-Sayed may be one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the U.S., there are many others aspiring to follow in his footsteps. According to the New American Leaders Project (NALP), a group that prepares first- and second-generation Americans for elected office, twice the number of Muslim-Americans have applied to its program in the past year.
Someone who is very actively supporting the movement to elect Muslims is Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American anti-Israel activist who helped organize the Women's March and is calling for a "jihad" against the Trump administration. Sarsour recently spoke at an annual gathering of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), another group founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and also named as "unindicted co-conspirators" in the plot to support Hamas.
In her speech, Sarsour urged ISNA members to divert donations away from building mosques and instead to invest in "leadership, our next generations." Specifically, she urged them to contribute to El-Sayed's campaign.
To date, El-Sayed has raised more than one-million dollars, and more than 60 percent of that amount has come from out-of-state donors. According to Susan Demas, editor and owner of Inside Michigan Politics, El-Sayed is attracting out-of-state money "because there is interest in his being potentially the first Muslim governor."
Given a normal political climate, this desire would be seen as nothing more than identity politics. However, in a world where the desire to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate is regularly prompting acts of terror, it should give Americans pause. At the very least, it should prompt journalists and interested parties to vet candidates thoroughly and highlight any Islamist connections. Doing so is not Islamophobic; it's simply prudent.