Radical Islam in Florida

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Radical Islam has reared its ugly head several times in Florida. Here are six of the most notable occasions.


2007: A collection of secularist and reformist Muslims, including Irshad Manji, Tawfik Hamid, Ibn Warraq, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali met in St Petersburg Florida. Their conference, the Secular Islam Summit, called for a separation of sharia and state, an end to apostasy and blasphemy laws, equality for men and women and opening up traditional Islam to modern critical study.

The Muslim Brotherhood linked Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) met the same weekend to denounce the Secular Islam Summit. They accused the summit of Islamophobia, on the grounds that the Muslims in attendance were not Muslim enough to be regarded as legitimate critics of Islam, despite having come from Muslim backgrounds.

In a publicized rebuttal to the conference, CAIR blamed “the unchallenged growth of Islamophobia” and “the development of a veritable cottage industry of neo-experts pontificating about the cause-effect relationship between Islam and terrorism, despite scholarly research debunking this as myth” for “this pernicious idea of reforming Islam by asking Muslims to abandon their faith.”

The conference, organized by the Center for Inquiry, was hailed as a “landmark” by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal,


2009: The chapter head of CAIR-Florida, Hassan Shibly, described gay marriage as “evil” and “a quick way to earn God’s wrath” in a Facebook essay. Shibly would later go on to declare his “overwhelming love and support and unity” for the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando attack in 2016 (see below).


2015: Shelton Thomas Bell, 21, a convert to Islam, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Bell “conspired to train and prepare as a combatant for overseas violent jihad, then travel from Jacksonville to the Middle East for the ultimate purpose of providing the skills to terrorists, including members of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen,” according to court documents.

As part of his “training” he defaced statues in a local multi-denominational cemetery and uploaded training videos to YouTube.


2016: Omar Mateen killed 49 people in a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando Florida. The Pulse nightclub is believed to have been targeted because it is a gay nightclub. Mateen is said to have expressed virulently homophobic statements prior to the shooting.

During his rampage Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.


2017: Esteban Santiago opened fire in the airport at Fort Lauderdale, killing five people. He told FBI agents after he was arrested that he carried out the shootings on behalf of ISIS.

However, ISIS did not claim responsibility and police have not filed terrorism charges.


2017: A Rollins College student, Michael Polston, was suspended after correcting his Muslim professor over a point of Christian theology. Professor Areeje Zufari said the crucifixion of Jesus was a hoax and that his followers did not regard him as divine, which is not how the Christian tradition sees it at all.

Polston challenged Zufari on these claims in class. Subsequently Polston was failed on a major assignment and was not given a reason why.

In a subsequent class, this one focusing on sharia, another student made comments suggesting that gays, adulterers and thieves ought to be punished by having their appendages removed, yet professor Zufari did nothing.

Polston sent a lengthy email to Zufari detailing his complaints, whereupon he was suspended. He was later reinstated following a media campaign on his behalf with some 10,000 letters being sent to the trustees and deans of Rollins College.

Zufari was found to have had pre-existing extremist links, including an affair with a radical named Maher Ghawji who reportedly donated thousands of dollars to al-Qaeda, among other things.

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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