Joel Mowbray

In the two decades since, Mr. Najib has written numerous letters to the imam and the board of directors, expressing deep concern with the mosque's extremist positions. He distributed the letters to other congregants, but had been unable to gain support. Since 9/11, however, his criticisms, have been printed in the Chicago Tribune and other local papers. Mr. Najib's last letter, dated February 2005, in which he threatened a lawsuit, came on the heels of a local bank closing the mosque's account. Bridgeview had sent $10,000 to the Islamic American Relief Agency, which was later designated a terrorist organization by the Treasury Department.

This was not the first instance of the mosque's questionable donations. Between 1991 and 2001, the mosque gave a total of almost $400,000 to three Islamic charities: the Global Relief Foundation, the Holy Land Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation. All had offices near the mosque and shared many of its leaders. When the charities were closed after 9/11 for financing terrorist activities, the mosque leaders thumbed their noses at the government, re-electing GRF officer Mohamed Chehade to its board and hiring Kifah Mustapha, who had run the Chicago-area HLF office, as its new prayer leader.

Other prominent members of Bridgeview have ties to terrorist groups too. Muhammad Salah, who was on the mosque's executive committee until 1993, is under house arrest, pending trial on charges of laundering millions to fund Hamas. Bridgeview's imam was the treasurer in the mid-'90s for Al Aqsa Educational fund, described by the FBI as a front for Hamas. The list goes on.

Mr. Najib is disturbed not only by the external ties of the mosque to these terrorist groups but also by the culture inside Bridgeview. "I have never heard one word of criticism--and I have been going there 25 years--of Wahhabism, the Taliban or suicide bombings." A strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and of a Palestinian state, Mr. Najib is nonetheless careful to voice support for peaceful resistance. He states unequivocally, “I am against all suicide bombings.”

Mr. Najib has waged five campaigns in recent years to regain the board seat he lost in 1984. Each has been unsuccessful, at least partly because the board rigs the elections by handpicking the small fraction of members allowed to vote.

Notwithstanding Mr. Najib's protests, the current leadership seems quite popular. An estimated 2,000 people attend Friday prayers, a 20-fold increase from 1983. The ever-expanding contingent of mosque-goers appears to consist largely of fundamentalists in sync with the leadership's worldview, which seeks a return to "pure Islam" and preaches withdrawal from secular society. By Mr. Najib's count, the majority of men at the mosque have religious beards and almost every woman is covered from head-to-toe. Stepping foot through the door, he says, "is like walking inside the Taliban."

While most Americans believe--or, at least, hope--that all but a handful of their Muslim countrymen find radical Islam noxious, Mr. Najib's tale is not encouraging. Not only has no one at the mosque publicly backed his reform efforts but "you can count on less than two hands the number of people who have supported me privately," Mr. Najib laments. "It's been a lonely fight."

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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