Push To Name Muslim Brotherhood A Terrorist Group Worries U.S. Offshoots Some Islamic institutions in the U.S. were founded by brotherhood members or sympathizers. Community leaders say ties with the Islamist movement were cut long ago; conservatives suspect otherwise.

Push To Name Muslim Brotherhood A Terrorist Group Worries U.S. Offshoots

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The Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood is associated most closely with Egypt, but it has branches across the Middle East. And Frank Gaffney, a security analyst who has President Trump's ear, says the Brotherhood is engaged in conspiracy in the U.S., too.


FRANK GAFFNEY: A form of warfare that employs manipulative financial techniques, infiltration of our civil institutions and government.

CORNISH: That's Frank Gaffney in a video titled "The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within." NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on what those allegations mean for Muslim American institutions.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Praying in foreign language).

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., is one of the many in America whose founders included young men involved in the Muslim Brotherhood. Many were students from Middle Eastern countries who came to the U.S. in the '60s and '70s. It was a time of activism in their homelands as it also was in the West.

Hossein Goal is a long-time member of Dar Al-Hijrah. Some people he knew back in those early days, he says, faced persecution in their home countries because of their ties to Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.

HOSSEIN GOAL: They were helped even by our State Department. And they gave them sanctuary to come here from the political prosecution.

JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK: We ask Allah's peace and blessings on them and their families.

GJELTON: The imam leading the prayers this day is Johari Abdul-Malik. He was born here, but he says he met many of these Muslim immigrants during his own college days.

ABDUL-MALIK: When they realized that they weren't going home, they built new entities in America that would incorporate those values that they had and, at the same time, lobby to make sure that America continued to be the ally of Muslims in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

GJELTON: They wanted Muslims here to stay faithful to Islam, to have places to congregate and worship. And Hossein Goal recalls they wanted to organize those early Muslim immigrants politically.

GOAL: As a fellow Muslim, we worked together to establish institutions that would help our community, to teach them about democracy and how democracy works and how to be engaged in a civic work.

GJELTON: One institution established back then, the Muslim American Society, acknowledges its ties to the Brotherhood, the Ikhwan in Arabic. A statement on its website says, many immigrant organizations would likely have had some founders who had some involvement or even membership in the Ikhwan.

Some of those early Brotherhood members are still around, but Abdul-Malik, the imam at Dar Al-Hijrah, says they're not likely to have much to say about that time.

ABDUL-MALIK: If you ask them today, are most of the organizations that were established by you guys rooted in the ideologies of your student movement from back home - mostly, not at all or I don't want to answer that question? Most of them - I don't want to answer the question.

GJELTON: It's understandable. A bill pending in Congress would call for the Muslim Brotherhood to be designated a foreign terrorist organization. That could have legal implications for institutions with direct ties to it. Here in the U.S., what remains of the organization is shrouded in mystery.

LORENZO VIDINO: I've been studying the Brotherhood for 15 years. I maybe understand 10 percent of how it really works.

GJELTON: Lorenzo Vidino directs the program on extremism at George Washington University. He says much of what is known about the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in the U.S. has come from investigations of U.S. groups or individuals with ties to Hamas or other Islamist groups overseas.

VIDINO: The interviews, the internal documents show a financial network also in the U.S. which is humungous, clearly linked to the Brotherhood abroad, to different branches of the Brotherhood and so on.

GJELTON: For Muslim-American leaders, the risk in not answering questions about what the Brotherhood actually did and stood for in America is that it leaves the story largely to those who portray the Brotherhood in exaggerated, conspiratorial terms. That makes it harder to separate suspicious financial links from benign ones.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: (Speaking in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Speaking in Arabic).

GJELTON: Al Fatih Academy is an Islamic school in Reston, Va., serving elementary and middle school students with a goal to nurture a Muslim-American identity. Here, third graders are learning Arabic.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Speaking in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: (Speaking in Arabic).

GJELTON: There are today more than 270 full-time Islamic schools in the United States. Al Fatih is independent, but half of the schools are connected to a local mosque, some of which were established with Muslim Brotherhood support.

Afeefa Syeed is one of the founders of Al Fatih Academy. Previously she worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. She's heard the charges about Islamic institutions in the U.S. serving as fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood and sees them as far-fetched.

AFEEFA SYEED: The American-Muslim experience has been so organic, so connected to community that it's hard to be able to say, well, this has been a very strategic, planned-out effort of any organization. And I say that because I've been through so many of these institutions.

GJELTON: Syeed's parents were among those early Muslim immigrants. That generation, she says, did establish many Muslim institutions here. So what, she would say.

SYEED: That process is parallel to every other group that's come here. Like, the Catholics built their schools. They built their churches, their institutions. They created their organizations. The Jewish community did the same. I think we're just following along the same natural progression.

GJELTON: And part of that progression in those other cases meant dealing with suspicion about loyalties and overseas ties. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.


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