The names of three Muslim religious leaders, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheik Hamza Yusuf, keep coming up in a surveillance report released by the New York Police Department.
The surveillance was part of a large spying operation the NYPD set up after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to keep tabs on Muslim businesses, student groups, and on sermons using informants known as Mosque crawlers. But nothing incriminating has been found about these imams.
On the contrary, Scott Korb writes that these imams are popular among young Muslims because they are building an American Islam, with transparent institutions and public debates.
They appeal, in large part, because they were born and raised in this country and have a vision for Islam that is unmistakably American. Though they’ve all spent time studying in Muslim-majority countries—Imam Zaid and Sheik Hamza were away for years—their focus remains on building a Muslim community that looks and feels, in every way possible, American. They are not alone, of course, and they do not always agree, but they have been in the vanguard over the last 15 years, at least; their students are just now growing into leadership roles of their own, compelled by the notion that the religion must adapt, within the norms of the tradition, to the culture of the lands where Islam has moved over the centuries.
Muslim groups say the surveillance is a violation of their civil rights. The NYPD defends the program and New Jersey’s attorney general just concluded the surveillance was legal.
- Scott Korb, religion writer who teaches writing at New York University and the New School