Turkish media is reporting that Turkey’s main religious body has presented Yusuf Islam and another Global Muslim Brotherhood figure with its annual International Benevolence awards. According to the Daily Sabah report:
March 15, 2022: After a two-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sixth edition of the International Benevolence Awards was finally held on Tuesday. The event hosted at the Presidential Complex in the capital Ankara was organized by the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and its Diyanet Foundation (TDV). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other dignitaries were among those attending the ceremony. Among the recipients of the awards was Yusuf Islam, a popular British singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, Siraj Wahhaj, a Muslim convert like Cat Stevens, former Turkish model and actress Gamze Özçelik, an 88-year-old craftsman working at mosques and an imam.
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The Daily Sabah report describes Wahhaj and the reasons for his award:
Siraj Wahhaj, born Jeffrey Kearse in New York, United States, received the award for conveying Islamic knowledge to people through a masjid (small mosque) he converted from a department store in Brooklyn. Wahhaj, a former member of the Nation of Islam, became a Sunni Muslim in the 1970s and founded Masjid at-Taqwa in the 1980s. Since then, he devoted himself to teaching Islam and fighting drug-related crimes in his neighborhood, which drew praise from the community and authorities. “Wahhaj, like his name, spreads the light of Islam,” a statement by the awards committee said, referring to the meaning of his Arabic name, “bright light.”
Siraj Wahhaj is an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and President of the Muslim Alliance of North America, an organization tied to the US Muslim Brotherhood. He has also held various positions in the Islamic Society of North America, the American Muslim Council, the North American Islamic Trust, and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), also all part of the US Muslim Brotherhood. Wahhaj has previously praised Erdoğan. As the GIOR reported last year, Wahhaj spoke at a Turkish-American National Steering Committee conference where he praised Erdoğan, saying he believes Erdoğan is the leader of all Muslims in the Muslim world.
The Daily Sabah report also describes Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) and the reasons for his award:
Singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam was awarded for his “Peace Train” project, titled after his 1971 song. The motto of the charity work of Yusuf Islam Foundation, Peace Train involves food aid to disadvantaged communities around the globe, access to water and construction of playgrounds for children in Africa, among other charitable works. Award organizers say Islam touched the hearts of both Muslims and non-Muslims with his “stance as a genuine faithful” and “actions.” Islam was also recognized for his contribution to Cambridge Mosque, Europe’s first eco-friendly mosque which is located in the eponymous English city. Islam who could not attend the ceremony personally sent a video message and thanked Erdoğan for Turkey’s acts of benevolence and leadership for Muslims across the world.
Although Islam is said to have spoken frequently against terrorism, he is closely associated with a number of organizations tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood and/or support for Hamas, including:
- Founding the International Board of Educational Research and Resources, a little-known South African organization linked to the Global Muslim Brotherhood. The Board was founded during the First World Conference on Islamic Education held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in 1977.
- Serving as a Trustee of the Union of Good, a worldwide coalition of charities headed by Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi and which helped to fundraise for Hamas.
- Helping to found Muslim Aid, a UK charity that was one of the Union of Good members and tied to the UK Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2009, the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch reported on the controversy surrounding Islam:
Yusuf Islam, who changed his name and converted to Islam in 1978, last attracted substantial attention when he was was denied entry to the United States on national security grounds in September 2004. After protests from the foreign office of Great Britain, where Mr. Islam is a citizen, he later returned to the United States to promote his first mainstream pop album in 28 years.
As noted at the time, in a January 2007 interview with the New York Times, Islam pointedly refused to condemn Hamas, implying that the group “did charity and good to humankind.”
A 2011 report authored by the GIOR editor concluded that since 2006, Turkey has become a new center for the Global Muslim Brotherhood. That report also detailed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ideological ties to the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, dating back to Erdoğan’s affiliation in the 1970s with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Turkish: Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı or Diyanet) is a Turkish state institution responsible for managing religious affairs. The Diyanet was founded in 1924 to monopolize control of Sunni Islam in Turkey under the state. The Diyanet drafts a weekly sermon delivered at all of Turkey’s mosques, and their imams are civil servants employed by the state.