It may seem odd that one of the most prominent contemporary Sunni Salafi jihadists and preachers of hate has lived unmolested in the West since the 1980s. Yet Dr. Tariq Abdelhaleem probably sees nothing odd at all about espousing the cause of radical Islam while enjoying the hospitality of Canada.
He is an unabashed proponent of the philosophy of two major Sunni Salafi revivalists of the last century: Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi, the Pakistani author and activist, and Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian theorist of violent jihad.
Abdelhaleem’s regressive views on women offer a useful window into the mind of a Canada-based Muslim hate preacher. “The secular West has dangerously affected our society and Islamic concepts through its cultural legacy, despite the widespread veiling of Arab women,” he said. “To see the deep impact of Western culture on Arab societies, it is enough to look at the phenomena of unveiling and debauchery.
Drawing a difference between “pious and impious women,” he claims both “have lived in the same environments, subjected to the same cultural impacts (but that the former) have rejected everything that is banned and contrary to Islam. There are some things that are inculcated in the environment, fueled by cultural sources such as the media, education and emerging customs, which resonates in women’s spirits, hidden in a dark corner of the human psyche.”
Following the upheavals of 2011 in Egypt, which saw the Muslim Brotherhood gain political power, Abdelhaleem founded what he called the “Sunni Movement to Save Egypt” and became its secretary-general, in partnership with Sheikh Dr. Hani Sibai, who became its assistant secretary-general. During this time, he authored several pamphlets and statements, including “Introducing the Sunni Movement to Save Egypt” and “Our Faith and Our Movement.”
But when the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted as president by the Egyptian military in July 2013, the Abdelhaleem vented his displeasure at the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb, considered by many Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and Islamic jurisprudence.
“A coup has been carried out by the military, supported by crusaders, secularists, the atheist media, artists and the Egyptian judiciary,” he said in an interview. “This whole group, and those who follow them, are like the dog of Al-Azhar, who ... is not worthy of praise, but is loathsome, malicious and abominable.”
Abdelhaleem also accused the sheikh of sitting at “the council of politicians with (deposed Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak in the presence of the party of falsehood, the infidels who are loyal to infidels.”
The adoption of such views was not foreshadowed by Abdelhaleem’s upbringing. Born in Egypt in 1948 to a moderate Muslim family, his maternal grandfather was Abdul Aziz Al-Bishri, an academic and writer, while his paternal grandfather was a scholar at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.
By all accounts, Abdelhaleem warmed to the idea of violent jihad from a relatively young age. After settling in Canada in the late 1980s, he founded the Dar Al-Arqam Institution and began teaching a course in Islamic sharia law in cooperation with the American Open University in 1998. He also edited Ummat Al-Islam, a periodical that appears in both Arabic and English, for several years in Toronto.
Most of Abdelhaleem’s writing revolves around monotheism, governance, Western principles and policies, and the actions of specific groups and ongoing developments, especially those concerning Syria and jihadist factions active in the Levant. His distributes his messages to Muslims via his Twitter account.
Exposure to Canada’s diversity does not appear to have made much impact on Abdelhaleem. Take, for instance, his views expressed in an interview in the aftermath of Morsi’s removal by the military led by Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“I do not blame this godless El-Sisi. I do not blame him,” Abdelhaleem said said at the time. “This is how he was raised. He was raised in depravity and was taught to steal and loot. This is, in fact, one of Mohamed Morsi’s failings. It is one of his failings and he did not realize this. He indulged in democracy and kept repeating words like ‘democracy, freedom, we are this, we are that,’ etc. He said he had no right, but only responsibilities. This has brought us to the current situation.”
Alluding to the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government’s removal from power, he said: “But this is not the time for blame. We have done enough blaming, and protested and criticized a lot, but no one listened. But today is the day of Islam’s victory, whatever were the problems of those who call to him. I say that the situation today is very critical for Muslims.”
To say Abdelhaleem stirred up unrest in Egypt in the wake of the events of 2013 would be a gross understatement. For proof, one need look no further than his tirades against the Egyptian president. “El-Sisi is a godless, filthy dog … This is the chastisement God has decided for the likes of these: Let them be killed and crushed, do not stop. It is wonderful that you are demonstrating and all, but there must be a real, well-planned and organized attack.”
Ideologically, Abdelhaleem endorses the tactics of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It appears he broadly supports Salafi jihadist ideologues even though he disagrees with them on specific issues. Choosing between Al-Qaeda and Daesh, when the latter first appeared on the scene in the Middle East, was not easy for Abelhaleem, judging by his remarks in one interview.
“The establishment of Daesh in Iraq and then in the Levant has revived in the hearts of many Muslims a dream that was hard to achieve, but now seemed closer,” he said. “This news has quenched the thirst of many Muslims in the desert of defeat ... but events can be unpredictable, and calamities come from where they are not expected.
“We had described the people of Daesh as pure and serious in their jihad, as the martyr Sheikh Osama bin Laden said when it was first formed, and he was joined by Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri. However, time has shown us in the leadership of Al-Qaeda things that erased doubts and replaced pain with hope after the creed of this state began to gradually emerge, revealing its truth and forming a complete picture.”
At the same, Abdelhaleem has peddled plenty of conspiracy theories about the group. “Daesh is both a local and a US creation. The US element in it is negative, which means the US has been turning a blind eye, removing obstacles from its way, guiding its leader while he was in a US prison, and providing Baathists with information to infiltrate its leadership,” he said on Twitter. “The purpose here is to create an internal conflict between Muslims after US troops withdraw from Iraq.
“We have never seen an internal conflict so fierce between Muslim factions before. The US had to withdraw from Iraq while ensuring the continuation of the internal conflict. Therefore, it offered Daesh the opportunity to divide and fragment any potential future effort under the illusion of monotheism, and this is a well-known US tactic.”