Update – December 7, 2015: DAWN news reports that terrorist Tashfeen Malik was also linked to Al-Huda, stating: “The woman who, with her husband, shot dead 14 people in California last week attended one of the most high-profile religious teaching centres for women in Pakistan, a teacher at the Al-Huda institute told AFP Monday. Tashfeen Malik, 29, studied at the Al-Huda Institute in Multan, which admits middle-class women and also has offices in the US, the UAE, India and the UK, the teacher at the teaching centre who gave her name only as Muqadas said.”
Regarding the December 2, 2015 the San Bernardino, California attacks, the primary suspects were named as Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who were killed in a shootout hours after an attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, which led to 14 killed and 17 wounded. Syed Farook’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan spoke at a press conference held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) late Friday night, where he stated “I just cannot express how sad I am for what happened today.” NBC News interviewed San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, and reported that he said “a motive in the shooting has not been determined.” Syed Farook has been reported as a U.S. citizen, and reports have stated his parents were immigrants from Pakistan.
On a follow-up report, the UK Telegraph news media reports on that “[i]n 2006, Rafia Farook, who records indicate is Farook’s mother, filed in a Riverside court for divorce from her husband, also named Syed Farook.”
On Facebook, a Rafia Farook was listed (now offline) who was related to, had the same friends and relatives, and attended the same local mosque as San Bernardino reported terror gunman Syed Farook. Rafia Farook’s Facebook friends also included Syed Farook’s brother-in-law Farhan Khan, who spoke at the CAIR December 2 late night press conference after the San Bernardino attack. Their Facebook sites and most of their friends have been taken offline. However, before that happened, we learned that this same Rafia Farook liked the “Dr. Farhat Hashmi” Facebook site which promoted her teachings of the Al Huda Institute.
A screen shot of Rafia Farook’s Facebook likes, including “Dr. Farhat Hasmi,” was captured before the Facebook site was taken down.
This is significant because of the frequently controversial positions of Dr. Farhat Hasmi and her Al Huda International Welfare Foundation (“Al Huda”), which have been the source of news reports by the National Public Radio, Pakistan news media, and Canadian news media.
On April 7, 2010, the National Public Radio (NPR)’s Asma Khalid provided a news report on Dr. Farhat Hashmi and her religious schools of Al Huda International Welfare Foundation (“Al Huda”) in Pakistan, entitled “Religious Schools Court Wealthy Women In Pakistan.” In the report, Asma Khalid wrote that “[i]n Pakistan, wealthy women have been returning to Islam and finding comfort in Al Huda, a new network of religious schools. The students insist the faith they are studying is peaceful and tolerant. But critics hear echoes of Taliban ideology in what the schools preach.”
Faiza Mushtaq was interviewed by Asma Khalid for her review of the “Al Huda” phenomenon, which she was writing about for a paper at Northwestern University stating: “These women come to Al Huda, spend a year or two years getting a diploma. And then these women go back to their hometowns or to their own neighborhoods, use the same sort of education materials, the course plans, Farhat Hashmi’s lecture tapes, and start offering a diploma course of their own.”
Asma Khalid reported that there were 200 branches of the “Al Huda” school, and stated at one such school “Here, like all of the Al Huda branches, the focus is the Quran. Students learn line-by-line translations and analysis. They learn about the importance of mercy and forgiveness -nothing political and nothing violent. It’s a stark contrast from the extremist rhetoric taught in some schools.” Asma Khalid continued that the Al Huda movement was a social movement ” a movement in the sense that it goes beyond individual transformation, ultimately has a vision of what it wants a Pakistani society to look like.”
Asma Khalid stated that “That scares some people in Pakistan, like Nadeem Paracha. He’s a columnist for the popular English-language newspaper Dawn. He says Farhat Hashmi may use gentle words but deep down, she’s an extremist. Her orthodoxy echoes the Taliban’s vision for Pakistan.”
Al Huda leader Dr. Farhat Hashmi provides her own web site of lectures and commentary. Dr. Farhat Hashmi was listed by the The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center of Jordan as one of the “World’s 500 most Influential Muslims in 2012.”
In the NPR report by Asma Khalid, Dawn Newspaper columnist Mr. Nadeem Parcha told Ms. Khalid that regarding the Al Huda movement that “I don’t care about if they call themselves soft Muslims or whatever. They are playing an equally destructive role. If the Taliban are playing a destructive role in a political manner, then these preachers are playing a very destructive role in a culturally and social manner.” NPR’s Asma Khalid concluded that Dr. Farhat Hashmi “insists that she preaches tolerance, not tyranny. But not everyone believes her. Hashmi’s classes exist in a climate of religious anxiety here in Pakistan. It’s a place where suicide bombers are ripping through markets in the name of Islam. And it’s a place where born-again, bourgeois Muslims are muddling the very idea of what it means to be a modern woman.”
Wikipedia reports that Dr. Farhat Hashmi “was formerly a lecturer and assistant professor at the Faculty of Usul-al-Din at International Islamic University, Islamabad.” In the report, it also quotes a report from the Pakistan Daily Times which stated “During a sermon when asked by a woman what a wife should do if her husband was unwilling to help her destitute parents, Hashmi promptly quoted An-Nisa, 34 (Chapter Al Nisa, verse 34) of the Quran, arguing that the wife should comply with her husband’s wishes, ‘no matter what, as he was her divinely appointed imam.'”
Four months after the NPR report on Al Huda, on August 19, 2010, Muslim Link Paper wrote a rebuttal to the NPR article, stating : “Area Muslim women responded to recent allegations that a famous female Islamic lecturer was promoting extremism, calling the media reports baseless. Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation, an Islamic, educational institute that gives to the needy and also provides Islamic learning to women of all ages around the world through online lectures, was accused of promoting an ‘orthodoxy’ that ‘echoes the Taliban’s vision for Pakistan’ in an April 5, 2010 National Public Radio (NPR) segment. ‘I don’t see how those allegations could fit’, said Samiyah Mustafa from Rockville, 18, in an interview with the Muslim Link. She took an Al-Huda International Foundation course in January 2009 and finished it one month ago… The ‘sorority of Al-Huda’, as one sister in Saudi Arabia puts it, were dismayed to hear the institute being accused of breeding terrorism. ”
The Muslim Link article also drew some angry responses from commenters who stated they were Muslim women, who disagreed with and objected to Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s Al Huda campaign.
Tehmina Murtaza commented: “Farhat Hashmi has turned religion into a business. Women need to get educated and contribute towards science and math and business etc and not just dedicate their lives to propagating the ulhuda\’s version of religion. It is possible to be both a good Muslim and contribute to society. ”
Seema Kurd commented: “She should put more emphasis on teaching men how to respect women. This way misery in many muslim countries for women will end. Many muslim countries treat women like trash. There are forced marriages, honor killings, female children are being killed before they are born. Why can’t Ms, Hashmi see that. Thousands and thousands of women are being slaughtered every day in so call muslim countries. She should promote education for women and help poor women by giving them sholarships. A burka, veil, hijab, or abaya does not protect women. We should strongly teach young boys to respect females from an early age, so they should not look at other women as sex objects. I totally dislike her teachings. We all should be taught arabic in schools so we are able to read and understand Quran. No one can tell fellow muslims what the Quran says, s/he should be able to read and understand it. We women should not regards men as Gods. In Islam men and women are equal, and they should work together to bring up a family and respect each others friends, relatives, and parents.” (Quoted without editorial changes.)
In 2003, the Pakistan Daily Times also reported a letter from a Yasser Latif Hamdani who was concerned about broadcasts of Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s lectures in India: “To the horror of every right thinking Pakistani, ARY has started broadcasting the self-styled Islamic scholar Dr Farhat Hashmi’s lectures. Not only is she misleading the young women of Pakistan by preaching a puritan and narrow interpretation of Islam, her lectures are now being aired directly into India where Pakistan is already seen as a close-minded extremist nation. Dr Farhat Hashmi’s interpretation of Islam is very retrogressive, which is in stark contrast to the dynamic nature of the Islamic faith. For example, the topic of discussion at one of her recent lectures aired by ARY was ‘The status of laughing in Islam’. She all but declared laughing to be completely haraam and a major sin. According to her, the time spent laughing and being happy, would be better spent remembering Allah. Is Islam really as stifling as Dr Hashmi makes it out to be? Dr Farhat Hashmi and others like her represent a disturbing trend and may have an adverse impact on the women’s movement in Pakistan. Women in Pakistan have always stood up for their rights despite all odds, and fought off the bigotry of fanatical religious leaders. Now they are being betrayed by one of their own kind, who has capitulated and joined the ranks of those who wish to uphold the conservative and stifling set-up of a patriarchal society.”
A Pakistan blog of the “Critical Supporters of Pakistan People’s Party’ (CSPPP)” provided a more critical view of Dr. Farhat Hashmi, making the allegation that Farhat Hashmi’s teachings were bringing women “into the Saudi-Wahhabi cult.”
The Pakistan Friday Times has provided a report by the Director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Khaled Ahmed, titled “A decade of millennial change,” where he expressed concern about growing extremism in Pakistan. Khaled Ahmed wrote: “The tragedy of 9/11 was reinterpreted and even rich women of Pakistan following the Al Huda movement of Farhat Hashmi heard from her that Osama was a ‘soldier of Islam’ and took it to heart. There was some English-Urdu divide but no one was willing to own the part Pakistan had played in providing Al Qaeda its launching pad of global terrorism in Pakistan.”
Khaled Ahmed has also made this same claim in the Pakistan Tribune: “India’s Zakir Naik and Pakistan’s lady proselytiser Farhat Hashmi, have called Osama bin Laden a soldier of Islam.” (I have found no confirmation for such a statement written in English from Farhat Hashmi.)
Khaled Ahmed, wrote in an article for the Pakistan Tribune, the “Daughters of Al Huda,” that “[w]e are wrong to look for terrorist tracts in the madrassa. The suicide bomber is not made through syllabi but through isolation from society. When we wish to produce a normal citizen we begin by socialising the child. Anyone withdrawing from society by rejecting its norms is ripe for the plucking by the terrorists. The residential madrassa does that. In Islamabad, a number of female ‘dars’ groups are busy doing that in varying degrees.” “Al Huda ladies wear hijab and abaya and are found in the big cities. They are usually well-heeled, using the group-isolating dars activity to reinvent personal identity through ‘discovery’ of Islam. Al Huda was founded in 1994 by Farhat Hashmi and husband Idrees Zubair, both PhDs from Scotland’s famous centre of Islamic learning, the University of Glasgow. Farhat, from Sargodha, where her parents were both members of Islami Jamiat Tulaba, is steeped in the ‘dars’ of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulana Maududi’s thought.”
Khaled Ahmed referenced a book by Ms. Sadaf Ahmad, an assistant professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Lahore, entitled, Transforming Faith: The story of Al Huda and Islamic Revivalism among Urban Pakistani Women (Syracuse University Press 2009), which studies the Al-Huda movement. The book describes its focus as “In Transforming Faith, Sadaf Ahmad deftly explores how Al-Huda is fostering a new generation of educated, urban, middle-class women to become veiled conservatives. She offers an engrossing and sensitive account of how the school’s aggressive recruiting methods through informal religious study groups and a one-year degree program combined with the school’s techniques of persuasive teaching methods have turned Al-Huda into a social movement.”
Khaled Ahmed reported from this book that “Al Huda ladies began to alarm with their rejection of society. Some orthodox Muslims began to ask questions. The author found Al Huda graduates to be ‘very intolerant and judgmental toward people who were different from them’ (p 193). Mr. Ahmed also reported “The Canadians are probably worried because Farhat thinks Osama bin Laden is an Islamic warrior.” In his review of Ms. Sadaf Ahmad’s book on Al Huda, he stated that the “author opines: ‘They react strongly to her statements, such as her claim that the 80,000 Pakistanis who died in the 2005 earthquake did so because they were involved in immoral activities and had left the path of Islam, and fear that her brand of extremist Islam will further marginalise their Muslim communities within the country’ (p 196).”
In 2005, the Pakistan Daily Times also reported: “Farhat Hashmi, the controversial Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist, says those who died in the October 8 Pakistan earthquake were punished by God for their ‘immoral activities’.”
Farhat Hashmi began her Western operations in 2004, with a sponsorship in Canada, out of Toronto. In 2005, the Pakistan Daily Times reported that: “A Pakistani who sees Dr Hashmi’s arrival in Canada as ‘bad news’ for the community, told Daily Times that she has been in the country now for close to a year and in 2004, she and her husband ran Quran ‘courses’ in a mosque run by the Islamic Circle of North America (ISNA), a nationwide conservative group with close ties to the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan and similar ideologically motivated groups elsewhere.”
In June 2006, after twelve Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were arrested in a significant terrorist bomb plot in Canada, the Pakistan Daily Times reported with concern about the growth of Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s schools in the West, in this case in Canada. The Pakistan Daily Times stated: “Pakistan needs to worry too because of the image its Islamists are giving it. Pakistan’s ‘rich man’s preacher” Farhat Hashmi, after making a lot of money off the penitent upper crust, has landed in Canada and bought property for her big Islamic institution. The school is the latest extension of Al-Huda International which Dr Hashmi founded in Pakistan in 1994 after graduating with a PhD in Islamic studies from the University of Glasgow. The school now counts more than 10,000 graduates and she has offered lectures to women in Dubai and London. She has moved to Toronto with her husband and family ‘in response to demand from young women in the city to gain a deeper understanding of Islam’. For a nominal fee of $60 a month, students attend classes four days a week for five hours a day. The moderate Muslims of Canada call her Wahhabi because of her unbending doctrines. ‘Hardline’ political Islam has been leveraged in Canada with Saudi-Wahhabi funds. A 2004 study found that millions of dollars were funnelled to extremist Islamic institutions. It said Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund 210 Islamic centres and 1,359 mosques around the world, including in Canada. It cited an official Saudi report in 2002 that stated ‘King Fahd donated $5 million for the cost of an Islamic Centre in Toronto, Canada, in addition to $1.5 million annually to run the facility.’ The Saudi factor has since faded away but the ‘zone of contact’ of Pakistanis with their Arab brethren remains the mosque, facilitated by the English language, not available as effectively in the Arab world where a large number of expatriate Pakistanis live.”
In 2006, the Pakistan Daily Times also reported that “Farhat Hashmi, founder of the ultra-conservative Al-Huda centres, who moved to Canada nearly two years ago with her family has been told by Canadian immigration officials to leave the country but so far has failed to do so.” The Pakistan Daily Times reported that “Hashmi is operating classes attended by upscale, generally idle and mostly affluent Pakistani women and impressionable teenagers. Her reactionary teachings, which many see as bordering on retrogressive interpretations of Islam, have set a challenge to liberal sections in the Muslim Canadian community in Toronto, which is already trying to cope with increasing difficulties triggered by the recent arrest of 17 youngsters, almost all Pakistanis, on terrorism charges.”
No additional information has been available on her immigration issues with Canada, although it appears she is still living in Canada. She was to work for Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada), but reportedly ISNA could not afford her salary.
A report in January 2011 by the Toronto Star stated that an audit of ISNA Canada identified mismanagement of $600,000 in donations, and indicated that funds designated for the poor were not reaching them. The Toronto Star reported: “Devout Muslims donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of Canada’s largest Islamic organizations on the promise that the cash would be used to help the poor. But only one in four dollars donated to a special pool of money at the Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada) actually reached the needy.” The Toronto Star reported: “The organization had a world-renowned Islamic scholar on its payroll, despite her not actually working for ISNA, in a bid to help her immigrate to Canada, the audit revealed. Farhat Hashmi had been invited to come from Pakistan to deliver lectures several times throughout the mid-2000s. ‘This is a serious violation of the (Canadian Revenue Agency) rules and immigration rules to hire someone just in the books to help get through immigration,’ the auditor’s report said.”
But there has been no impact on Al Huda’s operations or growth in Canada, Pakistan, or the west.
The Pakistan Daily Times has remained concerned about the influence of Al Huda, however, and reported that: the “wave of fundamentalist thinking among largely middle class Canadian Muslims has received a fillip from Al-Huda founder Dr Farhat Hashmi who recently immigrated to Toronto. According to Farzana Hassan, a Toronto-based freelance writer, ‘As if the conservative push to uphold faith-based arbitration in Ontario was not enough of a blow to progress in Canada, another version of Muslim fundamentalism has recently begun to consolidate its foothold on Canadian soil, particularly in the greater Toronto area. Although Dr Farhat Hashmi is a well-known theologian with a doctorate from the University of Glasgow, she epitomises hard-core, doctrinaire orthodoxy – a worldview which appears to be gaining strength as a result of ambitious funding from certain quasi-governmental organisations in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.'”
The Pakistan Daily Times report also quotes comments from Farzana Hassan, “[a]ccording to Ms Hassan, writing in the California-based outlet, Islam Today, Dr. Hashmi has come to wield “tremendous influence on the hearts, minds and souls of South Asian Muslim women, some of whom come from avowedly secular backgrounds.” The newest Canadian venture of Dr. Hashmi’s Al-Huda foundation involves the launch of a one-year diploma programme, aimed at producing female Muslim role models as ‘paragons of virtue and piety in every respect.’ Ms Hassan argues that this translates into ‘utter subservience, bigotry and ignorance,’ as those ‘trapped within such a programmed and brainwashed mentality refuse to recognise oppression to begin with, and if perchance they do, they justify it, citing examples of ‘inherent’ gender differences and ‘male superiority.'”
Raheel Raza, writing in American Thinker on November 8, 2008, stated that “In Mississauga, Ontario, a woman by the name of Farhat Hashmi runs an Islamic school for girls. Hashmi wears a full niqab (face covering) and encourages young girls to emulate her. She is known for promoting a very conservative Islamic ideology that is based on Wahhabism. She, like other Islamists is in favor of Sharia in Canada.”
The Shia Public Affairs Council (SHIAPAC), which seeks to protect persecuted Shia / Shiite Muslims, has expressed concern about perceived radical Pakistan clerics in the West “converting peaceful Sunni Muslims to radical Deobandi and Wahhabi.” The SHIPAC references “Farhat Hashmi” among those clerics leading such radical conversions in the West.
Another Pakistan commenter criticizes the “anti-Shia poetry published by Dr Farhat Hashmi Salafi on her Facebook page has been written by notorious pro-Taliban hate cleric Taqi Usmani Deobandi in order to malign sacred Muharram rituals of Shia and Sunni Muslims.”
As Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) noted at the beginning of this posting, the San Bernardino police are still investigating the cause of what appears to us to be a wanton terrorist attack on helpless and innocent people. As others have said, in the view of the human loss, any rationale for such a tragedy seems less consequential. However, as R.E.A.L. would do with any known and/or suspected extremist attack, we believe it is the obligation of those committed to standards of human equality, human rights, and human dignity to identify and challenge extremist views from any source: by gender, by race, by nationality, by identity group, by religion, when the safety and security of our human rights, and our most precious human right of life, is threatened.
We urge the supporters of Al Huda to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) without qualification and exception, and to speak out on the attack in San Bernardino, and if they reject extremist views to make such rejection publicly very clear. There are clearly many concerns, much of which come from other Muslims, other Muslim women, people of Pakistani origin, and others, too many to simply ignore.