Hard-Line Harlem Sheikh Goes Silent During California Visit

Sep 10, 2014 at 11:29 AM ET

Perhaps it was the fact that Vocativ had cameras there. Perhaps it was the fact that a Californian had been revealed that week as having died as an ISIS fighter in Syria. Whatever the reason, Islamic firebrand cleric Sheik Khalid Yasin, a Muslim preacher currently based in Manchester, England, was tight-lipped on all things Syrian when Vocativ caught up with him last week at the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley in California.

“I will only answer questions that are relevant to what I spoke about,” he warned the assembled group, who laughed when he added, “so don’t ask me about what’s going on in Syria.”

There to deliver a sermon on the life of Jesus, Yasin has previously made public comments on much more fiery topics—widely condemning gays as apostates and decrying pop starlets who court fame as “bling-bling whores.” Originally hailing from New York, Yasin makes public statements that are a far cry from the norms of America’s liberal metropolis and stem from a conservative interpretation of Islam. Yasin’s rhetoric includes the sort of comments that lead people to ask whether he passively encourages young people to join radical organizations such as ISIS. He gained media attention last year when Michael Adebowale, one of the men accused of killing British soldier Lee Rigby in London, credited Yasin as the man who inspired his conversion to Islam.

Speaking to Vocativ at a recent event at a mosque in a Los Angeles suburb, the sheik denied any support for radical Islamist groups, choosing to “reserve his opinion” on ISIS, despite the fact the extremists have now beheaded two American journalists. Yasin was born in Harlem (that’s right—he’s the Harlem sheikh) and converted from Christianity to Islam as a young man. Known as a the “media bedouin,” Yasin travels the world preaching his brand of Islam. He uploads many of his sermons to YouTube, expanding his reach to all corners of the globe.

See below for an example of his more typical sermons.