Michigan Muslims reject YouTube preacher who 'radicalised' London attacker
DEARBORN, United States - Muslim community leaders in Michigan questioned the religious credentials of a Dearborn man who reportedly radicalised one of the London attackers.
“I have no idea who this guy is,” Shareef Akeel, a prominent local civil rights lawyer told Middle East Eye.
Media reports suggested that Ahmad Musa Jibril, whose Youtube lectures are popular among militants, inspired one of the suspected assailants who killed seven people and injured dozens in London on Saturday night.
Other Muslim advocates told MEE that Jibril is not known or active in the area’s faith community. Southeast Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the United States.
A former friend of one of the attackers said on Monday that he had reported him to the authorities after noticing that he was becoming "radicalised" by videos of Jibril.
“He used to listen to a lot of Musa Jibril,” the friend who was not identified told the BBC’s Asian Network. “I have heard some of this stuff and it’s very radical. I am surprised this stuff is still on YouTube and is easily accessible.”
Claim to fame
Jibril rose to infamy in 2014 after he was identified by the UK-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) as one of two "spiritual authorities" inspiring Western Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda militants.
When you put a label like that it's like picking a guy off the street and calling him a doctor
- Shareef Akeel, civil rights lawyer
The Dearborn-based online preacher does not directly encourage attacks, but he defends militancy within a religious framework and has sent condolences to dead British IS militants. He also stokes hate against Jews, Christians and Shia Muslims.
For example, in one video that is still available on Youtube, he tells young Muslim men not to be afraid to be labelled as terrorists or extremists while defending their religion.
The ICSR report describes him as a “subtle, careful, and nuanced preacher”. But while ICSR has said that Jibril has a large following of militants on the internet, he is not recognised as a religious scholar locally. Akeel criticised media reports that referred to him as a cleric, sheikh or imam.
“When you put a label like that it's like picking a guy off the street and calling him a doctor,” Akeel said. “You’re elevating somebody who is not known or who doesn’t have a mosque - you’re elevating him into a religious stature, and that’s unfortunate. What are his credentials, his education to be anointed as a cleric?”
He added that such reporting does a “huge disservice” to society by legitimising Jibril.
Associating Jibril with Muslim Americans fuels Islamophobia, Akeel said.
'He is not an imam'
Dearborn has been the target of anti-Muslim campaigns and fake news about Sharia law, zones that are inaccessible to the authorities and stoning of women.
Mohammad Ali Elahi, the imam of the Islamic House of Wisdom in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, dismissed Jibril as a religious authority.
“For sure, he is not an imam. He is not a clergy,” Elahi told MEE.
He added that he has never seen Jibril or even heard of him at the Michigan Imams Council. Elahi said he inquired about Jibril, and other Muslim scholars were definitive in saying that the controversial internet preacher does not represent any mosque in the state.
Similarly, Suehaila Amen, a Dearborn-based Muslim activist, said she has never witnessed Jibril at any religious or social community event.
“For being someone who is extensively involved in the community and works closely with clergy, I’ve never met him, nor have I ever come across him,” Amen, who has starred on the reality TV show All American Muslim, told MEE.
She, too, criticised the media for giving him the title of a cleric.
“No one in our community has given any credibility or validation for his being a scholar,” Amen said. “People don’t even know who he is. The leaders in our community have never interacted with him.”
Amen said Jibril’s sectarian views do not represent the diverse local Muslim community. Sunni and Shia Muslims from different parts of the Middle East and South Asia reside in the Detroit area.
“The fact that people are constantly referring to him as an imam from Dearborn is perpetuating the misconceptions and negative stereotypes about our community,” she said. “His ideology, his views against other faiths and other sects of Islam is not what this community believes. Our community in Dearborn and across metro Detroit takes great pride in our interfaith efforts that have been existing over 40 years.”
Jibril was sentenced to five years in jail in 2005 for bank fraud. But it is difficult to charge him for spreading his views because the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects freedom of speech.
However, Akeel, the lawyer, explained that there is are restrictions on the legality of speech.
“You can say what you want to say, but there is a limit,” he said. “And the limit is the tendency to incite violence or put the public at harm. If you’re in a crowded theatre and you yell 'fire' and everybody starts to run out like a stampede, you’re going to hurt people. That’s where you put the limit.”
Stay informed with MEE's newsletters
Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.