A Democratic primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, in the 1st Congressional District has landed endorsements from progressive groups despite her connection to a Muslim cleric who called the Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage the “darkest day in human history,” and whose followers claim ISIS terrorists are secretly allied with Israel in a bid to control the world.
“We did not ask (her) about her religious beliefs,” Russell Freedman, state coordinator of Progressive Democrats of America, said of his group’s endorsement of Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, which he said was based on her answers to the group’s questionnaire.
Ms. Amatul-Wadud, 44, of Chicopee, an African-American Muslim lawyer and mother of seven, is making her first run for office in challenging 15-term Democratic incumbent Mr. Neal, dean of Massachusetts’ delegation to the House of Representatives.
She has served as general counsel for Muslims of America Inc., founded by Pakistani Muslim cleric Sheik Mubarek Gilani. She also has represented Holy Islamberg, an upstate New York community of Muslims who are followers of Sheik Gilani, and site of Muslims of America Inc. headquarters.
At the Muslims of America Inc. website (www.tmoamerica.org) Ms. Amatul-Wadud is pictured moderating a 2015 International Islamophobia Conference that the group hosted and she helped plan. Currently top, The Islamic Post, that asserts Ms. Amatul-Wadud’s congressional campaign is being targeted by “anti-Muslim extremists” at the Clarion Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit with a stated mission of exposing “radical Islam.”
The same website carries statements by Sheik Gilani and by the Islamic Post that are anti-gay and anti-Semitic.
In a July 2015 staff article on the website titled “Sodom and Gomorrah comes to America,” Sheik Gilani is quoted calling the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage “the blackest day in the history of mankind,” which, he warned, invited the wrath of Allah.
A February 2015 Islamic Post article on the website maintains that Zionists and ISIS terrorists are in a conspiracy led by Israel to gain control of the world’s wealth.
A September 2017 Islamic Post article on the website describes Hurricane Harvey as a “symbol of God Almighty’s wrath,” brought down as a “result of disobedience and open rebellion to God Almighty’s laws.”
In a phone interview with the Telegram & Gazette on Tuesday, Ms. Amatul-Wadud was asked to describe her association with Muslims of America Inc. She said she has represented the group as an attorney in federal cases. “Currently we have no open cases,” she said.
Ms. Amatul-Wadud said she did not understand why she was being asked to disavow statements by any religious organization because of her work with them.
She was asked if she would describe herself as a follower of the sheik. “I’m not understanding what any of my personal views have to do with this race,” she said. “I have been in Worcester County talking about my congressional race. I’ve been talking about humanitarian issues as opposed to religious issues.”
Ms. Amatul-Wadud was asked if she had spoken with Muslims of America Inc. about removing her likeness from its page because of its proximity to anti-Semitic and anti-gay statements.
“I represent thousands of people and I do not dictate to my clients what to do or not to do,” she said. “The reason I don’t engage in responding to this very strange line of questioning is because it does come from a place of Islamophobia, sexism, misogyny, and attempting to try to make me take responsibility for things I did not write, did not issue, have not engaged with.
“I’m very disappointed that we’re having this conversation, especially because the community out there in Worcester County has very real issues like I said that are not issues of religion - they’re issues of humanitarian needs, they’re issues of social needs.”
She was asked if she disavowed what the sheik said about same-sex marriage. “I’m not disavowing or affirming anybody’s opinion,” she said. “That’s just so unfair for you to ask me to do that.”
What about the remarks regarding Israel and ISIS? “I’m not disavowing or owning or affirming anybody’s opinions that I do not issue myself, for this group or any client or group that I represent,” Ms. Amatul-Wadud said.
Asked if she counted herself a follower of the imam, she ended the interview. “Do you have any other matters related to the political campaign today? Alrighty, I think we’re done.”
Ms. Amatul-Wadud converted with her family from Christianity to Islam when she was 4, according to her campaign website. She was born in Queens, New York, and her parents relocated her three siblings and her to Springfield in 1984, according to her campaign website. She is a graduate of Elms College and Western New England University School of Law.
Her quest to become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress has been front and center in media coverage of her campaign. “With hope and a hijab,” reads a Boston Globe headline on her run.
As well as representing Muslims of America Inc., she has represented the small community of Islamberg, New York, an enclave of Muslim families who live on 70 acres in the Catskills. The settlement, with a population of 200, was formed by African-American Muslims from New York City who follow the teachings of Sheik Gilani, who in the 1980s urged his American followers to leave metropolitan areas and establish rural communities centered on religious life, according to Reuters.
The CBS News program "60 Minutes" in 2002 profiled Sheik Gilani, said to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, and the man Daniel Pearl was on the way to meet when the Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped. Mr. Pearl was following a lead that shoe-bomber Richard Reid may have been part of the sheik’s network of disciples, "60 Minutes" reported.
The Weekly Standard in 2002 described Sheik Gilani as leader of a group called Jamaat al-Fuqra, with longstanding ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which had sponsored terrorist training camps. “At a Brooklyn mosque, Gilani, sporting ammunition belts, preached Islam as the path to a better life and called for fighters to join the holy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan,” Mira Boland wrote in the March 18, 2002, Weekly Standard. “Under the guise of studying Islam, some of his followers were initiated into the international Islamist movement.”
Earlier this week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Massachusetts chapter said anonymous mailers targeting Ms. Amatul-Wadud attempted to “stoke fears” of Muslims.
CAIR said the illustrated mailers were sent to homes around Westfield after one of the candidate’s campaign events. The mailers criticized Ms. Amatul-Wadud for serving on the CAIR-Massachusetts board of directors and as general counsel for the Muslims of America Inc., the Associated Press reported.
“The two organizations are frequent targets for right-wing groups,” the AP reported. “The Muslims of America operates Muslim enclaves like Islamberg in New York. CAIR is often tied to fundamentalist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which it denies.”
Ms. Amatul-Wadud faces an uphill fight in her challenge to the incumbent Mr. Neal. Her campaign reports a little more than $37,000 in cash on hand, compared to nearly $3.4 million for Mr. Neal, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Mr. Neal’s campaign manager, Peter Panos, declined to comment for this article.
The 1st Congressional District includes the Worcester County towns of Brookfield, Charlton, Dudley, East Brookfield, Southbridge, Sturbridge and Warren.