Do not, however, let this radical Islamic center's attempt to ingratiate itself into mainstream American society fool you. Its history is mired in violence and hate.
The Darul Uloom Institute was founded by its imam, Shafayat Mohamed, in October 1994. Originally from Trinidad, Mohamed left for India in 1975, where he was educated at Darul Uloom Deoband, the school where the hardline Sunni Deobandi movement was established in May 1866. In a show of favor to his student, Darul Uloom Deoband selected Mohamed to lead a group of Americans in a 1979 tour of its facilities.
Since its creation, the Deobandi movement has produced a number of militant offshoots, most notably the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and spread its tentacles around the world, including in the United States. Mohamed returned from India and set up one such tentacle in Florida.
Shortly after its founding, Mohamed's institute became affiliated with "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla, a soon-to-be al-Qaeda operative who plotted to set off a radiological bomb in the U.S. Padilla, then a recent convert to Islam, was a student of Mohamed's and attended the institute from 1995 through 1997. The following year, Padilla abandoned his wife and home in Florida for Egypt and then Pakistan, on his way to becoming a full-blown terrorist.
Mohamed has his own radical history. He has been thrown off a number of Broward County boards due to his extreme rhetoric against homosexuals. In February 2005, he published an article, "Tsunami: Wrath of God," on the Darul Uloom website; he claims in it that homosexuality caused the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Mohamed's article does not target just gays. It also describes Jews and Christians -- whom he calls "People of the Book" -- as "perverted transgressors."
The profile picture on Mohamed's Facebook page shows him shaking hands with now-deceased Muslim leader Ahmed Deedat, with whom he said he "had a good relationship." The photo with Deedat was taken in Durban, South Africa, at what was then named the Bin Laden Centre. Deedat, who according to the New York Times was "a vocal anti-Semite and ardent backer of Osama bin Laden," personally received millions of dollars from Bin Laden and Bin Laden's family for the center.
Shafayat Mohamed. (Image source: Al-Hikmat TV video screenshot)
Other terrorists linked to the institute include prayer leader and the late al-Qaeda operative Adnan el-Shukrijumah. In July 2010, el-Shukrijumah was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury for his role in the 2009 plot to blow up New York City's subway system. Arabic teacher Imran Mandhai, along with fellow mosque attendees Hakki Aksoy and Shueyb Mossa Jokhan, hatched an operation at Darul Uloom to blow up power stations, Jewish businesses, and a National Guard armory. According to Mohamed himself, at least one of the 9/11 hijackers may have spent time at his center.
The Darul Uloom Institute runs a media arm named Al-Hikmat. In May 2016, Al-Hikmat published a video of a speech made by Izhar Khan, the imam of the mosque and "outreach center" Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen (MJAM), who in May 2011 was arrested and spent 20 months in a federal detention center in Miami on charges of working "to collect and deliver money for the Pakistani Taliban."
Thomas Friedman's book, Longitudes and Attitudes: The World in the Age of Terrorism, discusses a visit he and a Pakistani journalist made to Darul Uloom Haqqania, a religious seminary he described as "the biggest madrasa, or Islamic boys' school, in Pakistan." The school has also been referred to elsewhere as the "University of Jihad." As Friedman wrote, "We talked to the boys. All of them thought America was evil and that Osama bin Laden was a hero."
Much like its sister madrasa in Pakistan, the Darul Uloom Institute and its imam, Shafayat Mohamed, follow in the line of the most extreme elements of the Deobandi movement. The only difference is that one is more than 7,000 miles away from American shores, and the other is right in our backyard.
No award ceremony can alter this reality. But donations can and do perpetuate it.
Joe Kaufman is a contributor to Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.