Should American Muslims Work As Government Informants?

Since 9/11, Muslim informants have gathered evidence for the government about a number of alleged plots by Muslims to attack American targets. These informants have won the confidence of the alleged Muslim plotters, and then pretended to participate in the alleged plots while making tape and video recordings for the government. Some Muslims work as informants for money; to avoid criminal charges for their own alleged crimes; or to get immigration benefits. One Muslim informant has publicly stated that it was his religious duty to help the government. Here are some examples:

An Egyptian-American Muslim informant, Osama Eldawoody, helped convict an Egyptian-American Muslim in NY, James Elshafay, and a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, of conspiring to blow up a NY subway station. The NYPD paid the informant $100,000 to watch the local community. The informant offered to provide the Defendants with explosives for the subway attack. The Defendants said the informer suggested the plot and incited them to act by showing them pictures of Muslims overseas being mistreated and by telling them he had received a fatwa saying it was okay for Muslims to kill American troops.

A Pakistani Muslim informant, Naseem Khan, helped convict a Pakistani-American Muslim from Lodi, CA, Hamid Hayat, of providing material support to terrorists by attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The government paid the informant around $225,000 to move to Lodi and infiltrate the Muslim community. The informant encouraged Hayat to talk about fighting America, encouraged Hayat to attend a terrorist training camp, and cursed at Hayat when Hayat said he hadn’t yet attended the camp.

A Yemeni Muslim informant, Mohamed Alanssi, helped convict an African-American Muslim in NY, Tariq Shah, of pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda and offering to train Al Qaeda members in martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. The government paid the informant $100,000.

An Egyptian Muslim informant, Mahmoud Omar, and an Albanian Muslim informant, Besnik Bakalli, infiltrated the so-called Fort Dix Six, a group charged with plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix (where troops train for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan) in New Jersey. Omar was a convicted criminal facing additional criminal charges and deportation; in exchange for his assistance, the government paid Omar approximately $240,000 and agreed not to pursue criminal charges or to deport him. Bakalli was an illegal alien who faced deportation; in exchange for his assistance, the government agreed not to deport Bakalli and to let some of his relatives come from Albania to live in the U.S. FBI tapes show that Omar offered to organize an attack on U.S. soldiers, urged the lead suspect to stop procrastinating, and offered to buy guns so the group could train for an attack. Following the convictions of the Fort Dix Six, Omar found himself rejected by and isolated from his Muslim family, friends, and business contacts in Egypt and in the U.S. who believed that Omar had set up the defendants; as a result, Omar told the press that it had been a mistake for him to work as an informant, in light of the negative impact on his relationships.

A White Muslim informant, William “Jamaal” Chrisman, helped convict an African-American Muslim, Derrick Shareef, who pled guilty to plotting to attack a Rockford, IL shopping mall with hand grenades. “What brought me to the government was after 9-11 Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia and Morocco said it was incumbent on Muslims to stop terrorists,” Chrisman testified. “Anyone involved in terrorism was deemed the brother of the devil.”

The case of Canadian Muslim informant Mubin Shaikh drew a lot of attention in 2006. Shaikh, a well-known activist within the Muslim community, offered to work undercover for Canadian intelligence in 2004. After the Canadian government learned about an alleged plot by Canadian Muslims, the government asked Shaikh to infiltrate the alleged cell in 2005. He won the trust of the alleged plotters, and went so far as to help lead a training camp during the alleged plot. The Canadian government paid him approximately $300,000.

Arguments By Those Who Believe That American Muslims Should Not Work As Government Informants

1. Spying is prohibited under Islamic law. The Qur’an (or Recitation) says, “And do not spy or backbite each other.” (49:12) In addition, Abu Hurairah reported that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the falsest of speech. Do not eavesdrop; do not spy on one another; do not envy one another; do not forsake one another; do not hate one another. Be, O slaves of Allah, brothers.” (Al-Bukhari, 5144; Muslim, 2563) Therefore, if a Muslim happens to learn about a plot, it may be okay to tell authorities; but it’s wrong to pretend to join a plot, win the trust of the plotters, and then spy on fellow Muslims.

2. American Muslims should be loyal to their fellow Muslims who attack the U.S. to punish America for its abuse of Muslims in the Muslim world, and to force a change in American foreign policy.

3. Informants entrap innocent Muslims by encouraging them to become angry about American policy and then suggesting that they plot attacks.

4. Any Muslim, informant or otherwise, who learns about a plot should simply try to persuade the plotters to stop, either on religious grounds, or by telling them that the government knows about the plot.

5. The informant’s presence gives encouragement to the plotters to continue their plot. Without the informant’s presence, the plotters might give up. For example, if the informant does not offer to help them obtain weapons or pick targets, they might not go further than talk.

6. The plot may not be real. It may just be a group of angry Muslims talking tough. They might not actually do anything.

7. The presence of Muslim informants in the American Muslim community damages the American Muslim community. American Muslims begin to lose trust in one another when they believe that some of their fellow Muslims might be spying on them.

Arguments By Those Who Believe That American Muslims Should Work As Government Informants

1. In 2005, the Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwa saying, “It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.” Islamic prohibitions on spying relate to spying for personal reasons, or spying without just cause. However, when there is evidence that someone is plotting an attack which could kill people of all faiths (including innocent Muslims), Muslims must do whatever they can to prevent such an attack. After all, an attack on civilians would violate Islamic law; furthermore, Muslims are required to obey the law of the country where they live, and such attacks would clearly violate American law. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that when a Muslim is doing something wrong, the best way to help that person is by stopping him from wrongdoing. Furthermore, the Prophet spied on enemy positions during battle.

2. American Muslims should be loyal to America, which has given them religious freedom, political freedom, and the opportunity to make a good life for their families. Furthermore, violence in the U.S. isn’t the right way to change American foreign policy; American Muslims should work through the political process.

3. Informants should not be suggesting plots to Muslims; but if a Muslim has already decided to commit an act of violence, an informant can help monitor the plot for the government.

4. If a Muslim approves of violence, but is not planning violence, it’s fine to try to change his views; in fact, the American Muslim community should be openly dialoguing about issues like violence, so that no one is even tempted to become violent. But committed plotters cannot be easily persuaded to renounce violence. If an informant tries to talk the plotters out of the plot, they will lose trust in him, he will lose access to the plotters, and law enforcement may lose track of the plotters.

5. While the presence of an informant may help further the plot, serious plotters don’t need the informant’s help. If the informant is not in the loop, the plotters can look elsewhere for help getting training, casing targets, or acquiring weapons. It’s better if they are talking to an informant than to someone who is really helping to advance the plot.

6. If there is no real plot, and if the Muslims do not take any steps towards action (like going to training camps, casing targets, or acquiring weapons), no charges will be brought. But an informant has to be present to keep an eye on the situation in case the plot turns out to be real.

7. The presence of Muslim informants in the American Muslim community benefits the American Muslim community. Potentially-violent Muslims are less likely to plot attacks, because of their fear that Muslim informants may be watching. Furthermore, potentially-violent Muslims are more likely to be stopped, if they try to proceed with a plot, because Muslim informants are reporting their activities to the authorities. That reduces the chances of a future attack which could kill Americans (including American Muslims) and which would result in a backlash against innocent American Muslim men, women, and children. Furthermore, by demonstrating loyalty to the U.S., Muslim informants improve the American Muslim community’s image in America.

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