It's time for news media outlets to stop quoting 'fake Sheikh' Imam Tawhidi

It's time for news media outlets to stop quoting 'fake Sheikh' Imam Tawhidi
Comment: Imam Tawhidi is a 'fake Sheikh' whose tweets are having a disastrous impact on the way Muslims and Muslim-majority countries are portrayed in the media, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
21 Aug, 2019
Mohamad Tawhidi, a self-declared "Islamic reformer", passes himself off as the "Imam of Peace" [Twitter/ImamofPeace]
If Muslims, or issues relating to Muslim-majority lands are at the centre of the international news media cycle, then you can be sure Mohamad Tawhidi, a self-declared "Islamic reformer" who passes himself off as the "Imam of Peace," has something to say about it on social media.

His commentary, however, is as predictable as it is banal, with his tweets and Facebook posts deliberately manufactured to earn likes, shares and retweets from a specific audience in mind – those who hate Muslims.

His biggest cheerleaders include the Western far-right, Hindu nationalists, ultra-Zionists, and New Atheists, which explains why his every comment reads as an endorsement for US President Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the state of Israel, and notorious anti-Muslim bigots such as the now imprisoned Tommy Robinson.

Islamophobia continues to provide a rag-to-riches opportunity for every con-artist and charlatan, and Tawhidi is cashing in – and at the same time the media continues to cash in on Islamophobia. It's one of those tragic circle of life things, unfortunately. 

Tawhidi is not an 'Islamic scholar,' and nor is he recognised as an Imam by either the Australian National Imams Council or its South Australian equivalent

With India revoking Article 370 of its Constitution and thus stripping the Muslim majority territory of Kashmir of its "special status," Tawhidi is again being treated as bona fide religious authority, particularly in the Indian mainstream media, after the fake Imam tweeted the following on 11 August:

"Kashmir was never part of Pakistan. Kashmir will never be part of Pakistan. Both Pakistan and Kashmir belong to India. Muslims converting from Hinduism to Islam... doesn't change the fact that the entire region is Hindu Land. India is older than Islam let alone Pakistan. Be honest."

Two days later, India's Hindustan Times published a headline that read, "'Be Honest, Kashmir Was Never Yours,' Islamic Scholar Slams Pakistan".

The Deccan Chronicle, Times Now, and Russia Today (RT), among others, ran near identical headlines.

But it gets worse!

Tawhidi claims he earned a master's degree from al-Mustafa University, but when the school was asked about his academic credentials, it stated in writing that Tawhidi failed to complete his bachelor's degree, dropping out after only one year of study.

In other words, far from being a holder of post-graduate qualifications, the fake Imam is, in fact, a college drop out.

The thing is Tawhidi is not an "Islamic scholar," and nor is he recognised as an Imam by either the Australian National Imams Council or its South Australian equivalent.

In fact, he's not even affiliated with any Australian mosque or prayer centre, according to an investigation into the "fake Sheikh".

Tawhidi is a fraud without a following, and an invention of his own publicity – but despite being exposed as such in his home country of Australia, he's wormed his way into the United States' right-wing echo chamber, largely in part to a tweet that went viral in world inhabited by "MAGA" cap wearing Trump supporters.

In April, Tawhidi falsely accused Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the United States' first Black Muslim congresswoman, of downplaying the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

His tweet was shared by Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a US military veteran known for his anti-Muslim and racist antics, and from there it made its way into the timeline of President Trump, who shared it with his 63 million followers on Twitter.

In falsely portraying Muslim congresswomen to be sympathetic to violent jihadist terrorism and supporters of Hamas, Tawhidi sells himself to the Muslim hating far-right as a whistleblower among Muslims. 

It was the propagation of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories that plucked Tawhidi out of total obscurity in Australia

"Muslims are a threat to Western civilization but I will keep you safe by blowing the whistle on the especially dangerous" is the premise that has become his gimmick, and it's one that has been bought and sold by the Western hemisphere's most vicious racists. 

Tawhidi has stood side-by-side with far-right Australian Senator Pauline Hanson to agree Australia is in "danger of being swamped by Muslims", and with Tommy Robinson to warn that Muslims in the United Kingdom are waging a "population jihad".

It was the propagation of these kinds of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories that plucked Tawhidi out of total obscurity in Australia.

Having no mosque and not a single Muslim follower, Tawhidi volunteered himself for an appearance on Channel 7's Today Tonight to warn Australian viewers that the country's 400,000 Muslims were secretly plotting to establish a caliphate on Australian soil. The fake story went viral on social media.

Read also: Comment: Facebook's anti-Islam algorithm

That conservative and even mainstream media outlets continue to amplify his anti-Muslim venom, while platforming him as a voice that's representative of Muslims or anything other than his transparently opportunistic self is akin giving a bullhorn to the loudest anti-Semites on the eve of the Holocaust given the current levels of anti-Muslim animus plaguing our societies.

To elevate his voice as tensions between Pakistan and India reach their highest point in decades, putting the lives of eight million Muslims in Kashmir in the potential cross fire, is to abandon every ethical and moral responsibility good journalism aspires to.

Mohamad Tawhidi is not an "Islamic scholar." He's not an Imam. He's a college drop out who uses the media for free publicity, so it's time media outlets act accordingly.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.