I was born in Islam. I spent the first twenty-three years of my life in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem which, according to the Quran, Islam’s holy book, Prophet Muhammad had journeyed to, ascended to heaven and returned home to Mecca in Arabia, all in one night.
Some influential Muslim scholars say that the journey was only a dream. Others, with the Dark Ages mentality, insist that it was physical.
For twenty-three years, without any interruption, I listened to al-Azan, the Muslim call for prayer, five times a day. At age 4, prior to starting public school at age 7, I attended a kuttab, a madrasa, a private religious school. The elderly teacher, a sheikh and a former officer in the Ottoman army, dressed in a long black robe and a white turban, was occasionally paid with a few loaves of bread, eggs or a live chicken. My family couldn’t afford it. I rewarded my sheikh with a daily kiss of his hand and a prayer, asking God to give him a comfortable and everlasting life in heaven. At age nine or ten I was able to recite most of the chapters of the Quran from memory. I studied the Quran, Islamic thought, Islamic history, Islamic culture and Arabic language at all educational levels. I also attended lectures on political Islam given underground by some controversial scholars.
Things, however, have changed. My association with Islam throughout my adulthood has become political and not religious. I don’t go to a mosque. I don’t fast. I have no intention of ever performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. I suspended giving al-Zakat, charity because Bush has designated almost all Muslim charitable organizations that aid orphans and widows in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq as terrorists and forced them to close.
I am not concerned about Islam. Islam has survived all foreign invasions. Bush’s crusade will be no exception. I am, however, concerned about Muslims, as well as Christians, in the Muslim World who are targeted by the West, particularly the United States government.
Usually I don’t defend religion, only people. Religion is faith not science. I insist that every individual has the right to believe or not to believe. Each man or woman has the right to accept a religion or to reject it. A person has the right also to choose to be an atheist. People must be judged by their deeds and contributions, not their faith. I stand for justice, freedom, equality, peace and prosperity for all. I support women and gay and lesbian rights.
I was greatly disturbed by the Pope who, citing the Quran as an obstacle, rebuffed a massive outreach effort by Muslims.
Recently, a 29-page letter was sent to leaders of major Christian dominations by 138 high-level Muslim leaders and scholars representing 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. The letter appeals to religious tolerance, dialogue and understanding. It calls on Christian and Muslim religious leaders to work in unison for world peace, cooperation and prosperity. It emphasizes the similarities between Christianity and Islam as monotheistic religions. It speaks of the affinity between the Bible and the Quran. Both religions worship one God and call for the love of one’s neighbor. Fortunately, the letter titled “A Common Word between Us and You” was welcomed by various Christian leaders and institutions.
However, Pope Benedict’s reaction was negative and arrogant. It is also insulting to Christian Arabs who are culturally Muslims. He chose to close the door to an idea which was very dear to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who, when the Quran was presented to him, bowed and kissed it. Benedict’s hostility to Muslims is nothing new. Last year, in a speech he delivered in Germany, he spoke of Islam as a violent and irrational religion. He quoted Emperor Manuel II of the Byzantine Empire who said that Muhammad had brought only “evil and inhuman” things.
Dr. Karen Armstrong of Oxford, a former nun who is amongst the most renowned theologians and has written numerous bestsellers on the great religions and their founders, disagrees.
“Certainly not. There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur’an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam. The Qur’an forbids aggressive warfare and permits war only in self-defense; the moment the enemy sues for peace, the Qur’an insists that Muslims must lay down their arms and accept whatever terms are offered, even if they are disadvantageous. Later, Muslim law forbade Muslims to attack a country where Muslims were permitted to practice their faith freely; the killing of civilians was prohibited, as were the destruction of property and the use of fire in warfare.”
The Vatican says, “Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Quran in depth because they say it was written by dictation from God. With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith.” As a precondition for a dialogue, the Vatican demands that Muslims change their belief that the Quran is the word of God.
I say with a great certainty that the Pope’s action and conduct are not inspired by God, on whose behalf “his holiness” speaks. It is dictated by politics, racism, ignorance and hatred. It is a part of the cruel crusade that George W. Bush has declared against Muslims. Since his ascension to the papal throne, Benedict, a former Hitler youth, has been putting the papacy, as well as Christianity, in the service of the U.S. empire.
Muslims are not asking for a theological dialogue. They are not trying to convince anyone that the Quran was dictated by God himself. Unlike Christians who are asking Jews to come to the Church, Muslims are not calling on Christians to come to the Mosque. Muslims are not demanding that Christians abandon the trinity and recognize Jesus only as a prophet. Though they don’t believe in the crucifixion and vindicate Jews from murdering Jesus, Muslims don’t see any reason for Christians to bring down the cross and raise up the crescent.
Muslims and non-Muslims ought to focus attention on common goals that are more important to humanity than theology such as world peace, justice, freedom, equality, love, understanding, respect for one another, tolerance, cooperation, as well as mother earth.
In Muslim lands, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived as neighbors for almost fifteen hundred years. They didn’t dialogue. They didn’t debate. They lived in peace and tranquility. The fact that Christianity and Judaism continued to exist alongside Muslims, who were and still are the majority, speaks of Muslim tolerance. The fact that Jews throughout the centuries fled Christian lands and took refuge in Muslim countries demonstrates beyond a doubt Muslims’ respect of non-Muslims’ beliefs.
I do insist that the reform of Islam is urgently needed. But this is not the business of Jews nor Christians. It is a Muslim problem. It requires a Muslim solution. It must be addressed and dealt with as a Muslim concern. Christians and Jews have their own enormous problems to acknowledge and resolve.
George W. Bush has been pushing for a new Islam that welcomes occupiers as liberators and labels oppression as democracy. He is promoting an Islam that requires his adherence to turn the other cheek to U.S. and Israeli soldiers, who are ordered to kill, maim, torture, burn and destroy. He has been working hard to restrict Islam to spirituality, only to issues that deal with God and not man.
No jihad! Jihad is not suicide, which is a great sin in Islam, but a struggle against injustice, oppression, occupation and aggression. Hitler, who proclaimed himself a “Christian” and a fighter for “his Lord and Savior”, didn’t claim to have spoken to God. George W. Bush did make such a claim.
“God told me to strike at Al-Qaeda and I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.”
However, God warned Bush, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.”
Here Bush’s destructive god is right.
“The mother of all battles” will continue until all foreign troops return home. His “obedience” to his killer god has resulted in the murder of over a million Iraqis. Iraqi death due to war and economic sanctions are three and a half million. Iraqi orphans number five million and widows are three million. Six million people fled Iraq or were displaced. Museums, libraries and educational institutions were bombed and ransacked. Their contents were stolen or burned. Thousands of scholars and scientists were assassinated. Seven thousand years of human civilization has been leveled to the ground. The only ministry building that was left standing is the Ministry of Oil. What a coincidence!
What about Western achievements the Pope attempts to protect? The Church cannot take credit for the awakening, enlightenment, progress and freedoms men and women enjoy in the West today. On the contrary, the Church resisted and continues to resist reform and change until this very moment. Muslim leaders who enjoy the support and blessing of the United States are the obstacle for social change and development. The Saudi dynasty continues to forbid women from driving and deny Saudi citizens the right to vote.
However, Islamic reform is taking place slowly but steadily. Polygamy was outlawed in Tunisia. Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, a former head of the Sudanese National Assembly and one of the most influential thinkers that I’ve had the honor to meet several times, issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, which gives the right to Muslim females to marry non-Muslims, and for women to lead Muslim prayers.
Revolutionary change is taking place in Iran, U.S. enemy number one. A divorced housewife has the property right to a half of the wealth her husband amassed while being married. Sex change is legal. The surgery is paid for by the state. Four Muslim countries, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia had women as heads of state.
The Pope wants Muslims to tailor Islam to fit Judeo-Christians values. However, in terms of peace, universal brotherhood, equality, freedom, logic and simplicity, Islam is far more rational and progressive than Christianity and Judaism. No Vatican. No sainthood. No priesthood. No present day miracles. No spiritual healing of the sick. Those who may claim to have the power of healing end in a mental institution or a jail.
The Old Testament, an integral part of the Bible, as described by Christian and Jewish researchers and historians, is filled with blood and sex. The God of Israel, Jehovah, orders his “Chosen People” to destroy, burn, kill, enslave and rape non-Jewish virgins.
Furthermore, Islam’s religious affairs are not merely addressed by a hierarchy of clerics. Islamic affairs are not confined to graduates from al-Azhar University or other Islamic institutions. As a matter of fact, the greatest Muslim scholars are intellectuals, such as writers, physicians, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals.
According to an interpretation of the Old Testament, Noah’s three sons were the founders of the populations of the three known continents, Japheth/Europe, Shem/Asia, and Ham/Africa. Ham’s children had been “blackened” by sin and a curse. Ham made fun of his lying down, drunk and naked father. Noah’s two other sons who covered him were blessed. Their descendents were not black.
In Islam black is not a curse but a beautiful color in the rainbow of the human race. Muhammad declared that all men are equal. The Quran says, “O mankind! We (God) created ye from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made ye into nations and tribes, that ye may know one another, (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most Righteous of you.” Chapter 49, verse 13.
Islam has no confession and no intermediary. A man, a woman or a child has a direct and private line of communication with God, free of charge, anytime and anywhere. In the Quran, God stresses that He is close to all. He responds if he is called. In Islam, no one represents God on earth. No one is infallible. Muhammad, Jesus, Moses and all prophets are not divine, but humans. All efforts and promises for a better life made by the Vatican and other Christian groups to convince Muslims throughout the world to convert have failed.
What disturbs Christian missionaries is the fact that Islam today is the fastest growing religion. According to the Seattle Times, shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf and prepares to pray with her Muslim group. Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she’s ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she’s also been a Muslim.
To multiply the number of his constituents, Benedict, in his visit to Latin America last year, demanded from its poverty stricken natives not to use condoms. When it comes to sex, what or how, in the privacy of their bedroom, has always been an intimate affair of a married couple, not the Muslim clergy.
Religion, particularly Judaism and Christianity which were written with fire and blood, have brought more evil and less good to humanity throughout history. Interfaith dialogue should not debate theology. It should work to end death, destruction and misery. Dialogue should concentrate on building bridges of good will and coexistence. It should put less emphasis on God and more on our fellow man.
Muslims are condemned for their rejection of Western values. The question is why should they accept Western values? They have their own values that were developed over seven thousand years of civilization.
The decision to drop the two atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took, according to President Truman, a snap of a finger. Non-whites’ life is worthless.
A couple of weeks ago, in Israel, actually in occupied Palestine, a young woman was savagely beaten by five of her fellow students of the Torah because she refused to move to the back of the bus.
Muslim men promptly evacuate their seats for women, anytime and anywhere. Muhammad assured his followers that Paradise is underneath the feet of mothers and entry is allowed only by their blessings and approval. Those values should remain.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam has replaced communism as an imaginary enemy and thus justified the astronomical military spending in service of big business. It does not take a nuclear or a space scientist to conclude that the 911 tragedy was a home-made conspiracy. It is naïve to believe that a man with a turban on his head and a cane in his hand hiding eleven thousand miles away in the caves of Tora Bora was responsible for such an almost impossible mission. 51% of the American people question the official version. An independent commission of scholars, scientists, engineers and experts on demolition and intelligence should be established to find the truth and bring the criminals to justice.
What about Islamic “radicalism”? Fifty years ago, in most Arab countries, one could seldom see a Muslim girl or a woman covering her hair. Today, one can rarely encounter a Muslim female without a headscarf. The veil, which covers the face, is not a religious requirement. Those who impose it, as well as the women who accept it, bring shame and disgrace to the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Muslims females wear the scarf mostly by choice. It is mainly a sign of political protest. It is a rejection to Western values, Western culture, Western domination, Western hypocrisy and Western occupation. It is a stand against theft of resources, ethnic cleansing and genocide to which Muslims are subjected.
Muhammad said, “If you see evil, your duty is to stop it by your hand. If you cannot, you must oppose it by your mouth. But if you cannot, you should undo it in your heart.”
In Muslim lands, Muslim fighters oppose U.S. and Israeli tanks and bombers with guns, and sometimes by an explosive belt.
In the Quran, God says, “Think not that those who fall while resisting aggression will ever die. They are alive, in the company of their Lord.”
Muslims believe that that is the highest form of martyrdom and the greatest honor.