Michelle Obama to Speak at Summit Sponsored by Radical Qatari Group

Qatari Foundation known for hosting extremist clerics

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama arrives in Qatar / AP

First Lady Michelle Obama is in Qatar this week for a summit sponsored by a state-controlled foundation that is known for operating mosques that have welcomed extremist clerics, according to a range of sources.

Obama is in Qatar—a country under congressional scrutiny for its financing of terroriststhrough the end of the week to attend the country’s World Innovation Summit for Education, an annual educational conference sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, which has been marred in controversy due to its ongoing hosting of radical clerics.

Founded and run by the former Qatari emir’s wife, Sheikha Mozah, the Qatar Foundation houses six satellite campuses owned by American universities and other Western schools at a site outside Doha known as Education City.

At its mosque there, the Foundation has welcomed multiple radical clerics in the past several months, prompting criticism from some who accuse the charity of quietly promoting terrorism.

One cleric who recently spoke at the mosque, Omar Abdelkafi, has mocked the killings of French satirical writers at Charlie Hebdo, calling the terrorist act "the sequel to the comedy film of 9/11." Another maintained that "Jews and their helpers must be destroyed."

The ongoing appearance of these clerics at the foundation’s mosque has raised questions about the Obama administration’s endorsement of the charity, which has strived to maintain international legitimacy. Obama is scheduled to address the foundation on Wednesday.

"The preachers hosted by this mosque feature some of the top propagators of intolerance in the Gulf," said David Weinberg, a Gulf region analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Six American universities have satellite campuses in Education City that are apparently serviced by this mosque.

These include Cornell, Texas A&M, Georgetown University, Northwestern University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Virginia Commonwealth University.

"These schools and their alumni should be raising hell about this, and so should Michelle Obama when she speaks at the foundation's education summit," Weinberg said.

The Education City Mosque, which was inaugurated by Mozah in March and frequented by American students living there, has publicly touted its commitment to "plurality" and other Western values. Yet it continues to host hardline preachers, many of them known for promoting religious intolerance.

Many of these events are jointly sponsored by the Qatari government’s Islamic Affairs Ministry, according to posters promoting the speakers.

In April, the foundation, on its Twitter feed, promoted an appearance by Abdelkafi, who also has faced criticism for stating that "Muslims should not shake hands with Christians, or wish them well on Christian holidays, or walk on the same sidewalk with them"

The foundation also featured Salman al Alodah, who has has accused Jews of using "human blood" in their religious ceremonies, at a Friday prayer service.

The charity also hosted Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, a Saudi preacher known for his derogatory remarks about Shia Muslims. He also has called on Muslims to "hate" Christians.

Fawzan has been labeled as "one of the worst" by Alberto Fernandez, a former Obama administration State Department official.

The Qatar Foundation continues to welcome back many of the preachers for additional lectures despite criticism of its activities.

The Qatari government has long faced criticism from lawmakers for facilitating the funding of terrorist groups, including Hamas. However, Qatar remains a top U.S. ally, purchasing billions of dollars worth of American arms.