Bayan Claremont Declines Federal Grant

Bayan Claremont, the Islamic graduate school at the Claremont School of Theology, announced on Feb. 10 that it would decline the $800,000 grant it had been awarded from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnership through its Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant. Bayan is the fourth grant awardee to decline the grant under the Trump administration.

“We have and will continue to work with our government where there is no conflict of interest, but given the anti-Muslim actions of the current executive branch, we cannot in good conscience accept this grant,” the school’s Board of Trustees wrote in a Feb. 10 statement.

Bayan students lauded the Board’s decision to decline this grant, including Masters of Divinity and Islamic Chaplaincy student Muhammad Ali.

“I think it’s very important for Bayan to maintain its integrity,” Ali said. “This is not because Bayan doesn’t want to challenge violent extremism; this is because this administration seems to be fixated on the idea of extremism being inherently related to Islam, which is completely inaccurate.”

According to Jihad Turk, the president of Bayan Claremont, the strongest impetus for declining the grant was Trump.

“Once Trump took office, he started issuing executive orders and followed through with some very bigoted campaign pledges--the Muslim ban, appointing people to his cabinet that have long histories of bigotry against Muslims and other marginalized communities or minority communities … It poisoned the well. It made the narrative that we know that it would be somewhat of an uphill climb--it made it insurmountable,” said Turk.

Turk also asserted that rejecting the grant came from Bayan's accountability to its students. 

“We could not explain sufficiently to our students, to our faculty, to our supporters and donors that yes, we object to some aspects of CVE and this and that, but what we’re going to do with the money is not controversial, does not involve surveillance, and we’d be completely transparent about everything. There’s no way that that nuance would get through the chaos that this administration is unleashing," he said.

The Trump administration has been discussing changing the program’s name “Countering Violent Extremism,” name to something along the lines of “Countering Islamic Extremism,” according to the Associated Press—further solidifying the Trump’s administration's anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Several students shared opposition to Bayan’s initial decision to apply for the program, however.

Jihad Saafir, a student at Bayan Claremont, compared the CVE program to COINTELPRO, an FBI program aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting political organizations such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam during the Civil Rights movement. Saafir was also skeptical of Bayan’s decision initial decision to apply for the CVE grant.

“By getting the grant, does that mean we support surveillance from the community? Do we support our communities being heavily surveilled by our government? What does that exactly mean by accepting the grant? What type of programming would be useful to even help with surveillance or countering violent extremism? That’s what I mean by ambiguity … There’s too much ambiguity and uncertainty attached to that money,” said Saafir.

Noor Hamdy SC ’18, a politics and Middle Eastern and North African studies student and Muslim Student Association member, also expressed opposition toward Bayan’s decision to apply for the grant in an email to TSL.

“I personally disagree with their decision...I believe it perpetuates the idea that Muslim communities are responsible for violent extremism and should therefore assist with its eradication,” Hamdy wrote in an email to TSL. “The grant money comes with strings attached, and I think the same objectives would be able to be achieved through true grassroots work and community engagement. I would wonder why they applied for the grant money as the institution seems to understand the problematic nature of the government CVE program.”

According to Hamdy, who has studied the program in question in depth, “CVE is a government sponsored program to counter extremist thought/recruitment through ‘soft powers’ such as partnering with relevant communities or through FBI sting/surveillance operations.”

She has heard stories where “FBI approaching khateebs [sermon leaders at the mosque] to ask them to change their sermon to reflect a more extremist position in order to surveil those who inquire about the extremist ideas after the khutbah [sermon].”

“The loyal Muslim citizen is not a new classification used to fight Islamophobia but I feel it may be a growing (and problematic) label in the future to argue against Trump's policies,” Hamdy wrote.

Rana Osman, a student at George Mason University who is currently auditing classes at Bayan, said that she would have gone back home if Bayan had not declined the grant. Osman shared skepticism.

“There’s not a big difference between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. In a way, the idea [Islamophobia] was there, but Trump just likes to blab about it," Osman said. "But the Obama administration did not incite this much awareness—or this much hatred, rather—as the Trump administration.”

Turk admitted that Bayan was aware that the CVE program, as it was conceived under the Obama administration, “seems to be focused exclusively on Muslims” and has “an assumption about something called a ‘pathway to violence’ that had to do with your religious beliefs.”

Initially, Bayan Claremont had planned to allocate $250,000 to twenty local non-profits in the area of ‘social justice,’ while the other $550,000 would be ‘to facilitate training," according to Turk. Whatever plans Bayan had for this money are now gone.

The question then remains: so if Bayan was aware of these flaws, why did they choose to initially apply for the grant? Some say money, which would make sense for the burgeoning school, as the proposed $800,000 grant would have accounted for half of Bayan’s annual budget.

In the meantime, Bayan has taken to GoFundMe to raise money to make up for the rejected grant that could have been and has currently raised over $15,000.