The government of Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues to expand its US operations using Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations to woo American Muslims and spread his radical political Islamist agenda, Nordic Monitor has learned.
The office of the religious affairs attaché at the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago organized a meeting on the premises of the Zakat Foundation of America on January 26, 2020, when Religious Affairs Attaché Mahmut Ay met with the Turkish community in Bridgeview for a religious gathering. Ay’s personal background and his contacts in Chicago reveal the growing ties between the Turkish government and Brotherhood-linked organizations in the US, and efforts by Turkish diplomatic missions to use these entities for political Islamist goals.
Ay is still a steering committee member of the International Muslim Scholars Association (Uluslararası Müslüman Alimler Dayanışma Derneği, UMAD), which is based in Istanbul and funded by Qatar. UMAD is known as the long arm of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and founder of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). Pro-Erdoğan cleric al-Qaradawi, who endorsed suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria and Iraq, has been banned from entering the United States since 1999. Al-Qaradawi regularly appears on Al Jazeera and has advocated a violent jihad across the region.
UMAD’s high-level advisory board is composed of officials from Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet); representatives from Erdoğan-linked NGOs such as the Ensar Foundation, caught up in a child sexual abuse scandal in 2016; the Onder Foundation, the oldest alumni association of religious imam-hatip schools; and Hayrettin Karaman, the chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Erdoğan, whom he effectively declared caliph. Karaman, who openly advocated the view that all Muslims are obligated under Islam to support Erdoğan, is in fact a Turkish version of al-Qaradawi.
UMAD, IUMS, the Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice (ASSAM) and the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW) organized the 3rd International Islamic Union Congress in Istanbul in December 2019. At the first congress, held in November 2017, participants endorsed the aim of Islamic unity through establishing a confederation of Islamic countries. Its declaration was approved by organizations from 29 countries.
The 2019 congress was headed by retired Gen. Adnan Tanriverdi, who is chairman of ASSAM and chief military advisor to President Erdoğan at the time. Tanrıverdi owns controversial military contractor SADAT, which many believe is a de facto paramilitary force loyal to Erdoğan. Speaking to the Turkish government’s anti-Semitic, anti-Christian mouthpiece Akit TV on December 23, 2019 following a session of the congress, Tanrıverdi said Islamic countries should produce their own defense materiel and weapons among themselves, claiming that one cannot defy others with the weapons of others and adding that his organization has been working to pave the way for the long-awaited mahdi (prophesied redeemer of Islam), for whom the entire Muslim world is waiting.
Turkish names have increasingly appeared on the boards of Brotherhood-linked NGOs in recent years, and the influence of radical Turkish Islamists has grown in the US. The Zakat Foundation of America, of which Turkish national Halil Demir is executive director, maintains close ties to the Brotherhood and Hamas-affiliated organizations and sponsors their events.
For instance, Zakat was the main sponsor of the 13th MAS-ICNA conference organized by the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in 2014, the first time a Turkish-American organization participated in a MAS-ICNA conference. Since then, Erdoğan’s envoys and family members have attended the conference in order to deliver the Turkish president’s message.
Zakat has been accused of sending funds through another foundation to Turkey’s highly controversial charity group, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which was identified as an arms smuggler to radical terrorist groups in Syria and Libya. In 2012 a German federal court banned the IHH since the Turkish charity was contributing funds to Hamas. Today, the IHH works with the Turkish intelligence agency and is a tool in the hands of the Erdoğan government.
Furthermore, Zakat’s accounts at three US banks were closed down due to the “pressure from regulators to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing and sanctions violations,” the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016.
Soon after the AKP’s founding in 2001, Muslim Brotherhood groups around the world handed it a leading position in the movement due to the success of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Since the overthrow of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt in 2013, Erdoğan has provided a safe haven for persecuted members of the Brotherhood in Turkey.
In addition to Turkey, Qatar also remains firmly committed to the Brotherhood’s program. Doha provides them with accommodation, allowances and prime time on Al-Jazeera TV.