A Wake Forest University alumnus is calling on fellow graduates to stage a donor boycott until the university addresses the ties its first Muslim chaplain has with some radical groups and conducts a “fair and open debate to air the very real dangers” of Shariah law.
In an email to 24,000 alumni who graduated before 2000, Donald Woodsmall questions the 2010 hiring of Imam Khalid Griggs, who has acknowledged ties to groups that advocate for U.S. Muslims to separate from mainstream society to form a “sovereign” Muslim-American community, governed by Shariah — or Islamic law and ethics.
“No reasonable person could take issue with the University providing its Muslim students with the same sort of spiritual support enjoyed by others. As we all know, Wake Forest was founded as a religious school,” Mr. Woodsmall wrote in the newsletter, emailed Wednesday.
“But Wake Forest did a dangerous disservice to its students, its alumni and its reputation by whom they hired to fill that position. Imam Griggs’s background is disturbing and problematic, to put it mildly.”
Mr. Griggs converted to Islam in 1972 and became involved with the Islamic Party in North America after his conversion, according to an interview he had with SoundVision.com, an Islamic website.
The Islamic Party in North America, whose members are predominantly black Muslims, is active in proselytizing Islam to the black community, uses the motto “Jihad, all out struggle is our means” and urges the practice of Shariah law, according to the group’s manifesto.
Mr. Griggs also was chairman of the Islamic Circle of North America’s Council for Social Justice, a group that a 2007 Justice Department terrorism listed as a friend of the Muslim Brotherhood, though the circle itself was not indicted.
The Islamic Circle of North America has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates, and its loosely affiliated Canadian branch had its registration revoked by the Canada Revenue Service because, the agency decided, it was funneling money to a terrorist group.
Mr. Griggs declined repeated requests for comment.
Wake Forest University and university chaplain Tim Auman also declined to comment to The Washington Times.
Mr. Auman told the Winston-Salem Journal last month, in response to an act of vandalism committed against Mr. Griggs, that the imam was a peacemaker and mentor who supports Muslim life on the school’s campus.
“I’ve lived a very public life,” Mr. Griggs told the Winston-Salem Journal two years ago about his past associations. “I’ve never tried to hide my past.”
Mr. Woodsmall is expressing concern at a time of heightened fears about Islamist terrorism after the Charlie Hebdo killings in France. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., universities clamored to introduce more Islamic studies classes, and many hired imams as clergy to help Muslim students better assimilate to Western culture and provide a safe haven against Western prejudices and misconceptions.
These efforts also have led to campaigns against “Islamophobia” and attacks on people such as Mr. Woodsmall who criticize or denounce the Muslim religion.
Mr. Woodsmall, whose politically incorrect effort against the imam includes a dedicated website and multiple calls to Wake Forest’s president and the university chaplain, has been denounced as a bigot.
“He wants to manufacture a fake controversy, as many [anti-]Muslim bigots do the across the country,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “This is standard fare of cottage-industry Muslim bashers that seek to manufacture and inject their hate-filled views into the public arena — as if they were based on anything more than fear or misinformation.”
Mr. Woodsmall said he realizes people will call him such names, but he is willing to deal with critics if his voice can be heard among them.
“Universities should be places for the great debates of the day,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times. “A rational, open, civil debate on Shariah law would be enlightening for many people. However, with the political correctness of today, I know the only way I’m going to get that is if I impact them in the pocketbook.”
Universities in the U.S. have been ramping up Islamic study courses and have been hiring imams to serve their changing student bodies and to improve understanding of Muslim heritage, said Omer Bajwa, Yale University’s Muslim chaplain.
The Ivy League school hired Mr. Bajwa in 2008 as its first Muslim chaplain and hopes his position helps prevent Islamophobia that he says many students have experienced in post-9/11 America.
“The population we’re dealing with are the millennials — who in middle school and elementary school grew up in a post-9/11 world, which helped color their adolescence, their teenage-hood,” Mr. Bajwa said. “They’ve grown up in a world where there’s been two long-term conflicts in the Muslim world — where Islam had become in our political rhetoric public enemy No. 1, and that’s very problematic.”
The Muslim population in the U.S. is expected to grow to 6.2 million in 2030 from 2.6 million in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center.
That growth is reflected on college campuses, Mr. Bajwa said.
“I’m here to help those kids come to school and assimilate, to take care of the student life needs of the Muslim community — prayer needs, Ramadan needs, adjusting to college life. I’m a resource,” he said.
Although no official statistics are available, Mr. Bajwa estimates that only a few college campuses had full-time imams before 9/11. Now, about 15 U.S. colleges and universities have full-time Muslim chaplains and another 30 have part-time or volunteer chaplains, he said.
Two major North American universities — the University of Michigan and the University of Toronto — have alumni-supported chaplaincy programs, said Mr. Bajwa, who helped establish the former school’s program.
Bard College was the first U.S. college to hire a Muslim chaplain, in 1996, and Georgetown University in Washington followed three years later, dedicating a full-time Muslim position in the nation’s oldest Catholic university.
A significant number of other schools did the same in recent years. They include Princeton, Duke, Brown, Northwestern and even Brandeis, a historically Jewish university named after one of America’s first prominent Zionists.
“There’s no better place for this conversion to happen than on college universities,” Mr. Bajwa said. “It’s our job to produce global citizens who are savvy, cultured, exposed to and understand what it means to live in a globalized world. This is the type of inclusive campus community we want to create.”
However, controversies still erupt, including what Mr. Woodsmall is raising.
Last year, the University of Florida announced that it would be among the first universities in the Southeast to open a Center for Islamic Studies. An organization called the Coalition of Concerned Citizens Group protested the commemoration of the school and called its keynote speaker a “terrorist supporter.”
In Tennessee, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre shuttered a discussion in April of Shariah law because pro-Muslim groups complained about bigots and “hate groups.” They said Act for America’s presence would mean the high school would not be a “safe zone” for its Muslim students, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported.
AbdelRahman Murphy, the Muslim chaplain at the University of Tennessee, tweeted during the controversy: “As an educator and community member disappointed that hate groups are allowed in Knoxville schools.”
The debate was relocated to a community church.
Other university imams have been equally successful in helping to shut down what they consider hate speech coming from those who oppose their religion.
Last year, Brandeis University was to award an honorary degree at its commencement to former Dutch parliamentarian and Muslim feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university retracted the offer after a wave of criticism driven in large part by appeals from the college’s own appointed imam and other Muslim groups within higher education.
“This decision sets a moral standard for all of us in how not to turn each other’s renegades into heroes in our communities,” Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain and adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies at Duke University, wrote in a column.