Joel Mowbray
Omar Najib doesn't cut an imposing figure, with his white hair and disarming smile, but the 62-year-old Palestinian immigrant has placed himself at the front line of the battle to reclaim the faith he loves. Mr. Najib is not the only moderate Muslim fighting Islamic fundamentalists, but the ones he is up against at his suburban Chicago mosque are considered to be among the most radical in the nation.

Situated in Bridgeview, Ill., the mosque has been on the radar of federal authorities for more than a decade. In the last seven years, the U.S. government has taken legal action against several former officials and other prominent members for funding and participating in terrorist organizations. The mosque itself has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into three charities that were closed shortly after 9/11 for financing terrorism.

From the early '70s, the predominantly Palestinian immigrant community in Bridgeview had been trying to raise funds to build a mosque. They had little luck--until newer immigrants raised $1.2 million, mostly from wealthy Gulf countries. The older, more moderate Muslims--whose men were clean-shaven and whose women wore short sleeves and no hijabs--handed over control of the mosque to the principal fund raisers. One day later, the old guard sued, claiming they didn't know who was behind the new order--radical Wahhabists who ran the North American Islamic Trust.

Shortly after the suit was filed, the new leadership fired the longtime prayer leader, a moderate (and proud American), and replaced him with a fundamentalist, Ahmad Zaki Hammad, who was imported from Egypt. The court sided with the fundamentalists, saying it had no role in determining who controls a mosque. Mr. Najib represented the mosque—and thus, the fundamentalists who controlled it—in the two-year battle. At the time, he says, many on the mosque board were more moderate.

Within months of helping them, however, Mr. Najib realized his mistake. He raised questions about Mr. Hammad, and, as a result, lost his seat on the board. Mr. Najib's worries were eventually confirmed. The prayer leader was the founder of the Quranic Literacy Institute, whose assets were frozen in 1998 by federal authorities for terror financing. Six years later, QLI was found by a civil court to have funneled money to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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