|This appeared in the Chicago Tribune - an expose on what goes on in the mosques in our area:
Islamic Hardliners in the Heartland
By Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune | February 16, 2004
Sheik Jamal Said stood before the packed mosque and worked the crowd like an auctioneer.
Speaking Arabic, the prayer leader asked for a donation of $10,000. No one responded. He asked for $5,000, and three men raised their hands.
Hundreds of men sat cross-legged before him in the main prayer hall. Women filled the basement, listening over a loudspeaker. All but the youngest girls wore head scarves.
When Sheik Jamal lowered his request to $2,000, more hands shot into the air. The crowd declared, "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great." $1,000? More hands. $500? Even more. In less than five minutes, he raised $50,000.
While religious leaders often mine congregations for charity, this scene at the Mosque Foundation in suburban Bridgeview stands out for two reasons.
The recipient of the worshipers' generosity was Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian activist accused by the U.S. government of aiding terrorists. And the prayer leader's passionate appeal is a reflection of the ascendancy of Muslim hard-liners at the mosque, one of the most outspoken and embattled in the U.S.
The mosque did not become this way without a struggle. Relying on hundreds of documents and dozens of interviews, the Tribune has pieced together the details of a bitter fight in Bridgeview that saw religious fundamentalists prevail over moderates…
Among the leaders at the Bridgeview mosque are men who have condemned Western culture, praised Palestinian suicide bombers and encouraged members to view society in stark terms: Muslims against the world. Federal authorities for years have investigated some mosque officials for possible links to terrorism financing, but no criminal charges have been filed…
The mosque now attracts thousands of worshipers--most of them Palestinian-Americans--by offering pro-Palestinian sermons, a spiritual refuge and a strict version of Islam. The ultraradical Saudi Arabian government partially pays the salary of prayer leader Sheik Jamal.
Moderate Muslims still pray at the mosque, but some say radicals have created an environment that is overly political, too rigid in its interpretation of Islam and resistant to open debate. These members also worry that the Muslim Brotherhood, a controversial group with a violent past, has an undue influence over the mosque. Despite these concerns, the critics largely remain silent, fearful of being called "unIslamic" by mosque leaders…
The prayer leader
An imposing man with a bushy brown beard, Sheik Jamal mesmerized worshipers with his eloquent sermons and ardent pleas to help oppressed Muslims. He was greatly admired by mosque-goers, who frequently came to him to settle everyday domestic disputes.
As a child, he was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. Growing up on the West Bank, he learned about a nearby graveyard for Brotherhood members who had died fighting for a Palestinian homeland. He later brought his own children to the cemetery to pay homage to the fighters, according to a tape of a speech he gave at a Muslim conference in 2000.
During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, his family moved to Jordan, where he would always maintain ties, eventually building a large house in an upscale neighborhood in Amman.
After studying Islam at a Saudi Arabian university, he came to Chicago to teach Arabic to African-American Muslims. In 1985, at age 28, Sheik Jamal became prayer leader in Bridgeview. Part of his salary would be paid by the government of Saudi Arabia--a stipend that totaled about $2,000 a month by 2004, according to Saudi Embassy officials in Washington.
Many at the mosque were already familiar with his views. As a guest speaker several years earlier, he had given a memorable sermon in which he criticized the mosque women for not dressing modestly.
As prayer leader, he preached that America was a land of disbelievers, where families were not valued, according to mosque-goers. He told worshipers that they should not celebrate Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving because those were not Islamic holidays. He told teenage boys and girls not to mingle.
Over time, Sheik Jamal developed a national reputation and easily attracted prominent Muslim activists to Bridgeview.
Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden's spiritual mentor, visited the mosque in the mid-1980s as part of a national tour to recruit supporters for the U.S.-backed Afghan war against the Soviet Union. At least three Bridgeview men signed up.
Sheik Jamal also raised money with skill, collecting as much as $1 million in a year from worshipers. Most of the money was passed along to Muslim charities, which then sent it overseas, according to the mosque's annual reports.
His congregation was most willing to contribute to Palestinian causes. Many worshipers felt that America blindly suppo