The Boston Marathon bombers’ mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), employs an intensive radicalizing program aimed at Boston’s historically moderate Muslim community, especially at its youth. It’s called “Tarbiya,” which is Arabic for “growth and refinement.” It is not something that is practiced as part of classical mainstream Islam.
APT has obtained several curriculum documents created by ISB-affiliated groups, which describe exactly what is taught and when, with assignments detailed down to book and page number. We are making the most detailed and traceable of these documents available here and here. We will focus in this article on a particular Tarbiya program called “Young Muslims,” which was explicitly endorsed by Suhaib Webb, the Imam of the ISB’s mega-mosque in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. It lists books that all participants must read, and even includes page numbers for specific assignments (the document was formerly available at the program’s website, and can still be accessed through an archived version of the site).
The authors of many of these books are among the “Who’s Who” of radical Islamic ideologues. A lot of the books are available in the Boston Marathon bombers’ mosque’s library. Major focus is given to books by Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Said Qutb, the father of modern jihadism; Maulana Maududi, the father of political Islam on the Indian subcontinent; and Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Anti-Defamation League calls the “Theologian of Terror.” Some of the books on the “must read” list have nothing to do with Islam, such as several books written by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Moore. Having young Muslims read a curriculum that includes far-left atheist authors of Jewish and Christian backgrounds shows that the goal of Tarbiya is not just to develop a Muslim’s spirituality, but also to develop within him a deep animosity to Western democracy.
The ISB and its political arm, the Muslim American Society (MAS), are very open about the program’s existence and even have websites dedicated to it. MAS teaches Tarbiya at each of its dozens of chapters across the United States, and the entire national Tarbiya program happens to be led by the Imam of the Boston Marathon bombers’ ISB Cambridge mosque, Basyouni Nehela. MAS describes Tarbiya in these terms:
MAS aspires to raise a generation of committed and disciplined Muslims who will spread the message of Islam and implement the Movement’s vision in all fields of Islamic work[.] … MAS delivers a rigorous educational curriculum to its current and potential members … The focus of Tarbiya is to groom members who… are equipped with the necessary knowledge, understanding, and skills to make a difference in the society by taking an active role, both individually and collectively, in the reform process that seeks the betterment of our community, our country, and the whole world.
The description of the program makes it seem like yet another benign new-agey spirituality and growth system. That is because, while it is openly advertised, the extremist and jihadist aspects of its curriculum are not – both for the sake of keeping this radical indoctrination from outside scrutiny and for the sake of keeping it, at first, from the Muslim youths who are thinking about joining it.
Indeed, a “Young Muslim” first entering the program will not be reading any extremist authors for a very long time. The first phase of the program is dedicated to completely legitimate religious learning. Participants read the Quran and other Islamic religious texts. They learn about the life of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and they study the importance of the Five Pillars of Islam: declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.
But soon, those participants who show a high level of dedication, zeal, and religiosity, of willingness to internalize everything that has been taught to them, are told that simply praying and giving charity are not enough. At this next stage of Tarbiya, they are assigned books, such as Let Us Be Muslims by jihadist ideologue Maulana Maududi, who provides them with the core Islamist idea: Muslims need to be more than pious; they need to rule over all mankind:
Brothers in Islam! The Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and Pilgrimage are so important that they are described as the pillars of Islam. They are not, however, like the worship rites in other religions. […]
These acts of worship have in fact been ordained to prepare us for a greater purpose and to train us for a greater duty… What exactly is that great ultimate purpose? Stated simply: the ultimate objective of Islam is to abolish the lordship of man over man and bring him under the rule of the One God. To stake everything you have – including your lives – to achieve this purpose is called Jihad.
Having thus channeled the zealous young Muslim’s sincere religious devotion into an extremist agenda, the third stage of Tarbiya indoctrination consists entirely of incitement to violent Jihad, hatred for America, and of Western civilization in general. It is in this stage that young Muslims study in detail the Islamist corollary to Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto: Said Qutb’s Milestones, which outlines a road map to establishing a global Islamic State ruled by Sharia law. It is Said Qutb who inspired Osama Bin Laden. According to Qutb:
All Jewish and Christian societies today are also ignorant societies… Islam cannot accept any mixing with this ignorance… One should accept the Islamic law without any question and reject all other laws in any shape or form… The abolition of man-made laws cannot be achieved only through preaching… It must employ Jihad.
By the time a young Muslim Tarbiya participant reaches this phase, he has already bought in to all the indoctrination in the previous phases that brought him there. The books he studies in the third phase, such as To Be a Muslim by Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood leader Fathi Yakun tell him:
A Muslim must always worship Allah and wage jihad until death in order to reach his ultimate goal… Obedience for a Muslim means to obey every command and implement it whether in time of happiness or hardship, and whether one likes it or not… He will not act against the leader in agreed matters, and will be loyal to him in every action, regardless of his personal likes or dislikes… Dissociate yourself from every gathering or organization that opposes your ideological standpoint, especially when the Movement asks you to do so.
A key component of Tarbiya is not just the material taught, but the structure of the program, in which recruits are organized into intimate cells called “usras.” MAS is considered by Federal prosecutors to be the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, and the program directly follows the methods developed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s founders in Egypt. Eric Trager, an expert on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has lectured about the Brotherhood’s Tarbiya process in Egypt:
At the lowest level of the Brotherhood structure is what’s called an usra, or “family.” You can think of this as a cell. This is a group of five to eight Muslim Brothers. They meet weekly for about three hours. They discuss the Quran, religious texts, the Brotherhood’s curriculum, politics. They share their personal lives. The members of this group become a Muslim Brother’s best friends. The people that you work most closely with are in your usra. The usra is a mechanism through which the Brotherhood embeds your social relationships into the organization so that you’re less likely to disobey it due to peer pressure and you’re less likely to leave it because you’ll be leaving your best friends.
This is exactly how the MAS branch in Boston describes its usras:
The usra is an intensive, spiritually-focused, activism-oriented program that develops the individual and invites him or her to join hands with MAS and work for the sake of Islam as a central priority in life. There are weekly assignments prior to and following each usra. Each member is expected to spend approximately 3-6 hours a week on usra and usra-related activities (usra attendance [~ 2 hours], usra assignments [1-2 hrs], dawah work (example MSA work, MAS Youth work, or other Islamic work, etc) [3 hrs], social activities [2 hours /month].) Each usra generally contains around 5-7 members.
MAS demands that those entering its Tarbiya program be “willing to be committed to the usra and hold working for Islam as a central priority in life.” ISB Roxbury Imam Suhaib Webb defines the usra as: “the usra is you’re in the ocean swimming, you’re lost, your boat sunk and suddenly you see some people on the boat, you get there and they give you a blanket and a cup of soup, that’s the usra.” All of this makes leaving the MAS/ISB program extremely difficult. It also makes it extremely likely that if a young Muslim participant is encouraged by his usra leader to do something terrible for the sake of the movement, he will gladly comply, even if this means prison or death.
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