MESA and IIIT: Islamists Infiltrating Academia

The field of Middle East studies has a troublesome penchant for partnering with Islamist organizations. Case in point: The 2014 annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) will host an International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) reception at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC on November 23.

The true nature of IIIT, a Virginia-based think tank, was revealed during the 2007 U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial, which unearthed a 1991 Muslim Brotherhood memorandum naming IIIT as one of the likeminded organizations in the U.S dedicated to a “grand jihad” aimed at “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within” so that “God’s religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions.” Middle East studies professors have long shared the podium with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), another Islamist outfit linked by the United States government to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

As far back as 1988, an FBI investigation exposed IIIT’s goal to “get inside . . .  American universities” for the larger purpose of instituting “the Islamic Revolution in the United States.” Clearly, IIIT is making headway. Consider the following:

IIIT has on ongoing relationship with Hartford Seminary, including a $1 million donation in 2013 to endow a faculty chair in Islamic chaplaincy. According to one M.A. graduate, its Islamic studies program has been “an institution promoting Islamization” for the better part of a decade. Ingrid Mattson, the previous director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Harford, is also former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA.

In 2011, IIIT contributed approximately half of a $2 million endowment for a new chair in Islamic studies at Huron University College in Ontario, Canada. Soon after, Ingrid Mattson was appointed as the first London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at its Faculty of Theology.

IIIT donated $1.5 million to George Mason University in 2008 to establish an endowed chair in Islamic studies at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In 2008, Temple University declined a $1.5 million gift from IIIT to endow a chair in Islamic studies, citing ongoing federal investigation of IIIT’s possible involvement in funding for Palestinian terrorists. Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani, a cofounder and former president of the IIIT, had been named an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of Sami al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor and North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). IIIT was the primary funder of Al-Arian’s think tank and PIJ front, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise.

In addition to the aforementioned gifts to George Mason University and Huron University College, IIIT has entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Nazareth College in New York and a “Memorandum of Agreement” with Shenandoah University in Virginia. At the latter, Daoud Nassimi, chosen by the IIIT-run Fairfax Institute, taught a spring 2014 class on Islamic civilization with a Shenandoah professor.

IIIT’s Council of Scholars includes Middle East studies professors who have acted as apologists for Islamism, such as Sherman (Abdul Hakeem) Jackson (University of Southern California), Muqtedar Khan (University of Delaware), and the above mentioned Ingrid Mattson (Huron University College).  

Over the years, IIIT has organized numerous lectures, conferences, and seminars involving equally problematic Middle East studies professors, such as founding director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) at Georgetown University John Esposito; ACMCU Islamic studies professor John Voll; Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University Akbar Ahmed; and Duke University William and Bettye Martin Musham Director of Islamic Studies Omid Safi. Such professors teach Islamic studies courses in IIIT’s annual Summer Students Series and participate in its Summer Institute for Scholars.

In order to achieve its objective of producing “intellectuals who can relate their Islam to modern day challenges,” IIIT pledges at its website to participate in “teaching, training of teachers, [and the] publication of text books”;  “directing research and studies to develop Islamic thought”; “supporting researchers and scholars in universities and research centers;” and “holding specialized scholarly, intellectual and cultural conferences, seminars and study circles.”

MESA is helping IIIT achieve its goals by including it in its 2014 annual conference and by the years-long participation of its scholars in the Islamist group’s activities. This close relationship demonstrates either appalling ignorance on the part of the Middle East studies establishment or, worse, sympathy with the IIIT’s anti-Western, anti-democratic philosophy. Perhaps George Washington University professor and MESA president Nathan J. Brown can explain to the public why the organization he leads is lending a platform to a radical Islamist organization.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at

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