As president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an eight-year-old group that twins conservative and Islamic values, Zuhdi Jasser is no fan of the more visible Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Washington-based CAIR and too many other U.S. Muslim groups, Jasser says, are soft on extremism and advocate a form of “political Islam.” The leadership of most U.S. groups is, as he puts it, “malignant.”
Islam is a decentralized religion with little to no hierarchy; in the United States, surveys indicate that about half or fewer of the estimated 3 million to 6 million Muslims attend mosques regularly.
Before 9/11, the best known Muslim-American groups were CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In the years since, leading Muslim groups have been deemed by some as too orthodox, not orthodox enough, too sympathetic to terrorists or too closely linked to Washington.
For many Muslims, including Jasser, the answer was to form their own organizations. And now they are competing to be seen and heard as authentic voices for American Islam alongside CAIR and other established groups.
Many new groups say visibility is key, especially in the media, which is attracted to sensational stories or personalities while often overlooking or not hearing mainstream views.