Extended Transcript: In the Name of Islam
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RAY SUAREZ: A month after suicide bombings rocked London’s public transit system and additional attacks killed scores at an Egyptian resort, Muslims around the world are discussing how and why these attacks occurred. Here in the United States a group of American Muslims recently issued a fatwa or legal pronouncement denouncing people who commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam, calling then criminals, not martyrs.
That same day, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a 30-second public service announcement in English, Arabic and Urdu called Not in the Name of Islam.
These releases are part of a growing debate within Islam about why it is that so many recent perpetrators of terrorist attacks are Muslims, and what ordinary Muslims can do to keep people from killing in the name of their religion.
For more on this subject we brought together four Muslims with diverse perspectives: Salim Mansur, an associate professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario in Canada; Shadi Hamid, a master’s candidate in Arab studies at Georgetown University, he spent the past year as a Fulbright fellow in Amman, Jordan; Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, she is the author of “Standing Alone in Mecca”; and Shaker Elsayed, the Imam of Al Hijrah in Northern Virginia, one of the largest mosques on the East Coast.
Who speaks for Islam? Is there anybody whose words, whose opinion cuts across the divisions of continents, nationality, language, sex and just carries a lot of weight in this group of 1.2 billion people? Imam?
SHAKER ELSAYED: There are some councils or councils of Islamic law for the Muslim world, one in Europe, one in America, one, two in Saudi Arabia, and one in Egypt, and they have a lot of respect and recognition by the Muslim world worldwide. But there are also some individual Muslim personalities who have posed as speaking for the Muslim world and they are listened to by millions and millions of Muslims.
RAY SUAREZ: Do they often have different things to say, Asra Nomani?
ASRA NOMANI: I can tell you Osama bin Laden does not represent Islam. He does not represent me, he does not represent millions of Muslims out in the world. He brings cameras into caves and speaks as if he is the authority on Islam, but ultimately we are in a war within Islam right now with the non-Muslim world. We have people who are competing with various ideologies and there are people trying to speak with great authority, and yet they don’t always represent the mainstream.
The sad testimony of today is that so many Muslims are basically unrepresented among our leadership and we remain silent, and that’s why we have to stand up now and take back the faith.
RAY SUAREZ: You said Osama bin Laden doesn’t speak for you, but does he speak for some?
ASRA NOMANI: Sadly, he speaks for a lot of people and he represents what I think we are facing in our Muslim world which is an ideological terrorism that is basically trying to grab the hearts and minds of our youth and so many people who are willing to stand up then and act in the name of Islam in a violent way. And so that’s why it’s incumbent upon us as moderate Muslims to respond to this in a nonviolent way and challenge it word for word every statement that they put out in the name of Islam.
So what happened last week in North America was vital. It is so important for our leaders to stand up and basically throw down the gauntlet and say you cannot represent us and we are going to stand up to you, and this is what we need to do in the Muslim communities around this world, to take back our mosques from the extremists, go into our mosques and challenge the rhetoric of intolerance and fundamentalism that is trying to take over our world.
RAY SUAREZ: Asra Nomani just cited that fatwa recently developed here in North America. Is that heard in Europe, in the Mediterranean, in South Asia, professor?
SALIM MANSUR: No. I mean, it’s an important point, it’s a very belated step and it’s a welcome step, but it’s a very small step.
In the modern world, the Muslim world is totally fragmented and there is tremendous jockeying and struggle taking place within the Muslim world, within Islam as well of what and how Islam will eventually come to be represented in this modern world, now we’re in the 21st century, and then how that view will be articulated.
What we are seeing right now, and this is the interesting from my perspective, we are in the middle of a froth of this world of Islam that is forming, and because we are in the middle of the froth we are distancing ourselves to see where the dynamic is going. Maybe 100 years from now people will see that what has happened at the beginning of the 21st century was right where the crisis reached a [inaudible] point and erupted, and now Muslims are struggling to find sort of a reconciliation with the world they inhabit and an identity with which they will be comfortable that will speak to their understanding of Islam.
RAY SUAREZ: So this foment, this froth is a necessary thing? You got to live through this to get somewhere?
SALIM MANSUR: Historically, yes. As an historian, as a sociologist as people who take broad pictures of these things, yes, it is. But the process itself contemporaneously is extremely difficult, it’s extremely perilous and we can see the destructive aspects of it all around us, but it is a necessary part.
RAY SUAREZ: Shadi Hamid?
SHADI HAMID: Let me just add to that I think we have to be very clear about how we define the struggle ahead of us. This is nothing less than a war of ideas, and I think that even though the people who do support bin Laden are a small minority, they have to be defeated and destroyed. We have to be very clear about that.
There is not and should not be any more nuance or ambiguity when it comes to fighting terrorism and those who brandish the name of Islam so selfishly in the name of terror. So I think as an American Muslim the time has never been more urgent for us to stand up and have a more systematic, vigorous response to terrorism and say not in our name and we’re not going to tolerate it in our communities and we’ll fight it.
RAY SUAREZ: But Imam, from the history, the 1,500-year history to today, is it hard to have a systematic response? Is it hard to have that kind of, or create that kind of authority, or have there been historical developments that have resisted having that kind of authority?
SHAKER ELSAYED: You know, we have another religion that has an ultimate authority in the person of the pope, and that’s Catholicism. People disagree with the pope and take positions politically and socially against what the pope teaches. So having an authority is not really the issue. Having an authority would have helped unify the voice, but I see that in the discussion we tend to confuse the name of Islam with Muslims even in this discussion.
We tend to use these words alternatively when we say, for example, Islam expressing this, Islam this, Islam is a religion that comes through two primary sources of text, the Quran and the tradition of the prophet. Those are the ones. If we talk about reforming Islam, for example, we talk about the text, but reforming Muslims is something very needed.
And by the way, the recent fatwa is not something recent. It’s only recently announced. But on September 18, I stood up with 15 national Muslim organizations in the National Press Club to condemn terrorism in all its forms, to condemn what happened on September 11th as un-Islamic, inhumane and barbaric. So this is not something new. The media is lately coming to recognize that Muslims have been speaking up and speaking out against terrorists for a long time. To call it a belated step is one thing, but this has been going on since September 11th.
So this is not something new, and it is about Muslims, not about Islam. Like when Timothy McVeigh does something, we don’t call it Christianity, we don’t call it Catholicism or whatever or what he belonged to, we call it Timothy McVeigh. This is Osama bin Laden having a war of ideas, and as Shadi says, a war of ideas is not going to be defeated by a tank and weapons and airplanes. A word of idea needs engagement, and this is what we need to encourage our leadership to engage, not with terrorists, but at least with moderate Muslims, but this is not happening.
RAY SUAREZ: Is that a fair point? Is it the same thing as Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh and their various relationships to their native religions?
ASRA NOMANI: We’re up against a formidable enemy and we cannot dismiss that fact. What I brought is a copy of the Quran which comes from Saudi Arabia, you know, one of America’s best friends, and the very first chapter says “Guide us to the straight way, the way of those on whom you have destowed your grace, not the way of those who have earned your anger.” And then in parentheses is, “such as the Jews nor those who went astray such as the Christians,” in parentheses.
So these are the interpretations that are added into the layers of Islam that are a manifestation of the Muslim world.
SHAKER ELSAYED: They are not the text. You also admit this much.
ASRA NOMANI: But this comes — but this comes from–
SHAKER ELSAYED: You have to admit this much. It’s not the text.
ASRA NOMANI: This comes from the House of Saud, this comes from–
SHAKER ELSAYED: But the House of Saud is not Islam.
ASRA NOMANI: But this is imported into America and this is what we have to face, and while the law enforcement authorities are watching the borders and the boundaries, we have this ideological hatred spewing into America, into communities in England.
Right here I have a text also distributed at my mosque in West Virginia that also takes the text and says that women can be beaten. And then we have sermons downloaded from Saudi Arabia that say that we should not be friends with the Jews and the Christians. And we’ve heard this thousands of times and at the end of the day this is what we’re facing. It’s a machinery. It’s wahabism incorporated. It’s fundamentalism incorporated. It’s beyond an individual. It’s an entire system that we’re up against.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response.
SHAKER ELSAYED: I have to say something here. First, this is not the text of the Quran. These are interpretations.
ASRA NOMANI: Right. I–
SHAKER ELSAYED: And when you talk about reforming Islam, Islam is the text, not the interpretation. But if you go through text of religious books and scriptures before that, you will find the talk about the Gentiles in the Old Testament. You will find talk about — and get me a sword if you can. You will find a lot of things.
ASRA NOMANI: That’s right. You will find–
SHAKER ELSAYED: So religious texts have always carried the stuff that could not really be sorted out in a brief discussion like this.
ASRA NOMANI: In the South we had the Bible used to sanction slavery and we had to end that kind of ideology, and that’s the same kind of stuff that we — that’s the same kind of stuff that we had to wipe out of our — society.
SHAKER ELSAYED: No, it not in the text.
ASRA NOMANI: Exactly.
RAY SUAREZ: I think you’re agreeing while you’re disagreeing.
ASRA NOMANI: We completely agree. I completely agree with you.
SHAKER ELSAYED: OK.
ASRA NOMANI: What I’m saying is that we have to take these kinds of books out–
SHAKER ELSAYED: Then let–
ASRA NOMANI: Let me just finish. We have to take these kinds of books out of our mosque libraries. We have to basically take on the fact that these are mass-distributed, they’re going into the hands of our youth and that is fueling the violence, and have to acknowledge it.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, is that a useful distinction, that Islam is one thing, the faith, and Muslims, some good, some bad, some somewhere in the middle, it’s a totally out of question?
SALIM MANSUR: At one level, I agree with the Imam. When we speak about Islam, we are actually speaking about Muslims because what Muslims do, the issue is that focus. Whatever may be the text because the text of the religion or the faith has to be lived through in the practical daily life and conduct of Muslims themselves.
What America woke up to on 9/11 and now that the spotlight is on civilization and people who call themselves Muslims and we can play games between Islam and Muslims, but they’re inseparable. They’re intertwined. What America woke up to and what we are in some degree talking about is the problem of 9/11 must be found within the Muslims themselves, within the civilization itself, that deals with the fanaticism of Muslims, the violence of Muslims, which is not something new, which is not unprecedented on 9/11. It is America woke up to that. It is the non-Muslim world woke up to that.
Muslims have lived with this violence for 15 centuries, more than 1,400 years, that the primary victims of Muslim violence or Muslim fanaticism are Muslims themselves. So the solution as Asra Nomani is pointing out and discussing, and this is a huge, difficult subject, is that Muslims must come to grips with the world in which they are in and must find ways and means by such discussions tackling with their history.
I quickly want to make two points related to this about this issue, that the primary victims of Muslim violence are Muslims themselves, and on 9/11 the world woke up to it, and now the spotlight is on it. There are two corollaries to this. One, much of the Western world, the non-Muslim world, engaged with many of the Muslims themselves is talking about that there are some sort of root cause that if it is addressed and remedied, whether it is the Israel-Palestine issue, whether it is the Kashmir and India-Pakistan issue, or whether it is the Western oil interests or whatever other combination, that if such root causes are remedied then 9/11 possibly would not have happened and that this violence would have ended.
There is no root cause external to Muslim history. The root cause is within Muslims, within Islam. This has to be looked at very seriously. We haven’t talked about this. We are engaged in too much apologetics.
The second aspect of it is very quickly, when you talk about Islamic reformation, and the Imam has already mentioned it and I agree with him, the talking is a misnomer, Islamic reformation. It is Muslim reformation we have to talk about. Muslim conduct, Muslim behavior has to change. Muslims have to come to embrace the world in which they are living in the context of the time in which they are living and, therefore, Muslims in the 21st century have to embrace the world of democracy, human rights, gender equality, you know, science. This is what the Arab Human Development Report has spoken about recently and it got a lot of air, that Muslims have to reform themselves and if Muslims reform themselves in their conduct and behavior, confront their history which is not a very pleasant history, then the understanding of Islam that will emerge out of that reformation will be a reformed Islam what we are talking about.
RAY SUAREZ: Shadi Hamid?
SHADI HAMID: I think at the same time though, yes, Muslims have to stop blaming the West, America and Israel. I 100 percent agree with Dr. Mansur on this. But I think Muslims can’t defeat the scourge of terror on their own, that we need America’s help in engaging the rest of the world and being at the forefront of this war on terror.
But what do I mean exactly? What I’m trying to say is that it is autocracies, dictatorial regimes, throughout the Middle East that have created a very poisonous political environment conducive to the right of extremist ideologies. So if we’re going to be serious about fighting this war on terrorism, there also has to be a war waged on autocracy, meaning that we have to actively promote democracy in the Middle East so people can have a chance to express their grievances in a legitimate, peaceful manner.
I think President Bush has made this very clear. Senior-level State Department officials have been very clear about establishing this link between lack of democracy and increased terrorism because I think it’s very clear that when people don’t have the means to express themselves, when they can’t go out there and vote, when they can’t write an article in their local newspaper, when they can’t go out there and rally on the streets, you have a lot of suppressed frustration which manifests itself very unhealthy and sometimes violent ways.
RAY SUAREZ: But along with places where people can’t write an article, there’s a cleric in Brooklyn who on a Friday afternoon might tell the people who come to hear him that they have to tear down the society that they live in even if it means killing many people in the bargain. In communities in France and Britain there are similar things that might go on during the course of a week, and many of the people who are listening on that same Friday afternoon can vote, pay taxes, get public educations, public transport, all the amenities of life in an industrial democracy. This is not the revolt of the alienated and suppressed. This is the revolt of people who hear a call to murder and are willing to listen to it. You can’t blame necessarily their proximate circumstances for doing that.
SHAKER ELSAYED: All I want to say is separate Islam from Muslims. Islam is a religion that is not as marred by its history as others. We did not initiate World War I. Muslims did not initiate World War II. They were not engaged. They were victims. Muslim did not go out to occupy other countries 430 years as it happened in Afghanistan and Algeria back again and again and again.
We have to be honest, all religions have in their histories something in their closet, but to say that Islam is a unique religion in that is far from the truth.
RAY SUAREZ: But Imam, is it fair at the same time to try to make that separation between what people say they believe and what they do?
SHAKER ELSAYED: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: Doesn’t that create the ability to separate yourself from everything, to say that preacher who is saying murder people, that’s not Islam, or these people who go out and do something and say a prayer before they blow up a bus, that’s not Islam and–
SHAKER ELSAYED: There are certain things that we definitely know are not from Islam. We know that — and people who gamble and drink wine, we know that this is not from Islam, but we say Muslim leaders. So we know that the facts are separate from people and people are separate from their own religion and their own guidance, and when they claim Islam we accept their claim and then blame the religion instead of laying the responsibility on the shoulder of the individual or the group or the country that takes on something that is contrary to their own teaching.
I believe so long as we blame the religion and sort of holding that is sacred in front of us and instead of holding the book and saying to Muslims this is even against your own religion, we have no dialogue because we’re blaming their response instead of blaming the criminals.
And if somebody goes in the middle of the neighborhood and says we are for a drug-laden neighborhood and I don’t have any chance but to kill somebody else because I have no life, then we blame the drug, we blame the neighborhood and instead of laying the responsibility on the shoulder of the criminal himself.
SALIM MANSUR: This is a sort of apologetic that can no longer wash. This is an apologetic that we have gone through for too long a time.
SHAKER ELSAYED: Unless you want to understand — I’m sorry.
RAY SUAREZ: I’m listening.
SALIM MANSUR: I was respectfully paying attention to what you said. You should let me get my thoughts across.
As I said in my opening remarks, we are right in the midst of a very foamy ocean, that is the ocean which is the Muslim world, the inhabitants. The problems are multilayered because when we talk about the modern world the question is where do we begin the modern world, let’s say the 20th century, end of World War I which is the creation of the modern states in the Middle East and then after World War II the emergence of other states at the end of the decolonization process and we have roughly somewhere round about seven decades of historical record of modern history where the Muslims emerge in the modern world into this modern nation-state system. These nation-state systems almost without exception are failed nation-state systems.
The grievances of the people in these nation-state systems whether it is in Egypt, whether it is in Pakistan, whether it is, you know, in Algeria through the 1990s, the grievances of these people against the failed nation-state system have been expressed and the frustrations have been expressed in the language of Islam.
This expression in the language of Islam is again nothing new. That’s what I mean, part of the 1,400 years of history. Islam as a universal message as a monotheistic tradition is one thing. Islam as organized politics which as it was began with is another thing, and this Islam as organized politics has a very tortured and difficult history.
For the first time after 9/11 are the Muslims being forced to confront that, and there is the diversity of the world. For the first time we have women who are not empowered to speak particularly outside of the Muslim world and their voices are being heard and are being carried. We have Asra Nomani here, we have other people speaking out, Fatra Marisi (ph), Akia Jabad (pH) and so on and so forth, you know, and their voices are being carried out because of the age we are living in, the Internet technology, the globalized world.
This is a huge step forward and there is profound resistance. When you talk about the authority, the authority of the premodern world wanting to encapsulate and hold back the modern world that has exploded around it. The modern world that has exploded around it is independent of the premodern world and its understanding of Islam and that’s where the tremendous conflict is taking place. Muslims have to acknowledge their own responsibilities of failure. This is absolutely intrinsically to the Quran.
Let me complete my thought. Verily, God does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves and apologetics cannot meet that challenge.
RAY SUAREZ: Asra Nomani?
ASRA NOMANI: We’ve failed in our communities as Muslim people. We have betrayed Islam. Our leadership has betrayed Islam. What the Imam is saying I understand very clearly. I know that there’s a fear that Islam is going to be labeled and blamed for all the violence that’s been perpetuated, but each one of us is sitting here for a love of their religion. And every time I seek out Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus are thankful and they write letters of gratitude because they say we want to hear a voice of moderation and a voice that will take responsibility for what’s perpetuated in the name of Islam.
Now I’ve received three death threats. Where do they come from? From Seattle, Washington, Penn State University, Brooklyn, and Chico, California. We have to confront the fact that people are defending an ideology of hatred with hatred and violence and this isn’t incumbent upon us because I think we know that the next attack can very much happen out of America. It’s a matter of time, not whether it’s going to happen.
And our community in America will have failed if we don’t confront the real problems that are being perpetuated in the name of our religion and basically betraying the faith, and our leadership needs to stand up for that.
SHADI HAMID: I definitely agree with Asra. I think that our national Islam organizations even after 9/11 failed to effectively condemn terrorism and fight extremism within our own communities.
For example, I mean, I think it’s interesting how you’ve had all these suicide bombings almost daily in Iraq, in Israel, and of course we had 9/11, but how come this condemnation, this very forceful condemnation that we mentioned after the London bombings, why did it take so long?
Why did we have to wait three or four years for Muslim organizations to get together and issue a fatwa? What happened in the last three years?
Let me just emphasize one specific point, is that for too long there has been a double standard. We’re very quick to condemn bombings in America, in Britain, but when it comes to say a Hamas suicide bomber blowing himself up and killing innocent Israelis in cafes and pizzerias, I have not seen an effective Muslim response regarding that.
There has been a lot of equivocation, and I think the problem is when a lot of Muslims argue that the immorality and illegality of these killings is contingent upon certain political considerations, say the occupation in Israel, we enter a very dangerous slippery slope. We have to condemn all suicide bombings anytime innocent civilians are killed. Whether it’s Jews, Arabs, Israelis, Christians, it has to be one response that we will not tolerate it, it is UN-Islamic, immoral and inhumane.
RAY SUAREZ: You all disagreed and agreed about the diagnosis, but you agreed that there has to be engagement. What does that engagement look like? How does it look different from what we’ve been doing over the last 10 years or the last 20 years? What would a dialogue inside this globe-straddling faith look like?
SALIM MANSUR: What you did 10 years ago or two decades ago was as a curiosity of the Muslim world out there, a curiosity of American Muslims and Americans who happened to have followed the faith and tradition of Islam.
It is only the post-9/11 world in which it is not a problem of any exotic nature out there. It is a problem and which we are all part of it. And it is this intensity of interests and intensity of focus both at a policy level and in terms of trying to understand the problem has opened up the discourse which we are having right now. And much more of the spotlight has to fall within the Muslim community because only when the spotlight within the Muslim community what is spoken in the mosque.
The mosque have become in a sense the dens of inequity in terms of language and preaching. The spotlight has to be focused on them. And so we then get sort of debate out that people cannot hide with double talk that you’re referring to, with apologetics, because one of the challenges, it’s not a challenge again that of Islam, it is a challenge of Muslims and particularly in the world of an identity crisis because the Muslims are facing with the problematic of how to coexist with the other, but more importantly, how to coexist among themselves by acknowledging and respecting dissent.
In the mosque there is no dissent. What the Imam speaks from the top of the pulpit cannot be questioned, cannot be talked about, cannot be debated. This tradition is exploding. Those who want to hold onto the tradition have gone violent. It’s not the Muslims in the majority have gone violent.
RAY SUAREZ: Imam?
SHAKER ELSAYED: I believe that as much as people talk about apologetics, and I seem to be labeled as one in this discussion which is not fair, I didn’t label anybody, there is a trend always whenever something goes wrong in a family that anybody in the family wants to protect — to blame the entire family for what’s happening. I believe there is no apology for terrorism. We condemned it, we condemned it on 9/11. I personally signed a paper on behalf of the organization I worked for at that time and sent it everywhere to the press. I spoke to the press. So for Shadi to say this is very late, why did it take two years, it didn’t take two years. It took you three years to note that there is something.
But there has been always condemnation of terrorism from not only here, but from [inaudible] from Saudi Arabia, from the Gulf, from all Muslim corners of recent and decent scholarship. So to say that there is no condemnation or not enough condemnation, there could never be enough condemnation of something like terrorism. You can’t condemn it enough.
But the issue is how much should I feel of responsibility personally for what bin Laden does? I didn’t teach him. I’m not encouraging him. I’m condemning what he’s doing. But why should I take responsibility for what he does? Why should anybody take responsibility for a stranger who acted on his own? I did not elect him, I did not follow him, and I don’t support what he’s doing. Why should I take responsibility for it? I should take responsibility for what I’m doing.
I’m talking about the purpose of the Imam that what he says is undiscussable is unrealistic. We discuss with people every day and we level with people. We get people in my office, we get people in the course of the mosque. We discuss issues back and forth.
SHADI HAMID: My question to you is where was explicit condemnation if innocent Israelis being killed daily? Where was it? I didn’t hear any Islamic scholars in the Middle East. I didn’t hear our mosque leaders here talk about that. They’re very vocal about the London bombings, but where was that same condemnation?
SHAKER ELSAYED: London is no better fear for anybody. You know Israel is using Apache helicopter gunships and everything to demolish homes of innocent people. You can’t pretend talking in the air conditioning here in Washington about what people in Gaza slums should be doing or not doing. But when you sit in Washington you can at least talk to people in Washington and tell them let us be reasonable. Why aren’t you asking for condemnation of Israeli brutality? Why aren’t you asking Muslim scholars and Jewish scholars to condemn the Israeli brutality? And label me as an apologetic. It doesn’t hurt me.
The fact is we are playing to one side and this is wrong, ethically wrong and Islamically wrong. We should not play to America because we’re Americans. We should say the truth and the truth is that every party should be just and fair and lovely and peaceful towards each other. Islam says take your neighbors for friends and they have certain rights on you whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. Read the book.
SHADI HAMID: Yeah, the Palestinians are suffering, but that should never justify the killing of innocent civilians.
SHAKER ELSAYED: That is just here in Washington. Talk it to the people in Gaza. Talk it to the people in Jerusalem. But to talk from Washington, you address people in Washington who would listen to you.
SHADI HAMID: This is the equivocation that I’m talking about from our Islamic leaders.
SHAKER ELSAYED: And this is I’m saying that you need to recognize, Shadi, we have to be fair — in the Quran it stands for justice. Don’t be sense of defeated because — and explosion there. Bin Laden doesn’t represent Islam. He doesn’t represent me. What he does is not only condemnable, it is inhumane on its face. But that doesn’t necessarily lead me to go judge everybody everywhere where they are bombed every day that they will answer, they’ll do anything that I don’t like.
I don’t like suicide bombings, I don’t like people killing people, but that is not only one-sided, that if a lay person kills 10 people it is wrong, but when a country bombs 10,000 people it is right. There has to be justice.
ASRA NOMANI: The rest of the things in the Quran that you were citing that — justice even if it’s against your mother or your father or your kin as you know.
SHAKER ELSAYED: Yes.
ASRA NOMANI: My point is that we’re not standing from — justice from within our communities. What we are seeing here in this dynamic is basically the dynamic that we confront every single day when we try to challenge the people in power and control in our communities.
I filed protests last year to the sermons that were being expressed from my pulpit when I couldn’t challenge them within the community, and I filed a protest. It was to the Council on America-Islamic Relations. They had a beautiful campaign that said No More Hate, and I said, yes, no more hate within the Muslim community that is spewed from our pulpits. No response because ultimately we have simply put blinders on our eyes for the real issues within our communities constantly looking to target government.
So we have to stand up for justice. We have to empower our youth and ourselves to stand through civic society and through the process of nonviolence.
SHAKER ELSAYED: Thank you.
ASRA NOMANI: But we also have to stand up within our own communities, and it’s completely true that we are not allowed to stand up within our mosques and challenge the authorities.
SHAKER ELSAYED: I’m sorry for what’s happening in your mosque.
ASRA NOMANI: No, it’s not just my mosque. We have to — excuse me sir, we have to acknowledge, and this is the sad part in our communities, and this is why we are so stunted, this is why we are in the Dark Ages, because we haven’t matured to that point.
The governments of this world and the history says that the people have united to challenge apartheid. You were asking earlier what can we do. We have to basically stand together to challenge this kind of ideology that preaches hatred and intolerance. It’s not just Osama bin Laden. It’s a complete machine out there that’s churning it out and we need to stand with Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus together like the people of the world stood against the apartheid regime, just like the people of the world stood for civil rights in the South. We need the revolution of values that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about.
SHAKER ELSAYED: That is correct.
ASRA NOMANI: And we need it within our communities. We cannot pretend that we don’t have a problem anymore.
RAY SUAREZ: Is it difficult to critique other Muslims from inside the faith?
SHAKER ELSAYED: Not at all.
RAY SUAREZ: There is often resistance and resentment when there are calls from outside for Muslims to criticize each other.
SHAKER ELSAYED: Not at all. Not at all. We are criticizing each other for the past 1,500 years in writing, in talking, in sermons. We have been criticizing each other for the thought that nobody is allowed to talk during the speech of the Imam is just part of the practice. It is not a discussion forum during the sermon. But after the sermon, before the sermon, during classes, people argue every issue right and left. And the issue that we have to condemn what’s going on as we condemned the apartheid, but remember, we labeled the African National Congress as a terrorist organization for years, right? It took us time to recognize that they have some rights, but for years we labeled as a terrorist organization, we never wanted to deal with them until time came for Mandela to come and be welcomed as a hero.
So as a nation, it took us time to recognize the struggle of the Northern Ireland people, the African National Congress, it’s taken us time to recognize any struggle anywhere in the world. And Islam is being used as a force as Christianity is being used as a force to rally people as I said at the beginning, unjustified, unacceptable, and it’s condemnable as inhumane, but at the same time one should look at the other issues and make sense of what it is that’s going on. Otherwise, if we don’t understand, if we call every parallel that we draw as equivocation and, you know, self-defeating, then we are after labeling and not after discussion.
RAY SUAREZ: A quick response.
SALIM MANSUR: The quick response is very evident here. This become personalized instead of objectively looking at the situation. Objectively looking at the situation, the July 7th bomber, one of the July 7th bombers, I think his name is Shahzad Tanweer, his funeral in absentia took place in his parents’ ancestral village outside of Lahore, Pakistan, and the reports that have come out, now we live in a 24 by 7 hour news cycle, we have President Musharraf appealing and talking about condemnation of fundamentalism, there is no al-Qaida in Pakistan, that is in large measure to the American audience, but thousands and thousands of people gathered together for the funeral in absentia of this bomber.
And then in the Islamic tradition or in the Muslim tradition, particularly in South Asia where I come from, you have what is called the full ceremony which happens several days after the funeral. The full ceremony is the congregational recitation of versus for the Quran or the whole Quran itself for the purpose of speeding the soul of an individual to its paradise.
Well, in the case of this particular bomber, to the people congregating there, again in thousands, he’s already a martyr so he’s already arrived in paradise so there was not a purpose of speeding his soul towards paradise, it was engaging in an activity, a religious man or this bomber was declared to be a hero of Islam.
So what you have here is a multiple level of problematics. You have in a country like Pakistan, an Islamic state, an Islamic constitution, an ally of the United States of America, a president devoted, a military man devoted to fighting al-Qaida and the terrorists, but the citizenship in his country, in particular in one city, Lahore is the major city in Pakistan, thousands gather to commemorate the death of what I think most of us in this room and on this panel will agree is a criminal, whatever else definition you might give.
This is the problem, getting into objectively discussing the situation of the Muslim history and Islam. What we have instead of objective discussion is quick sliding away and contrasting all the time with other issues, whether it is South Africa or the American Vietnam, whether it is Israelis doing whatever they are doing, what is happening in other parts of other places with a problem, and so it becomes a sort of a way to run away with the focus that is necessary if we are going to come to terms with the modern world.
SHAKER ELSAYED: Commemorating a person who killed innocent civilians runs against Islam. It is condemnable, and as I said before, let us not equate what some people do in a corner of the world with their religion. All what I’m saying is if their religion stands clear on an issue, let us not bank on what people claim that is contrary to the religion and the religion itself. That’s all what I’m saying. And I think this is objectivity.
SHADI HAMID: I think most Muslims now at least in America agree that terrorism is the main problem and in one way or another we have to address it. So I think we should talk now about what steps can we take as American Muslims, instead of just reacting all the time, what could we do proactively to make sure what happened in Britain doesn’t happen in America.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there anything?
SHADI HAMID: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very important for us to mention that young, easily impressionable Muslims here in this country feel that they’re part of the American political process, they’re part of the American society. We have to make sure they’re integrated because I think the problem you have in France and Britain and a lot of these European societies is that you have these ghettoized Muslim communities that don’t consider themselves European, they feel very alienated and marginalized, and, therefore, they’re very susceptible to these very extremist kinds of preachers.
What we have to do here in America is make sure we don’t have a repeat of that, and that’s why integration is very important and to make sure that American Muslims do have a voice in the political process. And I think that’s where American Muslims can be very important in terms of fighting the war on terrorism is because they do understand the Middle East, they do speak Arabic, Farsi and Urdu languages that are very important to our national security. And we have to kind of use the talents of American Muslims to reach out to the Muslim world and to see what we can do to fight extremism in countries like Egypt, Jordan and et cetera.
RAY SUAREZ: Shadi Hamid, guests, all, thank you very much.