Watchdog Group Assails Mosque's Saudi Books
February 17, 2005
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Concerned about Saudi Arabian influence on American religious life, a
Washington-based international watchdog group visited 15 American
to check for Saudi-published tracts, magazines and books.
The researchers found the literature in all 15 mosques, including the
Muslim Community Center on the North Side. In all, they documented more
than 200 pieces of literature promoting Wahhabism, a puritanical Muslim
movement that dominates Saudi Arabia, denounces democracy and
other faiths, including moderate forms of Islam.
The Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom conducted the study to
examine one way by which the Saudi kingdom promulgates its unique brand
religious ideology. The literature is objectionable, the group says,
because it promotes armed violence and alienation from American
"Our concern is what a foreign government is distributing in the United
States," said Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House who
contributed research to an 89-page report. "We have made no claims
the overall pattern of literature in American mosques. Our focus is on
question of what the Saudi Arabian government is doing."
But Muslim leaders and scholars in Chicago call the study an amateur
unfair attack on American Muslims, saying the Saudi texts quoted in the
report do not reflect the prevailing ideology of the American Muslim
community or that of the 35-year-old North Side congregation.
"We don't receive any books; we don't receive scholars; we don't
any funding [from Saudi Arabia]," said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, president
the Muslim Community Center, 4380 N. Elston Ave. "If we received
we'd look at them, we'd review them. If they are contrary to our
of promoting harmony between faiths, then we will not use those books."
He said mosque members have so far been unable to find any of the
allegedly discovered at the Chicago center. If they do, they will
their own study of the books and their content before returning them to
shelves, he said.
The researchers sought literature that was distributed by the Saudi
embassy, published by a government ministry or disseminated through a
Saudi-supported mosque. They also looked for materials that contained
commentaries by Saudi state and religious authorities or reflected
One book allegedly found in the Chicago mosque offers a Wahhabi
moderate Muslims, including a passage stating that "they openly declare
permissibility of unbelief and leaving Islam, under the call to the
According to the study, Saudi-published texts were found on the shelves
15 metropolitan mosques in California, Texas, New York, Chicago and
Washington, D.C., in December 2003. Similar materials were found on
visits in December 2004.
Marshall, who has studied Saudi Arabian influence in Africa and Asia,
the study was intended to illustrate the wide geographic reach of Saudi
Arabia's teachings. The group has already asked the U.S. government to
issue a diplomatic protest against Saudi Arabia for propagating its
ideology within the United States.
Yaser Tabbara, executive director of Chicago's Council on
Relations, questions the motivation and methodology of the study.
"Are there Muslims who espouse bigoted views? The answer to that
is `yes,' just like any other minority of any other faith," said
"What Freedom House is doing is unfortunately smearing all mosques in
United States and all mosque-goers by extension."
If the researchers broadened their study, controversial literature
likely also turn up in other houses of worship, Kaiseruddin suggested.
"We are aware that there are books written with a little inflammatory
language," he said. "I don't think books on Islam have a monopoly on
There are books on other faiths that use inflammatory language. I don't
know that they can be classified as promoting hate.
"The only thing we've received from Saudi Arabia is a package of dates
during the month of Ramadan," he added. "We don't reject that. We
distribute it and we eat them. I don't know that promotes any hatred
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