Person

Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips

Type:

Professor and Muslim Preacher

Born:

1947

Nationality:

Jamaican-Canadian

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Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips is a Jamaican-Canadian Islamic scholar and professor who converted to Islam in the 1970s. 1 He received a B.A. in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Madinah and an M.A. in Islamic Theology from the King Saud University in Riyadh. Philips received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales in 1994. 2 He is a notable Islamic preacher who has garnered controversy for his stances on various Islamic teachings, resulting in him being banned and deported from several countries. 3

Philips has written 50 books and claims that he and other Muslim chaplains converted 3,000 U.S. service members during the 1990s while also founding the online International Open University (IOU) in 2007. 4

Early Life

Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips was born in Jamaica in 1947 to Bradley Philips, a Presbyterian Christian, and Joyce McDermott, an Anglican Christian. 5 He was raised Christian and spent the early years of his life in Jamaica before moving to Toronto, Canada. 6 In 1964, he and his family moved to East Malaysia for his parent’s involvement in the Colombo Plan. 7

Philips said that he encountered Muslims during his travels. While he became a Communist in school, he eventually abandoned those beliefs in favor of Islam. 8

Conversion

Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips has over 150,000 subscribers on YouTube, where he has regularly shares the story of his conversion to Islam. 9 He has said that he was aware of Nation of Islam, a Black separatist sect of Islam prominent in the United States but rejected the sect since “its theology was so crazy that I could not give it any consideration.” He said that the book Islam: The Misunderstood Religion by Muhammad Qutb convinced him “intellectually” to convert to Sunni Islam. 10 This led him to pursue degrees in Islamic Study, culminating in a Ph.D. and a career as a teacher and preacher. 11

Religious Leader

Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips began his career as a teacher of Islamic studies at the high school level at an Islamic high school in Riyadh for ten years. 12 He also spent 18 years lecturing in Arabic and Islamic studies in the American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the Islamic Studies Academy in Doha, Qatar; the Knowledge International University of Riyadh; and Preston International College in Chennai, India. 13

During the First Gulf War, Philips proselytized Islam among American troops deployed in Saudi Arabia. He claimed to convert thousands of U.S. troops to Islam during these tent revivals, even using the relationships he made in this process to recruit U.S. volunteers for the 1992 war in Bosnia. 14

Philips founded and directed the Islamic Studies department of Preston University in Ajman, United Arab Emirates in 2002, as well as the Islamic Studies Academy in Doha, Qatar in 2007. 15 Also in 2007, Philips founded International Open University (IOU) as an online learning institution that offered free courses. By 2010, IOU launched its full Bachelor of Arts program in Islamic Studies. IOU received global accreditation and a university license by the government of Somalia’s Ministry of Higher Education in 2013. IOU has an American chapter in Santa Clara, California, called the International Open University Of Humanity Health Science & Peace. 16 As of 2024, IOU claims over 450,000 students enrolled across 228 countries. 17 18

A 2002 Tampa Bay Times described Philips as a media-savvy preacher who built TV followings in multiple countries and founded the first English-language television show dedicated to teaching Islamic principles. 19 Philips has built a large following on social media platforms – in addition to his YouTube audience, he has over 1.2 million followers on X/Twitter. He was named “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” in 2010 and 2023 by the yearly publication of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre of Jordan, in part due to founding International Open University. 20 21 22

Alleged Extremism

In a lecture, Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips claimed that suicide bombers are not really committing suicide, which would be against Islamic law. Instead, he suggested they were carrying out “a military action and human lives are sacrificed in that military act.” 23 Philips received greater criticism for these comments after the Luton Islamic Centre posted a link to Philips’s speech on its website before one of its members, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, blew himself up in Stockholm in December 2010. 24 Many accused Philips of encouraging the attack through his extremist speech. This led then-United Kingdom Home Secretary Theresa May to ban Philips from the United Kingdom in 2010. 25

In 2022, in response to a question about his views on suicide bombings, Philips said he was taken out of context. He cited an incident of Palestinians suicide-bombing a bus of Israeli troops in 1995 as a justifiable use of suicide bombings, and differentiated that from suicide bombings of civilians, which he said was “haram,” or impermissible under Islamic law. 26

Australia banned Philips from entry in 2007 for alleged radicalism and extremism, as Philips once claimed that “Western culture, led by the United States, is the enemy of Islam.” 27

In 2011, Philips was banned from re-entering Germany. 28 In 2012, he was deported from and banned by Kenya, as both countries cited possible links to terrorism. 29 In 2014, Philips was also banned from both Bangladesh and the Philippines, where he was accused of “inciting and recruiting people to conduct terrorist activities.” 30 31

Philips also sparked controversy when he described the treatment of homosexuals in Islamic States and declared that rape did not exist between spouses in Islam. 32 He claimed that he was not endorsing the murder of homosexuals in Islamic states, but rather explaining the practice. 33

In 2020, Philips’ International Open University listed British universities such as Loughborough, Gloucestershire, Cranfield, and Surrey as open centers for students to take their IOU exams. 34 All four universities denied any relationship to Philips. 35

In May 2017, Philips was banned from Denmark for two years “in order to prevent hate speech and protect public order.” 36 He was arrested in the Philippines as a risk to national security after which he compared himself to former South African President Nelson Mandela. 37

A book written by Philips was one of five ordered removed from British prisons. Two were reportedly removed for including terrorism language; Philips’ was removed because of principles which were said to be opposed to British cultural norms. 38

Philips continues to maintain that he is a moderate Muslim who is not an extremist and who has no links to terrorism. 39 When Australia refused to grant Philips a visa in 2007 for alleged ties to extremism, Philips said that “instead of following the path of fair investigation as the authorities in New Zealand, UK, and Canada have done,” Australia simply followed “American allegations and unsubstantiated false accusations.” 40

References

  1. About. Dr. Bilal Philips. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://bilalphilips.com/about/
  2. Founder of IOU. International Open University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iou.edu.gm/founder/
  3.  Ha, Tu Thanh. “Controversial imam Bilal Philips says banning him won’t stop his message.” The Globe and Mail. September 15, 2014. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/controversial-imam-bilal-philips-says-banning-him- wont-stop-his-message/article20611079/
  4. Founder of IOU. International Open University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iou.edu.gm/founder/
  5. Gulf Today Biography. Dr. Bilal Philips. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://bilalphilips.com/about/gulf-today-biography/
  6. Robertson, Dylan. “Canadian imam Bilal Philips unwelcome in Philippines.” Ottawa Citizen. September 10, 2014. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/canadian-imam-bilal-philips-unwelcome-in-philippines
  7. Philips, Bilal. “My Way To Islam.” BilalPhilips.com. Archived from the original June 21, 2006. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://web.archive.org/web/20060621033326/http://bilalphilips.com:80/abouthim/bio_aut3.htm
  8. Alhassan, Amina. “My Journey To Islam, By Bilal Philips.” Daily Trust. March 15, 2014. Accessed April 24, 2024.  https://dailytrust.com/my-journey-to-islam-by-bilal-philips/
  9. Bilal Philips. “My Story – Dr. Bilal Philips.” YouTube. June 13, 2021. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rOs21INeT8
  10. Alhassan, Amina. “My Journey To Islam, By Bilal Philips.” Daily Trust. March 15, 2014. Accessed April 24, 2024.  https://dailytrust.com/my-journey-to-islam-by-bilal-philips/
  11. Alhassan, Amina. “My Journey To Islam, By Bilal Philips.” Daily Trust. March 15, 2014. Accessed April 24, 2024.  https://dailytrust.com/my-journey-to-islam-by-bilal-philips/
  12. Founder of IOU. International Open University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iou.edu.gm/founder/
  13. Founder of IOU. International Open University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iou.edu.gm/founder/
  14.  J.M. Berger, “A Conversation About Jihad With Controversial Preacher Bilal Philips.” Intelwire. April 19, 2011. Archived from the original March 16, 2017. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20170316024102/http:/news.intelwire.com/2011/04/interview-with- bilal-philips-about.html
  15. About. Dr. Bilal Philips. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://bilalphilips.com/about/
  16. Administration. International Open University of Humanity Health Science and Peace. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iouhhspedu.com/index.php/administration/
  17. “The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims, 2023.” The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. 2022. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://themuslim500.com/books/The%20Muslim%20500%202023%20edition%20-%20Free %20eBook.pdf
  18. Founder of IOU. International Open University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://iou.edu.gm/founder/
  19. “Muslims get advice on show in English.” Tampa Bay Times. September 3, 2005. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2002/08/03/muslims-get-advice-on-show-in-english/
  20. Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. @DrBilalPhilips. Twitter. Accessed April 29, 2024.

    https://twitter.com/DrBilalPhilips

  21. “The 500 Most Influential Muslims, 2010.” The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. 2010. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://rissc.jo/docs/0A-FullVersion-LowRes.pdf
  22. “The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims, 2023.” The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. 2022. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://themuslim500.com/books/The%20Muslim%20500%202023%20edition%20-%20Free %20eBook.pdf
  23. al-Abdaly, Taimour. “Stockholm bomber’s mosque website carries links to extremist preacher.” The Guardian. December 18, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/19/abdaly-luton-mosque-stockholm-bomber
  24. al-Abdaly, Taimour. “Stockholm bomber’s mosque website carries links to extremist preacher.” The Guardian. December 18, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/19/abdaly-luton-mosque-stockholm-bomber
  25. Gilligan, Andrew. “ Hizb ut Tahrir is not a gateway to terrorism, claims Whitehall report.” Telegraph. July 25, 2010. Archived from the original July 27, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://web.archive.org/web/20100727044823/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/andrew-gilligan /7908262/Hizb-ut-Tahrir-is-not-a-gateway-to-terrorism-claims-Whitehall-report.html
  26. Dr. Bilal Philips Clips. “Why am I banned from countries like the UK and Germany?” YouTube. June 6, 2022. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu8yiJb_YQw
  27. McManus, Gerard. “John Howard bans Islamic leader.” The Courier and Mail. April 4, 2007. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/john-howard-bans-islamic-leader/news-story/9e5cd196b0377e 12354da6ce93e61ecd
  28. Borrud, Gabriel. “Imam expulsion.” Deutsche Welle. April 21, 2011. Accessed April 29, 2024.  https://www.dw.com/en/germany-expels-openly-homophobic-imam/a-6510494
  29. Bell, Stewart. “Banned by Kenya, controversial Canadian preacher delivers speech via Skype.” National Post. February 27, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/banned-by-kenya-controversial-canadian-preacher-delivers- speech-via-skype
  30. “Bilal Philips sent back.” The Daily Star. June 19, 2014. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.thedailystar.net/bilal-philips-sent-back-29421
  31. “Philippines to deport Canadian Islamic teacher over terror links.” Reuters. September 10, 2014. Accessed April 29, 2024.  https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN0H50IU/
  32. Bell, Stewart. “Comments on homosexuality led to six-month delay renewing my passport: controversial Canadian imam.” National Post. November 15. 2021. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/comments-on-homosexuality-led-to-six-month-delay- renewing-my-passport-controversial-canadian-imam
  33. Vidino, Lorenzo and Meleagrou-Hitchens, Alexander. “Islamist Homophobia in the West: From Rhetoric to Violence.”  Program on Extremism at George Washington University. September 2022. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs5746/files/IslamistHomophobiaintheWest090722.pdf
  34. Tingle, Rory. “British universities are advertised as exam centres for online college set up by Islamist hate preacher banned from UK for ‘extremist views’ including saying gays should be put to death.” Daily Mail. June 8, 2020. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8377035/Outrage-British-universities-host-exams-hate- preachers-online-college.html
  35. Tingle, Rory. “British universities are advertised as exam centres for online college set up by Islamist hate preacher banned from UK for ‘extremist views’ including saying gays should be put to death.” Daily Mail. June 8, 2020. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8377035/Outrage-British-universities-host-exams-hate- preachers-online-college.html
  36. “Denmark bans 6 foreign religious ‘hate preachers.’ ” Deutsche Welle. May 2, 2017. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.dw.com/en/denmark-gives-two-year-ban-to-6-foreign-religious-hate-preachers/a-38663622
  37. “Dr Bilal Philips held in custody over ties with “extremist groups” in Philippines.” 5Pillars. September 12, 2015. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://5pillarsuk.com/2014/09/12/sheikh-bilal-philips-held-in-custody-over-ties-with-extremist-groups-in-philippines/
  38. Iqbal, Sajid and Titheradge, Noel. “’Extremist’ books remained in prisons despite warning.” BBC. July 28, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-36774358
  39. “Exclusive: Interview with Dr Bilal Philips.” Austrolabe. 2007. Accessed April 24, 2024.  https://austrolabe.com/2007/04/09/exclusive-interview-with-dr-bilal-philips/
  40. “Exclusive: Interview with Dr Bilal Philips.” Austrolabe. 2007. Accessed April 24, 2024.  https://austrolabe.com/2007/04/09/exclusive-interview-with-dr-bilal-philips/
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