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Minnesota imam looks at ‘caliphate’ through Islamic lens

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Sheikh Jamel Ben Ameur, imam of Masjid Al-Tawba Islamic Cultural Community Center in Eden Prairie, discusses caliphate state and the raging violence in Iraq and Syria.

Any time a militant organization rises with violent acts in the name of Islam, some Muslim leaders grow vocal in denouncing radicalization as they distance their faith from terrorism. Often times, some of these religious leaders seem to condemn certain actions or groups because the society expects them to do so — or because they’re concerned that critics might put them in the spotlight for their silence.  

But Sheikh Jamel Ben Ameur, an Islamic scholar and imam of Masjid Al-Tawba Islamic Cultural Community Center in Eden Prairie, has refused to denounce the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for one reason, he says: because the news reports about the Islamic State are “confusing” and “complicated.”

Ben Ameur has called on his Muslim counterparts to be careful about their comments regarding the group amid developing revelations that several Twin Cities Muslims have been recruited to join the Islamic State, which is also often referred to as ISIS or ISIL. In the most recent instance, two Minnesota men — Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, and Abdi Nur, 20 — were charged this week with conspiring to support the terrorist organization. 

When he spoke to a crowd of about 100 Muslims at Masjid Al-Tawba earlier this fall, Ben Ameur said many people in the Muslim community ask Islamic scholars to condemn the group. And Ben Ameur has a message for those seeking his view on the ISIS issue: “We don’t need to accuse people of something we don’t know about. We don’t have to jump into judgment.” 

In June, the Islamic State declared an Islamic caliphate, and designated Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the caliph and  “leader of Muslims everywhere.” Since then, ISIS has remained under a global microscope that has magnified its violent actions, which have including crucifixions and beheadings, most notably of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Despite international media reports of the murder of these men — which U.S. and British officials as well as family members have confirmed — Ben Ameur has expressed skepticism about the authenticity of the videos and news reports. “We don’t know if [ISIS] did it or not,” he said. “This is confusing; we don’t know the news that’s coming to us. [Therefore], we don’t want to name names.”

Violence in the region is ‘not Islam’

When it comes to the acts of violence that the Islamic State has reportedly perpetuated in Iraq and Syria, however, Ben Ameur has been quick to say that those actions are un-Islamic, a remark that President Obama echoed during a September speech on ISIS. “Those actions are not Islam,” Ben Ameur said. “To empower Islam doesn’t mean to kill people and to takeover [territories].”

And Ben Ameur has warned ISIS admirers in Minnesota and other parts of the world against joining the group. “Why go there?,” he asked the crowd at the even early this fall, a group of mostly young men. “Who are you going to help?” he asked. “For someone to leave his family behind is wrong. We have families here. We have peace here. We can implement our religion in a way we can’t do in our countries.”

Ben Ameur was speaking about the dozens of Minnesota Muslims who have slipped away since 2008 to join Al-Shabab in Africa and the Islamic State in the Middle East. The most recent suspected wave believed to join the Islamic State includes Abdirahmaan Muhumed, 29-year-old father of nine, who reportedly died in August fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33-year-old African-American, who attended high school in Robbinsdale, also died for ISIS around the same time and in the same battle as Muhumed.  

“I kind of feel sorry for McCain,” said Jamal Omar, an American-born religious leader who converted to Islam nearly 20 years ago. “He was a young man, and obviously people had taken advantage of him with certain ideologies. I’ve noticed that a lot of these youth that go join these movements are disenfranchised youth. Then all of a sudden, they become religious and they start joining these movements, which I find kind of interesting.”

A presentation about caliphate state at Masjid Al-Tawba Center
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
A crowd of about 100 Minnesota Muslims attended a presentation earlier this year about the caliphate state through Islamic prospective at Masjid Al-Tawba Islamic Cultural Community Center in Eden Prairie.

Federal officials have estimated about 100 Americans have left the country to join terrorist groups in Syria, with about six to 12 residents of the Twin Cities, according to Special Agent Gregory Boosalis, a spokesman for the FBI’s Minneapolis office.

Without condemning a particular group, Ben Ameur described the Iraqi and Syria situation as meaningless violence. He urged young Muslims to be careful about the choices they make in life. “Don’t let your emotions guide you,” he said.   

Ben Ameur added: “Those who ask about contributing [to Islam and Muslims] and making a change, do good in your society. Start with your family and community here.”

‘Caliphate’ through an Islamic perspective

Influential and armed Islamic organizations fighting to establish Sharia law have always existed in many parts of the Islamic world. And while the Islamic State has a lot in common with these organizations, two things make ISIS stand out: The declaration of a “caliphate” — or an Islamic state — and the appointment of a ‘caliph,’ a supreme religious and political leader for Muslims throughout the world.

A caliphate is a governing system that was put in place after the death of Prophet Mohammed, Ben Ameur noted, and it isn’t an obligation upon Muslims today to establish such a system. When it existed previously, it was a system of ruling wrapped with justice, mercy and peace, he added  — not about fighting for power and seizing land. Moreover, he said, “the implementation of the law of Allah should be included in the needs of the people.  The realities of the people should be considered.” 

The establishment of an authentic Islamic state is complex and requires representation of all Muslims, Ben Ameur said, and the creation of previous caliphate systems was more than just a group of people coming together and announcing Islamic states and leaders. 

Islamic states after the death of Prophet Mohammed were named by Ahlul Halli Wal ‘Aqd — people of influence and authority — a group of people with respect and integrity among Muslims who were charged with making important decisions. 

Some of the requirements for a legitimate caliphate state include the ability to have the power and finances to be responsible for all Muslim nations, to be just and merciful. “If the implementation does not fulfill that, then we’re not to follow them,” Ben Ameur said. “The society creates caliphate. Caliphate does not create a society.” 

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/29/2014 - 02:39 pm.

    Just the person we need on the front line of discouraging recruitment to groups such as ISIS, al Shabaab, Boko Haram…

    …“We don’t know if [ISIS] did it or not,” he said. “This is confusing; we don’t know the news that’s coming to us. [Therefore], we don’t want to name names.”…

    …“We don’t need to accuse people of something we don’t know about. We don’t have to jump into judgment.”…

    Gosh, that’s really laying it on the line.

    Is there really that much doubt as to what actions the IS and other similar groups are doing? Or is it all seen to be a western media conspiracy??

  2. Submitted by Bob Smith on 11/30/2014 - 09:43 am.

    Islamic Reality

    All Muslims have an obligation to help spread Islam. One Islamic principle to help spread Islam is the practice of taqiyya. Taqiyya is deception in the name of Islam.

    This imam is using taqiyya to help deceive the unsuspecting non-Muslims into believing Islam is a “religion of peace”.

    Let’s be realistic. How “confusing” and “complicated” is it to understand cutting off someone’s head. This imam is doing his part to deceive you, the non-believer.

    Please Note: Ben Ameur has also called on his Muslim counterparts to be “careful about their comments”. This too is a part of Islam. Islam itself creates a form of fear that keeps Muslims “in line”.

    Read about Islamic fear at:
    Here is the beginning.

    Would you wear a T-shirt with a Mohammad cartoon printed on it?

    You might in Montana. Don’t try it in Mecca.


    Because, Islam trains a small number of its most devout believers it’s OK to kill. And Islamic killers have been trained to kill anyone who insults Allah and/or Mohammad.

    In Montana you’d have a good chance none of these Islamic killers would see you.

    In Mecca you wouldn’t last five minutes. One of Islam’s killers would come from out of nowhere and kill you. It is that simple.

    You don’t believe me? Ask any Muslim!

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/01/2014 - 08:07 am.

      The Dancing Religions

      Name one that doesn’t.
      Even the Amish.

      Every religion has their proselytizers.
      Every religion has odd rules that may not fit the world we know today.

      A blog is just what I need for my source of the true nature of any religion, right?

  3. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/30/2014 - 11:17 am.


    My thoughts, exactly. I get tired of seeing and hearing people dancing around this issue.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/30/2014 - 05:27 pm.

    For a look at ‘Caliphate’ through an unbiased lens, we turn to Daniel Pipes, a scholar on Islamic history.

    Dr. Pipes notes that a disagreement in the establishment of caliphates was central in the Sunni \ Shiite split.

    One can only wonder if even Ben Ameur’s tepid refutation of ISIS would be forthcoming if they were Shiite.

    It’s also interesting that Ben Ameur notes a core necessity for a legit caliphate is justice, mercy and peace…those words were used by ISIS in legitimizing their murderous rampage.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/01/2014 - 01:33 pm.

      THE Daniel Pipes?

      The one who decided that the Oklahoma City bombing had to be the work of Islamic extremists? I believe he’s the same Daniel Pipes who said Muslims did not fit in well in Europe partly because of their poor hygiene.

      On what planet is he “unbiased?”

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/01/2014 - 09:18 am.

    Thinly veiled ambivalence?

    I was also struck by Ameur’s rationale for NOT denouncing ISIS. What’s “confusing about this? Does he suspect that IS doesn’t exist? Or maybe someone else is beheading and massacring people and just “claiming” to be IS? Or maybe IS has a “good” reason for it’s actions but they just can’t get their explanation past the news media? It’s not THAT difficult to find out who ISIS is and what they’re doing. Mr. Ameur’s confusion may undermine his credibility as a scholar.

    In the end Mr. Ameur is saying that those denouncing ISIS are either disingenuous or confused. Is that really his position?

    It’s nice that he’s telling people not to be violent, and encouraging them to stay home and work on problems here, but what kinds of “solutions” for homegrown problems can emerge form this this ambivalence towards IS?

    As for these declarations regarding what is or isn’t Islam, or whether or not this is a legitimate Caliphate, this is a problem for all religions, not just Islam. The thing about religions is that there is no legitimate authority that can make such declarations and “settle” disputes. Obviously the Muslims that belong to these multitude of violent Islamic groups too numerous to list, disagree with Mr. Ameur. Clearly they believe they’re abiding by Islamic doctrine. You have your imam’s, they have theirs. Such disputes are never resolved via scriptural interpretation, religions splinter into sects, they don’t resolve into single entities. Whatever.

    I don’t really care whether or not these people are “real” Muslims, of whether or not this is Islam… that’s not my problem. MY problem is that these people are chopping off heads, massacring innocent people, and carrying out terrorist attacks all over the world. I’m not sure Mr. Ameur’s ambivalence towards that is actually helpful. And since I don’t assume that every Muslim I meet want’s to chop my head off, Islamophobia isn’t really the issue either.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/01/2014 - 05:01 pm.

      It is nice when we actually agree for a change. Nicely said.

      I wonder what he would say if Christian groups started up the Crusades again… And the Christian Pastors said… “I really can not disagree in public regarding their decision to reclaim the “promised land” from those Muslims and Jews”.

  6. Submitted by Faizal bin Ibrahim on 06/04/2015 - 08:44 pm.

    This is my proposition to solve the ISIS issue

    I called for the muslims goverment such as Saudi Arabia , Egypt , Jordan , Turkey , Morocco , Malaysia , Indonesia and Pakistan to send military personnel and assets to initiate a land invasion over Syria and put the Islamic Caliphate militia into trial under the Islamic Law , with the muslims clerics as judge and muslim people as witness . Also I wanted to add here ; if the Atlantic News do not know anything about The Way of Prophet Muhammad ( pubh) , please don’t make any statement that is not following the Islamic Knowledge . I also call the attention of new muslims in Àmerica and Europe ; learn the way of Islam in detail and comprehensively because when you know the true teachings of Islam deeply , these ‘syaitans’ cannot whisper into your ears to falsely persuaded you to join their deviant cause . This Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his militia have made enough chaos and destruction all over Syria and Iraq . It is the time for the Islamic countries to act and send their ground troops to restore order in Syria and Iraq and give back to the Syrian people their home and their country so that their can live and perform their Islamic duties in peace , again .

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