In June 2015, Sheikh Suleiman Anwar founded the Islamic Jurisprudence Center (IJC) in Clarksburg, Maryland. The center’s mission was “to promote and advance the understanding of and compliance with Islamic law (Sharia) in all aspects of life.”
This mission statement might seem tame, except that Anwar’s webpage reveals a worldview that is remarkably extreme compared to that of most Muslim organizations in the West. Anwar wants total Sharia according to the Saudi model, where the hands of thieves are cut off. He rejects secular liberal democracies and pluralism within Islam.
Here we explore Anwar’s Islamist worldview and show what happened when it is implemented in Muslim countries.
Why is Suleiman Anwar important?
Anwar deserves greater scrutiny for a number of reasons. He is the microcosm of the globalization of Islamist concepts.
In 2004 and 2006 respectively, Anwar completed two master’s degrees in Islamic jurisprudence at the International Islamic University (IIU) in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the University of Sana’a in Yemen. Funded by Saudi money, IIU is an Islamist university teaching a rigid Saudi version of Islam and rejecting all other interpretations of Islam.
The atmosphere on IIU’s campus is Orwellian. IIU alumni Amna Shafqat recalls burqa clad women distributing pamphlets to IIU students, which call for the release of terrorist Afia Siddiqui and the murder of blasphemers and blaspheming cartoonists (like the Charlie Hedbo cartoonists).
Worse still, IIU is a key recruiting ground for the Jamaat-e-Islami, Tazeemi Islami, and other Islamist parties, which sometimes serve as gateways to terrorist organizations.
Anwar also used his position as Imam in order to promote Islamism. After completing his studies in Yemen, Anwar returned to the United States and served as Imam for the Islamic Society of Annapolis (May 2009-April 2010) and then the Tazkia Center and Masjid Umar (January 2011-October 2014). He accepted invitations to deliver Jumu’a Khutbas (sermons) and lectures at fourteen Islamic organizations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. and Toronto, Canada.
Thanks to YouTube, there is a record of what Anwar said at one of these events. In September 2010, he openly endorsed the Khilafah or Islamic Caliphate along with an extreme form of Sharia: “We are not living under the Khilafah. There is a big fitna [i.e. social unrest] going on, if you haven’t noticed. – and much of the fitna is happening because we don’t have Khilafah. And then there are many people who don’t want Khilafah, because they want to continue being criminals so that their hands don’t get cut off.”
In early 2016, Anwar started issuing fatwas or Islamic rulings as executive director of the IJC. Two of these fatwas merit our attention. On March 20, 2016, Anwar issued an Islamic ruling denouncing purportedly “pseudo-Islamic organizations” and “pseudo-Imams” as disbelievers for telling Muslims that “it is permissible to live by a partial Sharia (instead of its totality).”
Anwar’s support for total Sharia governance is troubling, since even implementing partial Sharia governance has negative consequences for people’s lives.
For instance, Mauritania, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Malaysia maintain the apostasy law on their books.
This law says that Muslims will face the death penalty for leaving Islam.
Although rarely used, the apostasy law’s existence has fostered a climate of fear that forces ex-Muslims to live in the closet. It also gives extremists an implicit license to murder ex-Muslims and even secular Muslims on the grounds that they are apostates of Islam. I personally know Pakistani and Nigerian ex-Muslims who are forced by this law to conceal their innermost thoughts and feelings while in public. One of them temporarily fled his community, because he came out as an atheist. He was only welcomed back to his community after agreeing to revert to Islam.
On June 13, Anwar wrote another fatwa on the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). These organizations subscribe to Islamic beliefs that range from moderate to conservative and are politically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Anwar, however, thought that they were not Islamic enough.
He added that this fatwa was meant to prevent Muslims “from dying upon kufr (disbelief), and consequently entering hellfire.” In effect, Anwar was supporting an unelected theocracy that outlawed pluralism within Islam and quashed secular democratic sentiments. Anwar despised the “Interfaith system,” since it “promotes equality of the religions.” He also accused these Muslim organizations of betraying Islam for promoting “the secular, divisive, corrupt, and immoral democratic system of government and encouraging Muslims everywhere to believe in and implement such beliefs.”
The scary thing is that the ideas contained in Anwar’s June 13 fatwa have actually been implemented in some Muslim countries.
A principle problem in the current war in Syria and Iraq is extremists dehumanizing people from other Islamic sects for not conforming to their vision of Islam. According to this extremist perspective, these other Islamic sects are a source of fitna (i.e. social unrest) and the logical way to achieve peace is by exterminating them. Likewise, anti-secular and anti-democratic sentiments have also had harmful consequences for many Muslim-majority communities.
The secular democratic system plays a key role in representing and managing the differences of religions and cultures in a peaceful way. The rejection of this system has resulted, for instance, in the use of Pakistan’s blasphemy law in order to persecute Shia, Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu religious minorities.
The United States’ free speech laws allow a person like Anwar to promote extremism. Yet Anwar’s fatwas should not be the final word on Islam or on how political, economic, and cultural orders should be organized. Resident Americans of different backgrounds belong to an open society where ideas are studied and judged on their merits.
When Anwar issues his fatwas and calls upon Muslims to reject religious pluralism, secularism, and democracy, and embrace a political order like Saudi Arabia’s, liberal-minded people cannot afford to stand by and do nothing.
The preservation of an open society, which protects civil liberties and embraces cultural and religious diversity within reason, depends upon good people exposing and discrediting absolutist ideas which go against the principles of a free nation.