Skip to main content Accessibility

‘Study’ of Mosques Reflects Anti-Muslim Bias of Co-Author

A new “study” co-authored by a man who staunchly believes America’s mosques are incubators of violent jihad has determined – surprise, surprise! – that America’s mosques are incubators of violent jihad.

The report, entitled “Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques” and published last week by the anti-Muslim website Middle East Forum, dons a shawl of academic respectability – but even a cursory review of its logic and methodology reveals it as a blatant exercise in propaganda. It was written by hard-core anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi and radically pro-Israel academic Mordechai Kedar.

Yerushalmi has made a life’s work of promoting his belief that Shariah – the Islamic code of law and moral conduct – is “inextricably linked” with a global jihadist conspiracy to subjugate the West. He once wrote, “The mythical ‘moderate’ Muslim ... the Muslim who embraces traditional Islam but wants a peaceful coexistence with the West, is effectively non-existent.” Yerushalmi authored Tennessee House Bill 1353, which, if signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, would define most practices associated with Shariah as prima facie evidence of a seditious intent to undermine the U.S. Constitution. (Commenting on this legislation, the ACLU said: “Extremist violence is not limited to one religion or belief. Singling out Muslims serves merely to scapegoat and stereotype them, exacerbating an already unfounded fear of and anger toward members of the Muslim community. This bill represents an egregious, un-American form of cultural profiling against an entire faith.”)

So it’s no surprise that the conclusions of Yerushalmi’s study are precisely in line with his long-held beliefs: The more strictly a mosque observes traditional Islamic practices, it claims, the more likely its imam advocates violent jihad and is working to “radicalize” his worshipers. Had the report concluded anything else, Yerushalmi’s entire mission in life might have seemed rather pointless.

The report attempts to establish a link between what it calls the “Shariah adherency” of the 100 mosques “surveyed” and the promotion of violent jihad. (The surveyors supposedly made two visits to each mosque and asked certain questions of the mosque leader.) But the survey was structured with highly dubious assumptions. The Shariah-adherency of a mosque was determined by observing a dozen externally detectible religious practices, such as whether imams wore beards, whether men and women were allowed to pray together, and whether worshipers were formed into straight lines. But this could easily be nothing more than a reflection of an imam’s respect for tradition, and not a “tell” tipping off a secret embrace of radical Islam.

Then, the mosque’s supposed willingness to promote violent jihad was evaluated by noting the presence or absence of certain pre-modern Islamic law texts, contemporary pamphlets, and whether, when asked, the mosque leader “recommended” those that contained calls to violent jihad. But this, too, is a weak and unreliable standard, as it equates the simple presence of certain material, or the imam’s recommendation of it, as an endorsement of the most violent passages. (If a priest or rabbi had a Bible on hand and “recommended” the reading of the Book of Leviticus, would that establish that he favors killing adulterers, idolaters and incorrigible children?) As reviewer Richard Bartholomew points out, the so-called “violence-positive” texts actually contain a range of material, not just exhortations to bloodletting. “The Reliance of the Traveller and the Tafsir Ibn Kathir [used by the survey authors as representing “violent” literature] are both pre-modern compendiums of Islamic law; of course they contain some troubling material, like many other pre-modern texts. But they also contain a lot else: we need to understand why the imams recommend these texts, not just note that they do and therefore chalk up one more extremist,” Bartholomew wrote.

The Middle East Forum survey found that 51% of the mosques surveyed had texts on site that, by the surveyors’ interpretation, endorse the violent pursuit of Shariah domination, while another 30% had texts “moderately supportive of violence.” That, Middle East Forum insisted, means that “[m]ore than 80 percent of U.S. mosques advocate or otherwise promote violence” – a very long leap in logic. Nonetheless, that figure has been the plum most eagerly served up by the right-wing echo chamber since the report’s release.

The report’s conclusion, incidentally, directly contradicts that of a 2008 survey conducted by two scholars, which showed that affiliation with a mosque actually increases American Muslims' level of civic engagement. Among the questions Karam Dana of Harvard University and Matt A. Barreto of University of Washington asked in their survey, described as the largest ever of American Muslims, was whether Islam and the American political system are compatible. They found that 77% of Muslims who do not regularly go to a mosque answered “yes,” while among those who are regularly involved in a mosque, that figure rose to 95%. “Data analysis clearly demonstrate that Muslims with a high degree of tadayyun, or religiosity, are significantly more likely to believe Islamic teachings are compatible with political participation in America,” Dana and Barreto concluded. “In contrast, Muslims with the lowest measure of religiosity were much more isolated from the American political system. Thus, we can conclude that Islam, as a religion and as a culture, is not in conflict with the core values of American participatory democracy.”

Yerushalmi, the founder of the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), has argued that Muslims and other “non-Western, non-Christian” people should be deported to protect the “national character” of the United States. He also was an architect of another study in 2008 called the “Mapping Shari’a Project,” which also purported to gauge the degree to which American mosques were promoting violent jihad. That study was shot through with the same bad logic and methodology as the 2011 version. Bartholomew called that earlier study “an insult to the intelligence – sociologically illiterate, and clunkily obvious in its bias and bad faith. Of course Islamic extremism should be monitored and opposed, but this kind of clownish pseudo-study is a distraction which serves no good purpose.”

Yerushalmi is a key member of a tiny, organized cadre of American anti-Muslim activists that is almost singlehandedly responsible for engineering an artificial national panic – at least, among the gullible – over the supposed threat of Islamic jihadists bent on dislodging the Constitution and imposing Shariah law on America. (A detailed look at this group of activists will be published in the Summer 2011 issue of SPLC’s Intelligence Report magazine, due out next week.) Nearly the entire roster of that core group had a hand in promoting this latest sham study: Yerushalmi co-wrote it. Daniel PipesMiddle East Quarterly published it. Robert Spencer quickly reposted it on his JihadWatch blog, as did Brigitte Gabriel on her ACT! for America site. Pamela Geller (see also here and here), executive director of the hate group Stop Islamization of America, talked it up on Fox News. David Horowitz’ website, FrontPageMag, published an interview with Yerushalmi. Frank Gaffney praised the report in a Washington Times op-ed piece.

“In short,” Gaffney concluded, “such findings strongly suggest that shariah-adherence is a useful predictor of sympathy for – and, in some cases at least, action on behalf of – jihad, to include both the Islamists’ violent or stealthy forms of warfare aimed at supplanting the U.S. Constitution and government.”

No, the “findings” suggest nothing of the sort, unless one believes the Brothers Grimm’s findings prove that old women who live in candy houses are threats to children. The report’s long leaps in logic, the shaky methodology it employs, and the clear anti-Muslim bias of its principal author make any conclusion it reaches worse than dubious.

Comments or suggestions? Send them to Have tips about the far right? Please email: Have documents you want to share? Please visit: Follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.