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an interview with ayatollah mahdi hadavi
In these excerpts from his interview, first broadcast on ABC's Nightline on Feb. 20, 2002, Ayatollah Hadavi talks about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America by Muslim terrorists. Although he condemns the terrorist acts and denies that there is any religious justification for such violence within Islam, he also says he is angry at the United States government. He goes on to describe his role as an ayatollah teaching at the Islamic University in Qom, the changing roles of women in Iran, and more.

When I heard the news about that thing that happened in September in New York and Washington, first of all, I was amazed, you know. It was not something acceptable.

You know, media from the beginning, they were saying that the Muslims had done this, and even we heard that Mr. Bush, he said that it is a war between Islam and Christianity. And after maybe one or two days, we were still wondering that who has done this and what has happened. And I am still wondering who has done this because I am not sure that bin Laden or a group such as Al Qaeda can do this.

In my eye, the government of the United States is trying to reach to a global sovereignty, to a global power, and now is trying to reach to this power by coming to the region and attacking the Afghanistan. It is a kind of expanding the power in the region. We do not have any doubt about it that bin Laden has been made by CIA. He is just a simple person. He has studied outside Saudi Arabia, in United States and different countries, and he has been helped by them. And he has a special interpretation about Islam, of course, and it is similar to the interpretation of Taliban. And we do not accept this interpretation about Islam, and we think it is a misrepresentation of Islam.

They have omitted the word "women" from society, even they said that. And the women, they are not citizens. You know, they have omitted them absolutely from the society. We believe that this kind of interpretation about Islam is incorrect. Islam has never accepted terrorism. And terrorism is a kind of ignorance, a kind of doing something without any rationality, without any logic. And it is not accepted by rational religion, such as Islam. And therefore, it is not an acceptable excuse for the one who has committed such a crime.

It is a religion of peace. We are always looking for peace. Islam is trying to make society as secure as possible. You know, Americans' impression about Islam is usually based on the things that they are seeing in TV or listening from radio. And the things that the journalists have shown till now is that Islam, I can say, is a violent religion, that it is against humanity, against beauty, against everything that is beautiful and that is acceptable for a human being. It is very, I can say, harsh style of life and a rigid kind of behavior and so on.

It may be true for a group of Muslims such as Taliban. They may have such an image about Islam, but it is not the image that the Muslims throughout the world and throughout the history they have. I have never been angry with the people in United States. I have been angry with the government, but not with the people. If I go to United States, and if I find the chance to talk to the people, I would like to tell them that this time, this period of history is the end of the superpower time. And it's the time that the people throughout the world, they should live in a tranquil, secure atmosphere. And Islam is the religion that can prepare this atmosphere, if you help us, if you try to understand Islam.

We are not going to say you should change your ideology, no. We want them to listen to us, to understand what we say, as they expect us to listen to them and to understand them. ...

They do not understand that "ayatollah" is just an academic title for the one who has reached to a special level of knowledge about Islam. Some of them think the ayatollah is a political title. And some of them, they have some negative sense about this, and they think that ayatollah is someone who is violent and harsh. It needs about 15 years of studying. It took me about 10 years, I think.

The essential part is the turban. This is the most important part. But the complete covering is a symbol of a special degree of knowledge. In our tradition, the one who wears the black turban, it means that he is the grandson of the prophet. And the other people, they wear the white one. And I am also grandson of the prophet, but from the side of my mother, not my father, and therefore, we are not using the black one.

Qom is the main center of Islamic studies maybe throughout the world, I can say. More than 40,000 students are studying now in Qom from more than 91 countries. Many people, they came here to visit the shrine and also different mosques that are here. Some of the mosques in Qom, it is said, they are the most ancient mosques in Iran. I am teaching in Islamic seminary in Qom. It is really an Islamic university. If you look at me as a teacher, I am just like an ordinary professor who is teaching in university. It is important because I love knowledge. I love knowing more. I love writing and teaching. And I think it is a way of growing up the next generation. And when I am conveying my knowledge to them, I am teaching them. I am happy because I think that I have learned something that is now useful for them to know about.

Islam is the religion of knowledge. Islam has invited his followers to know more about Islam, to know more about the universe. And Islam has tried to propagate its concepts and its values by making the people understand it, to teach them, not to fight them. Sometimes in Western culture, they call the Islam the Arabic religion, or sometimes they call Middle East religion. It is not a good term. Islam is a global religion. It is not for a special period of time or a special territory of land or a special nation or a special country. You know the average knowledge, I think, in these countries, in the Western countries, even if there is a high technology, there is high ability for conveying information, but the average knowledge is really low. Because the people are kept in a kind of ignorance, you make them not think about the facts that are surrounding them, and they feel happy because they don't know what is happening around them.

I think Internet is a useful technology for good conversation and dialogue among different civilizations. Unfortunately, a lot of sites are preparing pornographic things, and it is a danger for the young generation. They are polluted by these kind of sites.

The people who are living here, they think that if they live, for example, in United States or in United Kingdom, their life will be better. They do not know about the problems that the young generation have in the Western countries. I think if they know more about Islam, and if they know more about the world, about the other countries, they may change their opinion.

It is something acceptable for me that many other people, they do not accept my opinion, because they do not have my knowledge, they do not have my point of view. And therefore, in my eyes, they are wrong. And I am wrong, of course, in their eyes. ...

In Iran, women are teaching in universities, working in offices, working in TV and in important positions in the government. They are working and doing many things. And one of the important duties for a woman in Islam is to take care of the family, when she has a family, while she is also permitted to participate in social issues. Inside our law, it is obligatory for them to cover themselves when they are outside in public places. Women should not be seen by other men except her husband, her son, her father, her brother. You may think that, for example, woman is a symbol of beauty, and we have covered the symbol of beauty inside a black coverage. And now she is not so much beautiful, and then she is ugly. But we think that she is really a symbol of beauty and a symbol of love and a symbol of sympathy and so on. You should take care of these symbols, to take care of the society, to take care of the family, when we say that it is like a pearl inside a shelter.

Therefore, you see that the stability of the family in Islam, I mean, as an average, the stability of the family in Islam is much more than the stability of the family in a Western culture. If you come with your camera, with your crew, if you want to show inside of the house, then she is supposed to cover herself. Not when we are alone. My wife is teaching now in university. She's teaching philosophy, Islamic philosophy and logic. She has master's degree in philosophy and logic. My daughter now is in college of graphics, and we hope that she will be able to enter the university to continue her studying graphics. ...

Women, I can say, they should cover themselves. Yes. On the other hand, on the side of man, they should control themselves. And we have a special guidance about the manner and the way that we look at women. It means that if you look at a woman, you should not look at her in some, I can say, sexual desires and so on. And some of our scholars, they say that if you look at a woman for one time, and there is something inside your heart, you should not look once more. It means that you should control yourself.

Movement and exercise and sport is really a part of the life of a Muslim. And we think that the combination of the soul and the body in Islam is very important. If your body's at rest, if it is healthy, then your soul is ready to have a better connection with Allah. I try to do this every day.

We do this wuzu, this is a kind of cleaning that we do this for prayer. And we think that when you do this, your soul is in better situation and therefore, we do this always. And we think -- we take care of this throughout the day, not only for the prayer. For example, for some of things you need this. If you want to touch the Quran, you need to be with wuzu, with this kind of cleaning.

In Islam and in the worshipping, it's a kind of combination between worshipping and movement. When we are praying, we do some special movements, prostration and bowing down and so on, and standing and saying some of the words. It's really a kind of relationship between us and between Allah, but while we are doing this kind of worshipping, we are moving.

This is stone that we use for prostration. We put our head on it. Because in Islam, it has been said that when you are doing prayer, you -- for prostration, you should put your head, the front part of your head, on the earth or something growing from the earth, not something artificial.

We speak with Allah. We pray straightly without any medium, without anything between you and God. You straightly talk to Him. In prayer, we do this. I, myself, have experienced that I have had answer from Allah, and I have seen the result throughout my life. It is not something that just we imagine it. It is something that I have experienced it in my life, in my everyday life.

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