One of the last things suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did online was retweet this message by Zimbabwe-based Muslim scholar and motivational speaker Mufti Ismail Menk, or @muftimenk
Friday morning, Mufti Ismail Menk condemned the bombings
Mufti Menk has almost 200,000 fans on Facebook
He has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter...
... And almost 19,000 subscribers on YouTube, and more than 3 million video views
Menk, a social-media savvy preacher based in Zimbabwe, is a "religiously conservative" figure, an American scholar of Islam said, but his writings — in fluent English — are almost entirely devoted to motivational sayings and life lessons, and there has been no suggestion that he is tied either to anti-American violence in general or to the actions of the alleged Boston bombers.
Menk, a fluent user of Facebook and Twitter, himself quickly pointed out on Twitter that Dzokhar Tsarnaev did not even follow his account.
He responded with "shock" at the retweet, and "disgust" at the immediate negative attention to his own work.
Menk describes himself on his Facebook page as "a broad minded, motivational speaker who has won the hearts of many."
Menk also describes himself as Head of the Fatwa Department of The Council of Islamic Scholars of Zimbabwe and as an Imaam at Masjid Al Falaah in Harare.
After reading Mufti Ismail Menk's tweets and listening to the sermons posted online, Dr. Muhammad Ali, assistant professor of Religious Studies at UC Riverside, who specializes in Islamic studies, said he saw nothing that could be interpreted as inciting violence of any kind.
"Although he speaks English fluently, and he has broad knowledge and insight about many different issues," Ali said, "he is religiously conservative."
He said that Menk's faith aligns him with the conservative Salafi tradition, one that has in places like Egypt represented the far religious right — though Menk, a graduate of the rigidly conservative Islamic University of al-Madinah al-Munawarah in Saudi Arabia, does not appear to be involved in local or international politics.
Salafis, Ali said, "try to purify the faith—that's really the main mission of the Salafis. Anything considered foreign or external or outside would be minimized as much as possible."
"I would say that people would use his tweets, his opinions, his fatwa in quite different ways, but they might see him as someone who has authority. He has charisma, he has knowledge, he speaks English fluently," Ali said.
Menk has reached some of the highest echelons of religious authority and is now spreading that knowledge globally with the help of social media, he said.
"You have very few people who have reached this stage of religious knowledge and authority," Ali said, explaining the title "Mufti" "It's higher than the simple, ordinary scholars or priests or teachers or imam."
And Ali said he could only speculate on how Tsarnaev had run across Menk's twitter feed.
Mufti Menk's use of Twitter and YouTube is helping expand that authority around the world, Ali said. "Because his sermons are widely circulated, and because he also tweets, it's not confined to Muslims in Zimbabwe. Whatever he says, basically, is considered fatwa — it's considered ruling or opinion by Muslims in Zimbabwe, and also around the world."