Pro-Iranian regime network of Islamic Centers in the US

Oct 17th, 2016

Hassan Dai

There are a number of Islamic organizations in the US that are tied to the Iranian regime, disseminate its ideology and attempt to generate support for its political agenda. The vast majority of American Muslims follow a moderate Islam and reject extremist views including the Iranian regime’s ideology. Subsequently, Iran’s influence is limited to a very slim portion of US Muslims, predominantly in the Shia community.

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Introduction

In February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini and a group of clergymen associated to him seized power in Iran. From the outset, Khomeini’s regime utilized all the means and tools at its disposal to establish and fortify its brand of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran a export it throughout the Islamic world.

The American Muslim community has also been targeted by Iran since the Islamic Revolution with the regime’s narrative of “liberating Palestine and eradicating Israel as a symbol of Western presence at the heart of the Islamic world” finding some resonance amongst American Muslims. Moreover, some of the Iranian regime’s high ranking officials were US educated and had previously been very active amongst the leadership of US-Muslim organizations in the US. This position was crucial in facilitating the new regime’s relations with the US-Muslim community. However, the Iranian hostile policies towards the US and the cutting of diplomatic ties between the two countries, limited the Iranian inroad.

In the 1980s, the Iranian regime opened several Islamic Centers and Mosques in the US and begun collaborating with many other existing Islamic institutions across the country. Over the past 37 years, the Iranian regime’s appeal among the US-Muslim community has considerably diminished, largely because of its repressive policies inside Iran and its regional policies which have fuelled sectarian wars in several countries.

There are approximately three and a half million Muslims in America, with Sunnis making up 84% and Shiites 16%. The large majority are moderate Muslims who reject extremist views including the Iranian regime’s ideology. Subsequently, Iran’s influence and support for its political policies are limited to a very slim portion of US Muslims, predominantly in the Shia community.

There are a number of the Islamic organizations in the US that are tied to the Iranian regime, disseminate its ideology and attempt to generate support for its political agenda.  For the past three decades, the New York based Alavi Foundation has contributed tens of millions of dollars to the pro-regime Islamic organizations in the US. (See Alavi’s financial reports at the end of this report) Moreover, the pro-regime Iranian-Americans, some of whom have business interests in Iran, provide financial support for the activities of these organizations. In addition to the Islamic Centers and Mosques, the Iranian regime has also launched several initiatives to increase its influence amongst US-Muslims such as the “Muslim Congress” and “Ashura Project”.

The Iranian regime’s activities through its Islamic centers are designed to generate support for its regional policies, extend its influence in the Islamic world, influence US public opinion and potentially affect US policy towards Iran.

This report will be regularly updated and more organizations will be added to the list.

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The Islamic Education Center of Houston

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The Islamic Education Center of Houston (IEC) was founded in the 1980s by a group of Iranian-American Shiites who support the Islamic Republic. The Center serves as a mosque for daily prayer and Friday congregation, and other religious ceremonies. It also operates a full time primary and secondary Islamic school called “Al-Hadi School of Accelerative Learning”.

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Al-Hadi school

IEC’s property belongs to the Iranian regime owned Alavi Foundation. In 2009, the Federal government moved to seize Alavi Foundation’s assets, including the IEC property in Houston. According to a government lawsuit, “the property was purchased in 1988 for $1.1 million and that $285,000 worth of improvements were made on the land between 1997 and 2004.” (See Alavi’s financial reports at the end of this report)

Since 2005, the Houston center has been organizing an annual gathering called “Muslim Congress” that is held in different cities across the US. The 2016 Congress was held in August in Dearborn, Michigan.

IEC holds the annual celebration of the Iranian revolution. Its 2016 ceremony featured a speech by radical and anti-Semite, Imam Mohammad al-Asi. He also spoke during the Center’s 2015 event honouring the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s death.

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The center’s top imam is Ghulam Hurr Shabbiri. Here he is speaking at the Center’s 2014 event celebrating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. One of the Center’s leading imams is the controversial Imam Hamza Sodagar who also preaches at the Iranian regime’s other Islamic Centers around the world.

One of the Center’s imams is the Iranian cleric Ali Akbar Badiei whom the Iranian press calls the director of the Houston center. Here is Badiei speaking at the Center during the 25th anniversary of Imam Khomein’s death and the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. This is a report by the Iranian press about Badiei’s 2016 speech in Houston to explain the Iranian Supreme Leader’s letter to youth around the world.

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Ali Akbar Badiei

Before coming to the US and directing the Houston Center, Badiei was the director of the pro-Iranian regime Islamic Center of Manchester in England. Badiei travels to Iran regularly to reports his activities to the Iranian authorities and speaks at government sponsored events. This is a report about Badiei’s speech during the 2016 “Islamic unity conference” in Tehran.

The Islamic Center of Houston has been actively participating in the Iranian regime’s sponsored Quds Day rally, designed to fuel anti-Israeli hatred around the globe. The Center’s Imam Hamza Sodagar spoke during the 2015 rally in Houston. The Center organises different political events that are in line with the Iranian regime’s regional policies, for example, the public demonstration against Saudi Arabia. This is the 2016 Ashura procession ceremony by the Houston Center.

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The Islamic Education Center in Maryland

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The Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Maryland is a pro-Iranian regime center founded in 1998. Its property belongs to Iran’s Alavi Foundation. (See Alavi’s financial reports at the end of this report) Furthermore, the Center has received regular donations amounting to almost $2 million since 1995 from the Foundation. The Center is led by its Imam, the Iranian cleric Ahmad Bahreini, and operates a Farsi schoolfor children.

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Each year, the Center celebrates the anniversary of the Islamic revolution and the Iranian officials at the Iranian interest section in Washington participate in the event. It also organizes the Iranian New Year celebration, the holy month of Muharram mourning (the death of Imam Hossein), and other religious events.

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The Islamic Institute of New York

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The Islamic Institute of New Yorkis a pro-regime organization that has been funded by the Alavi Foundation, which also owns the Center’s property.  Additionally, according to the Alavi Foundation’s tax reports, the Islamic Center has been given more than $1 million in donations. (See Alavi’s financial reports at the end of this report)

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The Center operates the Razi school, an Islamic Pre-Kindergarten through to 12th Grade school.

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Islamic Center of New York holding Ashura march in New York

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Iran ambassador to UN Mohammad Khazaei speaking at the Islamic center of New York

The Center organises religious events and the Ashura Procession march. It celebrates Iranian New Year and anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian Ambassador to the UN is a regular speaker at the Center’s events.

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Manassas Islamic Centre in Virginia

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Manassas Mosque in Virginia is a pro-Iranian regime center led by radical and anti-Semite Imam Abulfazl Nahidian. The Mosque operates an Islamic school for children and holds daily prayers. The Mosque’s building was purchased thanks to a donation by Alavi Foundation (See Alavi’s financial reports at the end of this report).

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Abulfazl Nahidian at Manassan Mosque

The Mosque organizes event to honour the founder of the Islamic Republic, the anniversary of his death, religious events and celebration of the Islamic revolution. Here is Nahidian speaking during the Quds Day rally in Washington, DC. Here is radical and anti-Semite, Imam Mohammad Asi, speaking at Manassan Mosque in 2015, honouring the founder of the Islamic revolution.

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Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn, Michigan

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The Islamic House of Wisdomin Dearborn, Michigan is a pro-Iranian regime center led and controlled by the Iranian cleric, Ali Elahi, who founded the Center in 1995.

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Imam Ali Elahi leading the daily paryer

Elahi was formerly a regime official in Iran.

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Elahi is a member of “Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly”, an Iranian regime organization responsible for disseminating the regime’s ideology among Shiite communities across the world and recruiting pro-Iranian supporters to advance the regime’s agenda.  According to the Assembly’s website, Elahi visited Iran in August 2015 and spoke during the sixth conference of “Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly”. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei leads the Assembly and its current secretary general is Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, who was previously Iran’s ambassador to Syria. In an interview with Iranian press, Akhtari said that part of his duty as ambassador was to provide political support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and facilitate the group’s activities.

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Ali Elahi in Iran in August 2015 attending Ahl Al-Bayt Assembly conference

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini appointed Elahi as head of the “ideological and political department” in the Iranian Navy, a department directly involved in purging, arresting, and indoctrinating Navy personnel. This is a short introduction to Elahi’s past and his ties to the Iranian regime.

Elahi’s public statements echo the Iranian regime’s positions. Here is Elahi’s interview with the regime’s Press TV, explaining the Iranian Supreme Leader’s statement on terrorism. In another interview, he attacked the Bahrain government. In 2016, as the Iranian regime began intensifying its anti-Saudi Arabia campaign, Elahi started to attack on the Saudi regime. This is Elahi speaking at an anti-Saudi rallyin Washington, DC in 2016. In an interview with Fox News, Elahi attacked Saudi Arabia and defended Iran and Hezbollah.

In September 2016, Elahi was among a selected group of American Muslim leaders who met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York. Elahi’s “House of Wisdom” website recounted the meeting: “It was a great pleasure to meet with President Rouhani, his foreign minister, Dr. Zarif. The President inspired us with his wise words on unity, standing against extremism, and saving the Islamic civilization from the danger of those who are hijacking the faith! He made a moving and meaningful statement about Shia-Sunni relationship and emphasized on so many common points among all Islamic schools of thoughts.

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Ali Elahi meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, New York, September 2016

Br. Nehad Awad of CAIR asked the president about Iran’s Syrian policy and President Bashar Al-Assad. The President gave a detailed answer to this comment, saying that the Iranian approach to Syria is not about Bashar Asad but about helping a suffering nation whose land is under ISIS occupation and whose children are beheaded by those criminal cults. If Iran and other parties didn’t fight terrorism in Syria, many more Syrian people would have been slaughtered by now. After the meeting, Imam Elahi, had a conversation with both brother Nehad and Dr. Basha and I noticed their agreement with what president Rouhani said about Syria!

During the meeting with President Rouhani, Imam Elahi admired him for his wisdom, courage, hard work and patience. Imam Elahi admired foreign minister Dr. Zarif for his article in New York Times about the fact that Wahhabi ideology is totally against both Shia and Sunni traditions in the world and we all need to be united against Takfirism!”

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Awaited One Foundation in Dearborn, Michigan

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The Awaited One Foundationin Dearborn, Michigan is a pro-Iranian regime Islamic center led by imams with ties to Tehran. The Center operates an Islamic school called “AhlulBayt Academy” and posts its activities on YouTube and Face Book. The Center publishes the Islamic Insight, where the Iranian Supreme Leaders speeches or political positions are posted and endorsed.

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One of the Center’s main imams is the controversial cleric Hamza Sodagar, who is a key speaker at the Iranian regime’s various Islamic centers around the globe. Here he is speaking at the Iranian regime’s Islamic Center in London during a conference honouring the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. Sodagar regularly travels to Iran and speaks at regime sponsored events. Here is a press report about Sodagar’s speech in Qom organized by Al Mustafa University, honoring the “anti-Zionists” struggle of a radical Pakistani Shiite leader.

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Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn, Michigan​

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Imam Hassan Qazwini leading the prayer

Islamic Institute of America and its accompanying “Muslim Youth Connection” are pro-Iranian regime centers led by cleric Hassan Al-Qazwini, who founded the Institute in 2015. Qazwini was born in Iraq and studied at Qom Seminary in Iran. He immigrated to the US in 1992 and later, in 1997, became the leading Imam at The Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in North America. In 2015, following financial and management disputes, he left the center and founded his own Islamic Institute.

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Muslim Youth Connection

A main issue of the dispute was the fact that Qazwini was sending the Center’s funds to his father’s foundation in Iraq. His father is Morteza Qazwini, a famous pro-Iranian regime cleric who leads prayers at the Karbala shrine in Iraq. He is a prominent member of “Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly”, an Iranian regime organization responsible for exporting the regime’s ideology amongst Shiite communities worldwide.  Morteza Qazwini was present at the opening ceremony of the Assembly’s sixth conference in Tehran in July 2015. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei leads the Assembly. In June 2016, Morteza Qazwini led an event in Karbala honouring Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic.

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Cleric Morteza Qazwini (Hassan Qazwini’s father) in Tehran attending the Ahl Al-Bayt Assembly conference, July 2015

Qazwini leads the daily and Friday prayers at the Center’s Az-Zahra mosque. The sermons and speeches are posted on his website, his Facebook page, and the Center’s YouTube portal.

Qazwini travels to Iran and in November 2015 organized a tour for his followers to visit Iraq and Iran. Qazwini’s public statements are in line with the Iranian regime’s policies. In one of his sermons, he criticized the alleged alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel to combat Iran. After Shimon Perez’s death in September 2016, Qazwini called Perez a murderer. Here is Qazwini’s sermon praising the Iranian regime sponsored Quds day rally.

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Muslim Congress

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The Muslim Congressis an Iranian regime sponsored initiative launched in 2005 to organise annual conferences to promote the Iranian regime’s agenda and recruit supporters within the American Muslim community. The initiative is managed by The Islamic Education Center of Houston (IEC). Each year, a US city with a large Muslim population is selected to hold the annual conference and the 2016 Congress took place in Dearborn, Michigan.

According to the Iranian press, cleric Hurr Shabbiri, the leading Imam of the Houston Center is the president of the Muslim Congress. Another imam of the Center, Ali Akbar Badiei, is the spokesperson for the Congress. In an interview with Iranian press, Imam Badiei bragged about the success of the 2016 Congress in Michigan claiming that 3000 Muslims from the US and Canada participated in the event.

Each Congress starts with a video message from the regime’s high ranking Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli in Iran. The video reports of past Congresses are posted on Vimeo, and the photos on the Congress’ Facebook page.

The Congress features radical pro-Iranian speakers like the anti-Semite Imam Mohammad Al-Asi who spoke at the Congress in 2009, in 2014 and again in 2015. Another radical cleric speaking at the Congress is the anti-Semite Abdul Alim Musa, who spoke at the latest event in August 2016.  Al-Asi and Alim Musa often travel to Iran and appear on Iranian state TV promoting the regime’s agenda.

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Radical Imams Mohammad Al-Asi and Abdul Alim Musa speaking at “Muslim Congress” annual conference

During the 2016 Congress in August in Dearborn, Medea Benjamin, the leader of the “left” organization Code Pink, was among the speakers who criticized the Iranian regime’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and asked the US to cut its support to the Saudis. Another speaker was the CAIR representative Dawud Walid, along with Kevin Barette, a pro-Iranian regime figure who frequently goes to Iran, speaks at various Iran-sponsored conferences and has regular appearances on Press TV where he promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

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Muslim Congress 2016 panel including CAIR representative Dawud Walid, Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin and anti-Semite Kevin Barette

The Muslim Congress features other pro-Iranian regime figures like George Galloway who sent a video message to the 2014 conference, and the controversial Iranian cleric Hamza Sodagar, who spoke at the 2015 conference and explained the letter sent by the Iranian Supreme Leader to youth around the world.

 

** Alavi Foundation’s annual financial reports: 2004 report, 2005 report, 2006 report, 2007 report, 2008 report, 2009 report, 2010 report, 2011 report, 2012 report, 2013 report, 2014 report

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