For the first time in decades, Minnesota is at risk of swinging red and electing the Republican presidential contender. Pollsters agree that the state, which has not elected a Republican to any statewide office since 2006, has become gradually more conservative in recent years as Democrats have lost support from rural Greater Minnesota.
But Republican hopes of winning Minnesota stand to be dashed by ISAIAH, a powerful federation of leftist, politically active churches that recently formed an interfaith partnership with some of the state’s most hardline Islamist leaders. Led in part by a radical Egyptian cleric, at least 24 Minnesota mosques established the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH, and it promises to play a crucial role in the 2020 elections.
ISAIAH describes itself as a “coalition of faith communities fighting for racial and economic justice in Minnesota,” and for years it has organized local congregations to pursue collective, mostly progressive initiatives aimed at concentrating political power. Although it advocates for racial equality like many left-wing groups, ISAIAH was apparently established to represent religious progressives opposed to supporting Israel and promoting LGBT issues.
Waleed Al Maneesy, the Salafist head of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center and president of the Islamic University of Minnesota, is a central figure in the ISAIAH–Muslim alliance. He has cited Islamic scripture accusing Jews of spreading “corruption in the land” and has instructed Muslims to place Sharia law above “man-made” laws.
Perhaps realizing that he could not attain this goal through his own initiative, Al Maneesy’s congregation joined ISAIAH to secure more Islamist-friendly candidates during the 2018 elections, as well as to advance pro-Islamist legislation.
In a February 1, 2018, Facebook post, Al Maneesy explained why Dar Al Farooq chose to join the ISAIAH alliance: “While non-Muslims are united by large blocs, including blocs for pro-Israel Jews and the churches supporting them, [there is] a second bloc for liberals, homosexual rights advocates and atheists, and a third bloc, the Federation of Churches, ISAIAH,” he wrote.
The imam continued, “It [ISAIAH] is a Nasserite [Christian] coalition which doesn’t approve of liberal and atheist demands, and at the same time doesn’t approve of demands from pro-Israel Jews. Their supporters include the leaders of 145 large churches, and their followers include up to 200,000 or more in the state of Minnesota.”
According to the Al Maneesy, ISAIAH adopted a “list of demands” from local mosque leaders, including requests “to solve problems with Muslim immigration and to confront linking Islam to terrorism.” The Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH, however, was not only established to support the rights of Minnesota Muslims, but to introduce Sharia law into the state capitol.
Continuing on Facebook, Al Maneesy explained how ISAIAH seeks to “help the government to facilitate Islamic Sharia-compliant Halal [interest free] loans for Muslims,” while working “to appoint a Muslim among [Minnesota’s] higher education authorities.”
ISAIAH’s Muslim agenda included demands to win “official recognition of the Islamic University in Minnesota” (IUM), where Al Maneesy serves as president and chancellor. IUM has been called a “hotbed of extremism” by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and instructors have lionized jihadists and refused to condemn ISIS.
To perpetuate this agenda, ISAIAH’s Muslim members have mobilized grassroots advocacy drives, such as organizing an annual Muslim Day at the Capitol or protesting counterterrorism efforts by local authorities.
Another important way that ISAIAH influences local politics is through its extensive delegate training programs. In January 2018 alone, the interfaith alliance held 50 caucus training sessions in mosques and churches throughout Minnesota, preparing so-called “faith delegates” to attend conventions and vote on their party’s agenda.
In a highly publicized local controversy, Imam Asad Zaman, the executive director of the Muslim American Society (MAS) of Minnesota, led at least one of these sessions on behalf of the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH. In 2008, federal prosecutors referred to MAS as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America,” a transnational Sunni Islamist movement founded to revive a theocratic Islamic state (although MAS denies this affiliation still exists).
Zaman, who provided delegate training to approximately 30 Muslims in January 2018, is not shy about his extremist views. His social media includes links to a neo-Nazi, Holocaust denial website, as well as a blog that claims U.S. presidents “depend upon the votes and the influence of Jews in New York who support Israel.”
According to a non-Muslim attendee, Zaman told his delegates-in-training that the American political system is “easy to penetrate” because American citizens — especially Republicans — “don’t show up” to caucus events. He predicted that if his pupils succeeded, politicians would “have to come to us for endorsement,” and his trainees would “be the body that approves the laws.”
ISAIAH’s strategy was effective two years ago, when Minnesota elected Islamists such as Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison to public office. In addition to these two well-known Muslim politicians, the Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH endorsed and successfully elected several candidates to local office, including Minnesota House Reps. Hodan Hassan and Mohamud Noor, along with Minnesota Board of Education Director Siad Ali.
Speaking to Al Mugtama magazine in 2018, Al Maneesy credited the primary victories of seven Muslim American candidates on ISAIAH’s support and coordination. He explained how local religious leaders worked with ISAIAH to come up with a “unified list of joint candidates,” adding that “Imams and priests are urged to elect this list.”
Several ISAIAH endorsees from 2018 will try their luck again in the 2020 general election. This includes Amir Malik, Democratic candidate for District 37B of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Malik was the civil rights director for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamist nonprofit designated as a terrorist entity by the United Arab Emirates because of its documented Muslim Brotherhood connections.
State Reps. Noor and Hassan, who are up for reelection in November, appeared as guest speakers at a May 21 Iftar celebration sponsored by local CAIR and MAS chapters. CAIR’s Minnesota branch has historically impeded counterterrorism investigations targeting radicalized Somali Muslims, and its executive director, Jaylani Hussein, refused to denounce Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood during a public forum in 2017.
Then there is Sharon El-Amin, 2020 candidate for the Minneapolis School Board. Complaining in a 2016 Facebook post that “we want to allow transgender to use the bathroom of their choice” and disparaging “gay marriage,” El-Amin observed that “we are living in the Day of Religion” and advised readers to “study the history of our Prophets.”
ISAIAH is a political powerhouse in Minnesota, representing hundreds of thousands of congregants. With such reach, it stands to play a major role in statewide elections and could even impact the outcome of the presidential race. ISAIAH’s recent partnership with some of the most radical Muslim leaders in Minnesota could undermine the state’s democratic institutions and present a public safety threat to a Muslim community already vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. Minnesota citizens may soon learn that religious fundamentalism, even from the left, has no place in local politics.
Hany Ghoraba is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He writes for Al Ahram Weekly and is the author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.