By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
7 Dec 2011
• Islam is a universal religion. Our prophet came to serve humanity. All other prophets came to serve only their people. Only al-Islam is a universal religion for all humanity.
• Sword protected al-Islam for 1,000 years. There was no state to protect Bible or other holy books. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) created a state to protect the Quran. So Quran was protected. Sword protected it.
• Quran is word of God. Word for word. Word of God and Man are mixed together in Bible. In Torah, Prophet Ishmael is described as an ass. Can God call one of his prophets an ass?
• A dozen people come to this centre to convert every month. A 21-year-old girl came recently. Father English Methodist. Mother Irish. Her parents were not happy with her decision. But she was adamant. How could I reject? 12 times a month, people come to get converted to Islam. Because Islam is the word of God.
• Islam solves problems beautifully. Easy, clean solution. For instance, polygamy is required in certain situations. War creates situations in which there are not enough men for every woman. Half a husband is better than nothing. Because of the practice of polygamy a childless wife is not divorced.
• The use of Quranic verses to justify violence like 9/11 is the worst disfigurement of Islam. 800 Muslim lives were also lost on 9/11. 9/11 was not a religious event. It was purely political. Muslims have never been terrorists in history. Even in the fight between the US and Soviet Union, Muslims were on the side of the US. Osama bin Laden was then a friend of the US. He probably wanted a price for supporting the US in the struggle against Soviet Union. But got nothing and so turned against the US. We felt relief after his killing. His ghaibana namaz-e-Janaza (funeral prayer in absentia) was not said here in America. He was a major cause of Islamophobia.
• Islamophobia and Terrorism are souring our lives here. We are trying to convince Americans that we are a moderate people. For instance, there is a lot of violence in America. Thousands of cases of rape and murder and other acts of violence are reported. The one community whose members do not commit violence is Muslim. Muslim crime statistics is zero. At world level too, the Muslims who engage in extremist violence constitute merely a tiny percentage of the 1.5 billion strong community.
• Islamophobia is a new phenomenon, promoted by anti-Islam media. US foreign policy is turning more positive towards Muslims. Bush period was bad. Things are getting better under Obama. But certain vested interests in the country fuel the fire of hatred.
• Islam is the last and the youngest religion. Islam is the fastest growing religion. It is perceived by some vested interests as a threat, growing threat. Nobody is attacking other religions. The reasons are not difficult to see. Islam is against pornography, drug trafficking, alcohol, pork, gambling, Western banking – so it is a threat. All these interests join forces against Islam.
• I don’t believe there are any Muslim terrorists in this country.
• As long as a Palestinian state is not established, there will be violence, terrorism.
• Arab Muslims are demanding freedom, democracy. So Muslims and the United States are in the same boat. We support the values of the United States. But as Muslims we live by Islamic values.
These are the views of Imam Shamsi Ali, the Imam of Islamic Culture Center of New York, which is the city’s largest mosque, located in 96th Street and 3rd Avenue Manhattan. He is chairman of the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria and the Director of Jamaica Muslim Centre in Queens. He serves as an Advisory Board member to numerous interfaith organizations, including the Tannebaum Centre and Federation for Middle East Peace. He is also chairman of the Board of Trustees for the ASEAN Muslims Federation of North America. He is also a Board member for the Partnership in Faith in New York and co-founder of the UNCC (Universal Clergy Coalition-International). Furthermore, he is also Assistant Director and a Board member of the Muslim Foundation of America, Inc., and Chairman of the annual Muslim Day Parade in NYC. He also serves as the Vice President of the Asian-America Coalition USA (AAC-USA) and it’s UN Representative.
This may appear to be a rather long bio for a short article, but actually it is quite short, just 10 percent of the one provided by State Department to us, a visiting team of 20 Asian Muslim journalists as part of its programme “Many Facets of Islam.” The point is: Imam Shamsi is a very influential Muslim religious leader. The US administration, several other governments as well as leaders of different faiths treat him with utmost respect. He indeed has great influence among Muslims in New York and perhaps elsewhere in the country.
It’s a careful study of his views that is likely to tell us where American Islam is heading. One must carefully study, therefore, his thoughts on Islam, pluralism, interfaith relations, terrorism, Islam and the west, Islam in America, 9/11, and so on to be able to understand the state of American Islam. The above quotes must have given you some idea. Imam Shamsi is clearly a representative of Wahhabi, petrodollar Islam. And why not? He is the Imam of a mosque that was built by Arab petrodollars, mostly from Kuwait. So the ambassador of Kuwait is always the chairman of the board of management that runs the Islamic centre; nearly all Arab ambassadors are members of the board.
Imam Shamsi can be safely considered to be a representative of the community of Muslim Imams in the United States. All the imams come from madrasas and Islamic studies departments funded by Arab petrodollars. The one and only curriculum available anywhere is the one provided by Saudi Arabia and Saudi-funded Islamic websites.
In another interaction, this time with a representative of moderate Islam, Daisy Khan, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), along with her husband Imam Feisal Adbul Rauf, I asked if a moderate curriculum is available anywhere. She said ASMA is retraining Imams in Afghanistan and plans to do so in Pakistan. I asked her what her experience with retraining imams in America was and if she did think that these people could indeed be retrained. But it transpired that this question was based on a wrong assumption. I had assumed that she must have already experimented with retraining Imams in the US. She couldn’t explain why charity did not begin at home for her but I assume that this may be due to a widespread misconception in many multi-religious societies including India that living in a secular, multicultural society Muslims here would naturally evolve into a community tolerant of diversity and respectful of other faiths.
Islam has a long history of respectful co-existence with other faith communities. Respecting founders of other faiths and giving them the same status as our own Prophet (pbuh), is a part of our faith, as taught in the Quran. But Islam-supremacism, even contempt for other faiths, has been spread with such passion by petrodollar-funded media, schools, universities and madrasas, distorting the message of Islam, that it has become a widespread belief among Muslims all over the world. “We (Wahhabis) alone will go to Heaven, the rest of Muslims, and of course, others, are all fodder for Hell,” has become the reigning sentiment. Facts, however, prove otherwise. God told us that Islam is not a new religion; it is the same religion that has been revealed to tens of thousands of prophets since the first man and first prophet Adam (pbuh) came to earth. All these prophets taught to their people in the language of their region and time. God promises in the Quran to judge people on the basis of their faith and deeds. But Imam Shamsi and all other imams actually, tell us that Islam alone is a universal religion. So Christianity and Judaism should remain confined to Palestine and Israel, Hinduism and Buddhism to India and so on.
It is anybody’s guess how his Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu interlocutors react when Imam Shamsi tells them in the “interfaith dialogue” he holds that the founders of their religions brought to them teachings that were meant only for their regions and not the whole world and only the teachings of God that were revealed to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) were meant for the whole world.
But, more importantly, if American Muslims are allowing such Islam-supremacist, un-Islamic views that directly contradict teachings of Quran, to cloud their horizon, this doesn’t augur well for their integration in American society. Already, as I discovered, in a large room designated as a Muslim prayer hall in the Congress building on the Capitol Hill, almost all the participants in Friday prayers, were trained in and followed the Wahhabi way of prayer. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are all Wahhabis. All Wahhabis too are not extremists. And if Wahhabi imams, media, books, websites, etc. are the only ones available to provide religious training, what else would one learn. But imams like Imam Feisal Adbul Rauf need to expend more energy in making an alternative moderate Islamic educational system, curriculum, text books, etc. available, first to American Muslims, and then to Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world.
It would be a tragedy if American Muslims too went the British way. What Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad, founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun, did in the United Kingdom in 1980s is being done in the US by a number of organisations and imams like Imam Shamsi today. Naturally in the post 9/11 environment, these elements have to be guarded in their language. They all have to mouth platitudes about Islam being against terrorism, etc., which, of course, it is.
But ask them specific questions about pluralism, co-existence, respecting other faiths, treating others religious groups genuinely as Ahl-e-Kitab, present-day applicability of war-related instructions in the Holy Quran, ban on minority religious worship places in Saudi Arabia, near-ban on propagation of other religions almost everywhere in Muslim-majority lands, etc. and the thin veneer of civilisation starts to wears off. The irony is completely lost even on the Muslims who are saying their prayers in the Muslim prayer hall on the Capitol Hill, the seat of American democracy; they do not care to express any opinion on the impossibility of having a prayer place anywhere in the whole country of Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam. They may not ask for “Sharia-controlled zones” and the like a la Britain, but who knows where this trend is leading.
Incidentally the Muslim prayer hall was officially sponsored by Muslim congressmen Andre Carson (D-IN) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) and permitted, of all people by the right wing republican presidential hopeful and then House speaker Newt Gingrich. Regular participants in Friday prayers include about 100 Muslims who work for Congress in capacities like information technology, policing and legislative research. It’s their organisation the Congressional Muslim Staff Association (CMSA) that manages these weekly Friday prayers. While there is a standby Imam, almost every week organisers invite a guest Imam or a trained khateeb (preacher), who can be even social and political activists, from different parts of the country. If you can believe Fox News, one of the prayer leaders here once was even Anwar al-Awlaki, the notorious Al Qaeda cleric killed recently in Yemen.
Clearly moderates who can read the writing on the wall have to fight as fierce a battle in the US as elsewhere. Saudi Arabia will continue to export Wahhabism around the world. It will continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on the project as it has since 1974 and has continued even after 9/11. It would be futile to expect any support from the US or any other government. The US will continue to protect Saudi evangelism and flouting of civilised Islamic norms of behaviour. If there was one country asking for regime change after 9/11, it was Saudi Arabia. 16 out of 19 terrorists involved in 9/11were Saudis. But what to speak of clamping down, the US probably did not even so much as warn the Saudis. It cannot intervene in internal, particularly religious matters. This is the message I got in a nutshell from both envoys of the Obama administration for outreach to Muslims, Farah Pandith and Rashad Hussain, with whom we interacted in separate meetings. Ditto for every other country.
And perhaps that is as it should be. Government intervention might make matters worse; give the purveyors of Jahiliya in the name of Islam another stick to beat the world with. In any case this is war within Islam more than anything else. It is an attempt to colonise Muslim minds. It is Muslims who should fight it. It is for progressive Muslims, moderate ulema (religious scholars), to create a social movement that can reverse the growing tide of radical Wahhabism, so assiduously promoted by Saudis, no matter how Herculean the task may appear to be.