Suhail Khan, a conservative Republican who served as a political appointee in the Bush administration and currently serves on the American Conservative Union board, calls the Fox News report asserting that the Congressional Muslim Staff Association poses a national security threat “anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Khan, who currently works as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, an evangelical Christian religious freedom organization, worked as a Hill staffer in the 1990s, serving on the staff of Tom Campbell, a California Republican. In the mid-1990s, he said, he approached then-Speaker Newt Gingrich about obtaining a room for the small number of Muslim staffers to hold Friday prayers. Gingrinch granted that request, and the tradition continued through the tenures of Speakers Dennis Hastert, also a Republican, and Nancy Pelosi.
Over the years, the number of people attending grew, eventually leading to the creation of the CMSA around 2007, when Khan has already left Hill service and was working in the Bush administration. Like other Congressional staffer organizations, the CMSA does not receive any funding or support from the government; rather the status permits it to use space and provides a structure for leadership. Other groups include Christian and Jewish organizations that host prayer and study sessions. The CMSA, Khan said, engages in two main activities: hosting briefings on a variety of issues; and hosting a Congressional iftar each year that is widely attended, including by elected officials. Friday prayers are held by individual staffers, some of whom are also CMSA members, under the auspices of the House chaplain; they are not an official function of the CMSA.
Regarding the Fox piece, Khan said, “since 9/11 there have been a couple of individuals that have been spending a lot of money to cull through tapes and videos of conferences and TV programs and the Internet to look for information that is critical of Muslims and Muslim-Americans getting involved in public policy. They compile that into a guilt-by-association Powerpoint and then shop it to reporters.” These individuals include, said Khan, Frank Gaffney, who issues baseless warnings to members of Congress about “creeping shari’ah;” Paul Sperry, co-author of the book Muslim Mafia, which claimed that the Council on American Islamic Relations had infiltrated Capitol Hill by placing interns as spies; Kenneth Timmerman, a conservative writer and activist; Pamela Geller, the blogger who spurred much of the anti-Park51 fervor; and Robert Spencer, who runs the website Jihad Watch; and Steve Emerson, whose profits from a cottage industry of peddling fear of Islam were exposed last month by the Tennessean’s religion reporter Bob Smietana.