President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist ambitions have striking similarities to a Turkish American Islamic cleric’s strategy for America.

In 2001, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) — the Justice and Development Party — was formed at the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leaders of other previously banned political parties. Erdogan has remained the party’s leader, becoming the president of Turkey in 2014. The AKP has essentially become the first Islamist party to rule in Turkey since the founding of the republic in 1923.

Turkish Islamists longing for a caliphate are inspired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP’s increasingly obvious agenda of reviving a modern version of the Ottoman Empire.

In 2018, Erdogan described the Turkish Republic as “a continuation of the Ottomans,” lauding Abdul Hamid II — the Red Sultan or Bloody Sultan — who reigned as the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, as one of the “most important, most visionary and most strategic minded” individuals to rule within the recent 150 years.

Persistently denying allegations of Islamism, the Turkish government is quickly shifting from a parliamentary democracy to a system of autocracy that has given supreme political power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The transcontinental country is becoming the state leader of the regional Sunni Islamist bloc, under the direction of the Erdogan — who popularly is described as the “true leader of Ummah [Muslim believers].”

On the heels of the historic Hagia Sophia cathedral being converted into a mosque, a leading pro-Erdogan magazine proclaimed an Islamic caliphate, with the president at its head. The cover of Turkish publication Gercek-Hayat included the Arabic words of the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. The print also read: “Şimdi değilse ne zaman, sen değilsen kim? Hilafet için toparlann,” translated as “If not now, when? If not you (Erdogan), who? Gather for the caliphate.”

Curiously, members of a family with ties to the United States are active participants in Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist venture. The patriarch of the family is Yusuf Ziya Kavakci, and three of his daughters along with two granddaughters serve the Turkish regime in one capacity or another.

Elif Kavakci works for First Lady, Emine Erdogan, as a fashion designer. Ravza Kavakci Kan, serves as an AKP deputy chairman for the city of Istanbul. His oldest daughter, Merve Kavakci, became a professor at George Washington University and Howard University, as well as a consultant for the U.S. Congress. She is also the current ambassador of Turkey to Malaysia. In addition, his granddaughter, Mariam Kavakci, was appointed as an advisor to Erdogan, while another granddaughter, Fatima Gulham Abushanab, was hired as an international relations specialist for the regime.

Considered one of the most influential Muslims in the world, Yusuf Ziya Kavakçi moved his family from Turkey to Texas in 1988 following a visit to the United States and a subsequent invitation from the Islamic Association of North Texas (IANT).

Also known as the Dallas Central Mosque, this Muslim place of worship was “[previously] considered to be one of the most active centers of Hamas activity in the United States and hosts the leadership and members of … the primary conduits for Hamas activity and fundraising in the United States.”

In recent years, alongside other Turkish scholars, Kavakci has defended Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yousef al-Qaradawi — the Islamist theologian who has made repeated calls for the deaths of Americans, Christians, and Jews, and was named a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Dr. Yusuf Ziya Kavakci

Kavakci was also a former Shura Council member of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Spectacularly, his affiliation with ISNA is oft-overlooked when touting his many achievements — which is likely an effort to downplay his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization.

Reportedly, Kavakcı has even referred to himself as the “official Spokesperson for Islam of the U.S. Department of State.”

As a resident scholar and imam, Kavakci went on to serve IANT for 25 years. He was founder of the IANT Quranic Academy (IQA) in Richardson, founding dean of the Suffa Islamic Seminary in Dallas, as well as founder and president of the Islamic Tribunal. The esteemed Islamic author and scholar moved back to Turkey in 2013 at the age of 75.

While his family has maintained substantial connections to the Turkish regime, the former Texas-based imam has left a considerable mark on the spread of Islam throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond.

Interestingly, the Kavakci bellwether and his family who is invested in the regime clearly share Erdogan’s ambitions of an Islamic takeover — both here and abroad.

In 2015, the retired professor attended a conference at Gaziantep University in Turkey as a speaker. He suggested that Muslims have been looking for Turkey to be their leader, compelling “the Islamic world [to] come together around Turkey’s leadership” through efforts of discipline, forward-thinking, and “strategic thinking.”

Five years later, in an interview published in the fall of 2020, Kavakci honed in on exactly the kind of strategic thinking he may have had in mind.

“The world, especially America, needs Ottoman, Turkish and Islamic knowledge and wisdom” — and according to the Islamic scholar, “the Islamic world is not contributing to the Islamization of America.” He argues, “there’s only one thing America needs, and that’s Islam.”

“There must be an ability to think strategically in the Islamic world,” he adds, perhaps unknowingly invoking the vision and “strategic minded[ness]” of the Bloody Sultan for America. Kavakci admits, it is a long-term investment, suggesting “a 100 to 150-year program strategy … of spreading Islam in America should be initiated.”

The distinguished imam considers America to be “soft” on Islam, thereby calling upon all Muslims to participate in what he would label the “Strategy of Islamization of the USA.” This is particularly concerning because of the increasing ties between the AKP, organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and politicians within the United States. There are a growing number of Turkish names emerging on the boards of Islamic NGOs. The attendance of AKP officials at Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) events, for example, is also noteworthy.

Couple a “soft” America with powerful influencers for Islam, and one can see the beginnings of a long-term strategy. Include the demands of CAIR in a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration, and there awaits an unavoidable recipe for disaster. Islamists will continue to assert greater control over American communities, finding more and more avenues to disseminate extremist ideologies right under the noses of unsuspecting citizens.

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J.M. Phelps

J.M. Phelps is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project for Middle East Forum.

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