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specific assignments (the document was formerly available at the program’s website, and can still be accessed through an archived version of the site).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. The usra system of the Tarbiya program is less similar to a religious requirement than it is to the demands of a criminal enterprise. These methods used by MAS/ISB are much like the techniques that gangs and mafia groups use to recruit and maintain a death grip on their members.
We do not know who, if anyone, encouraged the Tsarnaev brothers to bomb the Boston Marathon. We think it was extremely unlikely that any ISB or MAS leader told them to do it and taught them how to make the bombs. The slow and steady work of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, referred to by Islamism experts as “the stealth or civilization jihad,” aims – not through violence, but through pressure and persuasion (“Dawa” in Arabic) – to gradually move Western Muslim youths into its camp. The ISB and MAS are experiencing success, probably beyond their expectations, in posing as moderates and becoming accepted into Boston civic society. This success includes positive coverage in the mainstream press, support from mainstream politicians, and access to new unsuspecting recruits within Boston’s traditionally moderate Muslim community. Why risk all of that with a bomb that only can set the effort back? The Tarbiya curriculum repeatedly states that the time for violent jihad has not yet come – much preparation work still needs to be done. The Muslim Brotherhood’s program will always have this fundamental problem: when you tell teenagers that something can be a good thing to do, but “not yet”– whether it be sex or alcohol or violent jihad– you will surely find that some will jump the gun.
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On the other hand… As he lay wounded and hiding inside a boat stored for the winter in a suburban Boston-area backyard on April 19th, 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev penciled a confession on the 22-foot cruiser’s walls. Four days prior, he and his brother exploded twin homemade pressure cooker bombs at the 117th Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264. Less than 24 hours before Dzhokhar was eventually discovered by the boat owner, the Tsarnaev brothers ambushed and murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier, hijacked a Mercedes SUV, and engaged in a fierce 8-minute gun battle with cops before Dzhokhar drove the SUV over his brother, Tamerlan, and escaped. Tamerlan died shortly thereafter, but, as he waited for his inevitable capture or death, Dzhokhar took the time to list his grievances in detail. The jury at his currently ongoing trial saw the boat and the wall panel bearing Dzhokhar’s message:
“Our actions came with a message and that is la ilaha illalah [there is no god but Allah]. We are promised victory and we will surely get it. […]
“We will pursue this evil force to its own lands, invade its Western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts by the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world. […]
“Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that. […]
“Regularly make the intention to go on jihad with the ambition to die as a martyr. You should be ready for this right now. […]
“We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. […]
“A Muslim has no relatives except those who share the belief in Allah. […]
“The ummah is beginning to rise/awaken [bullet hole] has awoken the Mujahideen.”
“To be true Muslims, we must be Mujahideen. We can no more sit back passively; we must try, actively, to change history, that is, wage Jihad.
Only the odd-number passages above were actually written by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the inside of the boat. The rest come from books taught as part of the Young Muslims Tarbiya program.
Muslims have lived in Boston since the early 20th century. Islam has existed for over 1,400 years. Yet Tarbiya did not exist until it was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s as a cultic innovation within the religion of Islam. This cult did not begin to affect Boston’s historically moderate Muslim community until the 1990s, with the creation of the Boston marathon bombers’ mosque and the takeover of many other local Muslim institutions.
The correlation between Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s note in the boat and what is being taught to Boston’s Muslims through the ISB/MAS Tarbiya program is striking. These kinds of teachings, as APT board member and moderate Muslim Sheikh Ahmed Mansour says, put a bomb in a young Muslim’s heart. Unless the Tarbiya program is exposed and terminated, there will be others who will take the bombs in their hearts and recreate them in real life, just as the Tsarnaevs did on April 15th, 2013.
Charles Jacobs is president and Ilya Feoktistov is research director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.