Mohamed Hassan’s obsession with taking over the Salama mosque appears to center on significant religious differences between the two congregations. “This has nothing to do with Somali politics, and everything to do with extremist ideology,” the Salama leaders claimed.
They noted the extremist connections to Ibn Taymiya — particularly its sister mosque, Masjid Omar Ibn El Khattab, which was home to the Columbus-based al-Qaeda cell broken up by the FBI. Three members of that al-Qaeda cell have been convicted and are currently serving prison sentences on terror-related charges. Masjid Ibn Taymiya and Masjid Omar are both controlled and operated by the Islamic Society of Greater Columbus.
The Salama leaders also point to their own vocal opposition to the al-Shabaab terrorist group and the extremist ideology it propagates:
We have openly disputed with the al-Shabaab supporters in Columbus, and we reject their ideology of offensive jihad and suicide bombings. As a result, many people have been leaving Ibn Taymiya, where they preach offensive jihad against the infidels, and coming to our mosque to get away from the extremists. That’s why they want to shut us down or take over our mosque — to get rid of the competition. (emphasis mine)
Ibn Taymiya’s ties to the local al-Qaeda mosque are not it’s only troubling connections to terror. The mosque is also affiliated with the Council of Imams, a national organization of Somali Islamic leaders that was incorporated by the previous imam at Ibn Taymiya. It is now headed by Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, the Minneapolis imam at the center of the current nationwide terrorism investigation into al-Shabaab recruiting. As reported by Newsweek, the New York Times, and many other media outlets, more than a dozen young Somali men were recruited out of Sheik Ahmed’s Abubakar Siddique Islamic Center. The FBI has been investigating al-Shabaab recruitment in Columbus as well.
But the continuing campaign to take over Masjid Salama by Mohamed Hassan and his Ibn Taymiya allies has not deterred Salama’s leaders, and they remain defiant despite their months-long ordeal:
They have used their political contacts, the courts, and now arson to evict us and try to shut us down. And they have failed every time. We will keep fighting, because if we lose this battle here, we have nowhere else to go.
While arson investigators continue to look into the fire that has temporarily displaced Masjid Salama, the leaders are waiting to see whether local officials and the media in Ohio — who have thus far ignored the larger controversy surrounding the fire — will finally recognize the larger battle between Muslim moderates and extremists happening in the Columbus Somali community.
And waiting to see exactly who the politicians and media will side with in this struggle.