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The controversial imam who is popular with the far right

Mohammad Tawhidi spends his days telling his more than 200,000 followers on Twitter that immigration and diversity are dangerous
Tawhidi has made controversial statements regarding immigration and Islamophobia (screenshot)

Editor's note: This article was updated on 30 July after Mohammad Tawhidi responded to it in tweets directed at Middle East Eye in which he said he was "a conservative, not far right", and shared links to tweets which he said were "against the far-right".

The popular pro-Trump Reddit page The_Donald is one of the corners of the internet where supporters of the far right congregate. It is a place where refugees are often called "rapefugees," where liberalism is "a mental disorder," where mass shootings are met with scepticism and where diversity is seen as a danger.

Muslims and Arabs are generally painted as terrorists trying to infiltrate and destroy the nations of the West - except for one: imam Mohammad Tawhidi, an Iranian-born religious scholar living in Australia.

That's because he largely shares the same worldview that the far right does.

He spends his days telling his more than 200,000 followers on Twitter that immigration and diversity are dangerous. To the far right, he acts as a validator: a self-identified pious Muslim immigrant who says all of their views on immigration and Islam are correct.

Take, for example, this tweet from Thursday: "Multiculturalism is supposed to mean A remains A, and B remains B. Both A and B live in peace based on common values," he wrote. "However, when A wants to convert B and B refuses to live like A, B is then raped and or killed. This sounds like what's happening in your country, doesn't it?"

And tweeting out an article about migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe last week, he wrote: "The 'women and children' refugees is - in most cases - fake ... They want to kill you anyway."

Tawhidi did not respond to an emailed request for comment prior to the publication of this article. However, in tweets directed at Middle East Eye after its publication he said he was "a conservative, not far right".

He also posted links to tweets critical of the far right. In one tweet, posted on 22 July, he wrote: "Far-Right are just as bad as the Far-Left. Both do equal damage. Instead of Right-Wing and Left-Wing, how about we become Human-Wing?"

Following a further request from MEE for comment, Tawhidi responded via email by sending a link to the same Twitter thread.

Yet, some of Tawhidi's rhetoric appeals to far-right anti-Islam figures in the US.

He denies that Islamophobia exists. He has expressed support for the Trump administration's travel ban on citizens from some Muslim-majority countries and called for a temporary immigration ban on Muslims entering Australia. He says Muslims running for Congress in the US are part of a "soft jihad" aimed at taking over the nation. And he says that Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama created and funded the Islamic State (IS) group.

By doing this, Tawhidi, who claims he was previously a fundamentalist Islamist who preached violence, has become popular among the far right, who see him as validating that their views on Muslims and immigration. Today, he stands as a rare Muslim friend of the anti-Islam movement.

Far right, far reach

Tawhidi's popularity among prominent far-right figures across three continents has given him a reach far beyond his Twitter followers.

"You have probably become the most famous imam in the world for people, I'd say, who are on our side of the circle," said Tommy Robinson, founder of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim English Defence League, in a sit-down interview with Tawhidi uploaded to his YouTube channel. "You've become the first religious imam who has come out and said what I think, many of the times, needs to be said."

Tawhidi's Twitter followers represent a who's who of the far-right and anti-Islam worlds.

He's reinforcing those dangerous stereotypes which then reinforces an anti-Muslim worldview

- Todd Green, Islamophobia expert

He gets retweeted by Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of ACT! for America, the US's largest anti-Muslim group, which is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also gets shout-outs from Infowars' Paul Joseph Watson, who has almost 900,000 followers on Twitter.

On Tuesday in Adelaide, he was the opening speaker for a talk given by Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Southern is a Canadian far-right supporter who is popular in the US and known for joining the European white nationalist movement Generation Identitaire in trying to block ships attempting to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. Molyneux, also a Canadian, has propagated theories of scientific racism and eugenics, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Tawhidi has been cited as an authoritative source on Islam and its dangers by far-right publications including Breitbart (which calls him "anti-extremist") and Milo Yiannopoulos's

And a Fox News article last year characterised Tawhidi as "an Australian imam whose public opposition to radical Islam and attempts to impose sharia law has drawn criticism from other Muslim leaders in Australia".

'Very dangerous and very effective'

Todd Green, an associate professor of religion at Iowa's Luther College and an expert on Islamophobia movements, said the use of Tawhidi by anti-Islam personalities enhances the effectiveness of their message to the public.

"It's very dangerous and it's very effective," he said. "The average person in the United States or Europe or Australia actually knows very little about Islam - statistically they know very few Muslims ... And then comes this guy in the media and on Twitter who says 'well, I'll be the Muslim that you know'."

A 2014 Pew poll showed that just 38 percent of Americans knew at least one Muslim personally. A later Pew poll in 2017 showed that 41 percent of Americans believed that Islam encouraged violence more than other faiths, while 35 percent said that there was either a "great deal" or "fair amount" of extremism among American Muslims.

"For a scholar of Islamophobia, he [Tawhidi] jumps off the page as your classic native informant, the Muslim friend that most of us don't have, who will tell us the truth about Islam, who will air its dirty laundry and pat us on the back and confirm our worst fears and worst anxieties," Green said.

"So he's reinforcing those dangerous stereotypes, which then reinforces an anti-Muslim worldview that can lead to anti-Muslim policies and can lead to more hate crimes."

Still, back on The_Donald, where users often conflate Islam and terrorism, some remain sceptical of Tawhidi even though he advances their own worldview.

"His tweets check out, but I have a hard time trusting anyone who stays in that death cult," one user wrote.

And ever the source of conspiracy theories, some users of The_Donald wrote that they wondered whether Tawhidi was lying in order to gain their trust as part of a shadowy plot.

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