The voice of the new imam at one of the largest mosques on the East Coast rang loud from the pulpit during Friday services recently: “The call to reform Islam is an alien call.”
People who do not understand Islam are the ones seeking to change it, said Shaker Elsayed, the new spiritual leader at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the Northern Virginia suburbs. “Ignorance comes from outside circles who know nothing about us.”
Though his role as the mosque’s religious leader is a new one, Mr. Elsayed is well known as a civic activist in a large Muslim community that has been subject to sharp scrutiny ever since the September 11 attacks. His face is a familiar one at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, where he has lent support to area Muslims who have been prosecuted for everything from immigration violations to soliciting treason. He has been vocal in support of Muslims he believes are the victims of a federal witch hunt.
Mr. Elsayed, who assumed duties as imam on June 1, also has served as secretary-general of the Muslim American Society. Some federal authorities and U.S. Muslim leaders suspect the advocacy group has links with the Muslim Brotherhood, a seminal anti-Western group that has inspired other hard-line Islamic organizations.
Mr. Elsayed, however, said he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He also has served as an unofficial spokesman for the family of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who is accused of joining al Qaeda while studying overseas and plotting to assassinate President Bush. Ali grew up in Falls Church, and worshipped at Dar al-Hijrah.
With all his activities, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mr. Elsayed’s sermons seem to carry political overtones. On a recent Friday, preaching to more than 500 men and women — with the sexes worshipping separately as is customary — he said without mentioning specific nations that: “Islam forbids you to give allegiance to those who kick you off your homeland, and to those who support those who kick you off your homeland. We do have license to respond with all force necessary to answer our attackers.”…