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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Rising Voices of Moderate Muslims

Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles
Remarks to the Open Forum
Washington, DC
January 28, 2002

Opening Remarks and Introduction: Alan Lang, Chairman of the Open Forum

Photo of Salam Al-MarayatiThank you very much, Alan, for inviting us once again for this very important forum of dialogue and discussion. Thank you for making the Secretaryís Open Forum open to the Muslim and Arab communities.

It is important for all parties to talk with rather than merely talk about each other. It is time to talk about a more accurate understanding of our aspirations, our frustrations, and our challenges. Hearing voices is better than silencing voices. We are accustomed to profiling at airports but profiling at our government institutions is intolerable and violates the first amendment. Many others have spoken before us and will speak after us and the people will judge as to what is in the best interest of the United States. Thatís the American process.

I know there have been some press reports about my talk and some statements that Iíve made on September 11th and I beg to ask you for your patience as I am going to clarify some of the issues that have been talked about in the media. I see that some of our media folks are here so itís for their privilege that I make these comments.

I speak for an institution of free thinking individuals. Iím only one voice of many representing the rising voice of moderation. As Alan said, Dr. James Zogby and Dr. Maher Hathout are among the many others who have spoken here. Things have been said about us that are not true. Unfortunately, there is a distorted image about what we have said and what we are about and those distortions only fulfill the goals of their special interests. They said that we justified terrorism when we went to look at its root causes. President Bush is speaking about root causes today. We were right then to talk about root causes and we are right now. They said that we sympathized with terrorism because we say some Palestinians are being pushed to the margins of society and act in despair and expressed their suffering through violence. They have condemned Daniel Kurtza, an Orthodox Jew who is now U.S. ambassador to Israel. They said he blamed Israel for Arab terrorism because Israelís policies "Convince these Palestinians that violence was the only reason to their frustration." Well, let me just say that I feel like Iím in good company with the President of the United States, with a former Israeli prime minister, and an Orthodox Jew. Believe me, misery loves company.

Yet these same groups who continue to bombard the Arab and Muslim communities with accusations are called the "thought police" by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. They have the audacity to defend Jonathan Pollard yet their patriotism is not questioned at all. As an advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Dr. Maher Hathout said it very clearly: "The world is not divided into Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The world is divided into stupid people and intelligent people." We must now look towards intelligent people for a serious and civilized discourse on these complex and serious problems.

As far as my comments on September 11th are concerned during the radio talk show, you need to listen to the whole discussion and not just selected quotes from press releases. I have issued my clarification as this was a hypothetical rejoinder to another speaker who blamed Islam; I have expressed my personal and heartfelt apologies to my Jewish colleague committed to dialogue. Let me reinterate today and refer you to The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times for the record. Despite the work and commitment toward creating harmony in the country through interfaith dialogue, we have incurred the wrath of vocal minorities from both the Jewish and Muslim communities. If this effort helps in promoting the truth, we feel it is a small price and cost to pay in comparison with the opportunities for my country. Let me go on to talk then of the substantive issue of the rising moderate voice of Muslims.

When we speak of the rising voice of moderate Muslims, there are two important points with respect to this phrase: 1) that it is rising because in the past it has been the silent majority, and 2) that it is an authentic moderate voice as a result of acting in accordance with the Koran, not against it. These two points are critical to the policy-making process and therefore to Americaís image and interests in the Muslim world. There exists a healthy and eager segment in Muslim countries interested in dialogue and constructive engagement, and in serving as a bridge between our society and the Muslim world. This voice is central to a more effective and representative U.S. policy toward that region. More importantly, former special envoy to the Middle East peace process Dennis Ross stated that one main reason for Osloís failure was that the environment around the negotiating table sharply contrasted with the environment on the streets. Seeing that our embassies have become more isolated from the masses, and our channel of information is more technological than human, and our traditional means of relying on foreign government sources is not always reliable, then understanding the moderate Muslim voices become valuable.

Some observations on the moderate voice are in order.  The moderate voice is not an elitist or Westernized voice.  It is not a lonely or persecuted voice.  And it is not a purely secular voice.  It is a voice of the Muslim mainstream, grounded in a Koranic verse:  We have willed you to be a community of moderation (2:143) and in the admonition of the Prophet Muhammad to stay away from extremism.  There are Muslim extremists, just as there are Christian and Jewish extremists. That is different from saying, however, that there is a split in Islam, and unfortunately, moderates are at times defined as those who are not religiously observant or are fighting, even repressing, other Muslims.  The focus must remain on the interests at stake: ending the scourge of global terrorism, promoting Middle East peace, and preventing nuclear conflicts.  Consistency on human rights and democracy will help us in achieving these goals. The moderate Muslim voice does not acquiesce to issues of freedom and justice. It is the inevitable voice of the future.

I would like to digress to provide some historical context to the issue of reform in Islamic movements.  The major schools of thought in Islam (Hanbali, Shaafi, Maaliki, Hanafi, Jaafari) all originated out of reformist movements using the process of ijtihad (intellectual analysis and interpretation of Islamic law).  In fact, Shaafi had two schools of thought, one when he resided in Iraq and one when he moved to Egypt, and when asked why there were two, he said because they were for two different peoples.  If place is a variable in Islamic thinking, then time can also be a factor. As technological advancements take form, then human understanding can also evolve. The word reform is found in the Koran.  In Arabic, it is called islah and is the root meaning of the word maslahah, which means the public interest.  When the Koran repeats the call for believers to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, Al-Ghazali interprets that verse as supporting whatever is in the publicís interests.  That is, to promote any effort for social benefit and to prevent anything that is harmful to society.

In terms of modern Islamic movements, intellectual giants such as Wali Allah, Afghani, and Abdu are among the most notable that used reason to create revivalist movements impacting us to this day.  Wali Allah of India helped to re-open the gates of ijtihaad and condemned blind imitation.  Afghani challenged Muslims to think of Islam consistent with reason and science.  Abdu believed in educational reforms throughout Muslim society.  These same concerns are raised today with respect to the plight of Muslims as illiteracy, poverty, and a lack of effective political systems create an environment that is more susceptible to criminal activity.  These figures built their movements in the backdrop of fighting colonial rule.  One challenge for Muslims today is to shift from the paradigm of the colonial model, which perpetuates the notion of Jews and Christians as agents of colonialism. The perception that globalization is merely a tool of Western imperialism which is closely reminiscent of their past under colonialist rule, results in antagonistic as opposed to conciliatory posturing towards efforts of change in Muslim society. The shift in paradigm will hopefully lead to a new model based on mutual benefit, cooperation and interdependence as a consequence of independence.

One concern over Islamic movements is the apprehension that they will come into power with an anti-democratic orientation.  As a reflection of support for the status quo, the official U.S. Government response is to remain silent when these groups are banned from political activity. When that suppression takes place, however, the transformation leads to more radicalized groups.  In 1952, Mossadeghís party was eliminated, the Shahís tyrannical rule was installed with U.S. Government assistance, and a new Iranian revolution was built on anti-Americanism. Banning the Ikhwan, we get the Gamaaía; ban the Islamic Salvation Front, we get the Armed Islamic Group.  Fatah was neutralized and Islamic Jihad was born.  Prevention of dissent in Saudi Arabia led to bin Ladenís eruption in Afghanistan and hence the formation of the Al-Qaeda. Banning groups anywhere forces them to go underground and creates a more radicalized current. Despite the fact that these radical groups are real and are ongoing, the moderate voice, while remaining alive, has not been heard.

When 500,000 Muslims rallied in Pakistan last October for peace and moderation, it was a footnote in the press reports.  In that rally, statements against terrorism and for tolerance were made, yet attention remained fixated on the few who burned effigies.  After September 11th, Muslims from around the world expressed shock and remorse over the terrorist attacks, ranging from a moment of silence during a soccer match in Iran, to candlelight vigils throughout the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Statements of solidarity with the American people coupled with condemnations of the terrorist attacks were sent from practically every Muslim country.  Lack of widespread hostility towards Americans and even many aspects of American culture is one feature of mainstream Muslims. On a more substantive level, however, is the yearning for self-government and freedom, a sentiment found on the streets of every Muslim city. To some, a form of Islamic democracy is a means to achieve those goals.  The moderate Muslim voice is based on the need for equity, civil society within each Muslim country and on rapprochement with the West on the global level.  Rashid Ghannouchi is an example of those who promote this need for dialogue between civilizations, not confrontation.

Some may say that the expressions of moderation and support for the U.S. are made for political expediency, for survival.  But to many Muslims standing firm against terrorism is an Islamic obligation.  In principle, Islam has no room for terrorism.  In practical terms, more Muslims die from terrorist attacks than any other group, whether instigated by Muslim extremists or Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Bhuddist extremists.  When 200,000 Bosnians were killed by paramilitary groups and 20,000 Bosnian Muslim women were systematically raped by forces under control of the Serbian government which is closely linked to the Serbian Orthodox Church, that to the Bosnians is terrorism. When 100,000 Algerians perished because of the problem of terrorism, the main victims are Muslims. The prognosis for Muslims worldwide is bleak, for conditions are more ripe for anarchy and lawlessness than stability and economic advancements. Refugees emanate from Muslim countries more than from any other part of the world.  The Muslim masses want Islam to be a vehicle for change. While terrorism has become a problem in the Muslim world, it is erroneous to explain this problem of violence as one rooted in Islam or Islamic thinking. Rather, the Muslim world turns to religion as respite from economic hardship, political instability, and other consequences of failed states.

It is popular of late to quote verses out of context from the Koran to somehow argue that war-mongering and terrorism are central to Muslim belief and practice. Those who perpetrate violence in the name of Islam distort and abuse the texts in the name of their cause, but the texts themselves are not to blame and should not be the subject of scrutiny, since legitimate Muslim scholarship utterly rejects the aberrant interpretations. Koran and hadith are clear in terms of supporting conflict only as a last resort in order to defend oneself against clear military aggression. Numerous restrictions apply, including the prohibition against killing civilians, destroying buildings, and fighting other Muslims.

Because many Muslims seek forms of government that incorporate Islamic law to one degree or another, the concept of Sharia needs more thoughtful approaches in U.S. policy-making than what we have been subject to in the past. Sharia is a core of laws that comprise basic principles (based on Koran and hadith) and man-made laws that are derived from the basic principles (fiqh). Imposing Sharia violates the Koranic injunction:  Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith. The notion of religious police, therefore, violates this code.  The exploitation of Sharia leads to persecution of religious minorities and women.  The Sharia, Islamís legal code, condemns terrorism because it condemns any violence against civilians.

There is this oversimplification done by both self-proclaimed experts and Muslim extremists that use Sharia as a political football fixating on the penal code and not to the call for government responsibilities, for example, to be accountable to the people through a social contract.  The five goals of Sharia, accepted by all Islamic jurists are to secure and develop life, mind, faith, property, and family.  These are consistent with human rights declarations and the U.S. constitution. In a national conference the Muslim Public Affairs Council held over the winter break, one speaker presented the thesis that the U.S. constitution is the closest human document that fulfills the goals of Sharia, and his message was well-received by all 1,000 participants.

The issue of the Sharia must be handled in a balanced manner. While it is wrong to impose the Sharia on non-Muslims or on Muslims against their will, it is also wrong to disallow Muslims, who seek Sharia as a way of advancing their societies, from participating in political affairs. Legal systems based on Sharia are a reality of the 21st century in that they already exist in many parts of the Muslim world. These issues represent dilemmas that need an in-depth discussion, something more than a short answer. Examples include addressing notions of democracy and popular will within the Islamic context; creating space among the U.S. and others to allow discourse; moving the discussion to specifics involving laws and not simply doctrine; determining room for modern ijtihaad (intellectual analysis) with respect to legislation. Within this framework, there must be great flexibility and an avoidance of oversimplification by Muslims and non-Muslims. To suggest that the only acceptable form of government involves the absolute separation of church and state is to ask for more tension and rejection.

Other challenges are facing us as Americans interested in U.S. policy in the Muslim world. American values of freedom, human rights, and justice are cherished by all of us as citizens of this great country. Those values are not perceived to be Americaís foreign policy goals. Anti-American sentiment is a problem not just in the Middle East or South Asia, but also in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and even Europe. On a positive note, the Bush Administration has been very constructive and thoughtful in building an international coalition against terrorism, in seeking international authorization for the attempt to defeat international terrorism. As a result, Afghan men and women are now free to choose their form of attire and seek rights to education. The President has also stated that he would like to deal with root causes of terrorism such as poverty. Thatís important because it begins to build a dual track approach in counterterrorsm policy -- one that brings the culprits to justice and another that deals with the inequities in the world to eliminate social and political factors that create an environment of resentment, frustration, and anger, which flares on occasion in a violent fashion. Nothing justifies criminal activities, especially terrorism, but when we dealt with uprisings in Los Angeles, report after report told us the same thing -- eliminate injustice, poverty, and hopelessness, and the propensity for rioting will dissipate. Itís difficult to draw parallels between different parts of the world, and thatís not the intent. The point is that violence must be addressed as a sociological phenomenon and not a theological or genetic hypothesis.

Assertions that Wahhabism is the problem are misguided attempts to seek easy solutions without thinking through the process of making such a conclusion or of the consequences in implementing this final solution. Before, Shiism was the problem, and perhaps tomorrow Sufism will be the problem. Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab created a historical interpretation to purify his environment during impure conditions. He is considered progressive for his time and place, and rigidity came afterwards. The more we fight these "isms" and not deal with real sociological factors, the more difficult it will be to see a resolution to the conflict. We at the Muslim Public Affairs Council and many of our partners have been speaking out against terrorism, extremism, and dictatorship for the last 20 years. Itís unfortunate that it took 9/11 for some members of the public to realize this language or to dismiss it as a reaction to 9/11.

So we have those with a political agenda lumping everything into one basket claiming that Islamism is the problem, leaving us under their mercy to define it in the most imprecise, convoluted, and confusing way possible. In the early 40s and 50s, Arabists were frowned upon in the foreign policy community. It was wrong to assert Arab identity or Arab sympathy then, and it seems wrong to identify or sympathize with those who want to assert their Islam in the global arena now. Those who continuously raise this red flag promote the clash of civilizations. In that manner, rather than bringing solutions to the table, they only bring more fuel to the religious war theorists. Like the extreme right is only a synapse apart from the extreme left in the political spectrum, these "clashists" are not that far apart from the thinking of bin Laden. Their world is one of conspiracies and dangers within us. Consequently that world launches their political grenades at the openness of our societies and divides us further rather than promoting the united front against terrorism in America and the international coalition abroad that the President and the Secretary of State are so keen on developing and securing.

These self-proclaimed and unqualified experts on Islam only increase divisiveness and the gulf of misunderstandings. They define groups and peoples according to their agenda, which ends up hurting moderation, not enhancing it. They point to one poisonous piece of candy in a box so people will be afraid of the whole box. The importance of including American Muslims and Arab Americans in the decision-making process, therefore, will help debunk some of the myths being promoted by these opportunists and will also bring us closer to a model of cooperation with the Muslim world, rather than one of confrontation. The international terrorists of 9/11 used the cover of the American Muslim community. The only effective way of dealing with their likes in the future is for successful community policing methods. Our community is not a suspect in the post-9/11 era, but a partner with our law enforcement and political officials.

Islamic activists have been lumped together with extremists. Unless we are able to make distinctions, we will lose the support of populists who are under threat of being crushed by secular militant repression. Dialogue with various figures in the Muslim world might pleasantly surprise our decision-makers, and more people will realize that the voice on the Muslim streets is not anti-American, but is against certain and specific foreign policies.

This war on terrorism has also brought a group of opportunists who want the U.S. to support them in crushing dissent within their own countries, such as Uzbekistan, China, and Russia, to name a few. Human rights are sacrificed to settle old accounts with rivals. The war on terrorism therefore becomes an instrument for more oppression.

For an effective counterterrorism policy to take shape, terrorism must be viewed as a global problem. It is wrong for rogue states and extremist groups to use it and it should be wrong even if our allies use it. The double standards, however, will impede our progress in counterterrorism policy. Hindu militants, such as the Tamil Tigers, caused the greatest amount of terrorist fatalities in the 2000 report on Patterns of Global Terrorism. Kahane Chai, the Jewish extremist group that was founded in America, has links with the Jewish Defense League, which has allegedly aimed to eliminate moderate Muslim voices, including leaders of our organization. They were actually successful in killing Alex Odeh of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1985. His assassin remains at large to this day. And when the Irish Republican Army was on the terrorist list, it was given room to allow fund raising for its political wing, Sinn Fein. When the U.S. Government is viewed as soft on terrorism with some groups, the result is an undermining of U.S. credibility among the masses, hence isolating America from the people. Extremists exploit the double standards in U.S. policy to build an audience for their rhetoric.

While the moderate Muslim voice opposes the double standard, it rejects the extremist exploitation of the legitimate grievances among the Muslim masses. It is critical, therefore, to avoid simplistic slogans on the current troubled parts of the Muslim world. It is time to talk specifics, especially in terms of advancing the human conditions of people, including people of all faiths in the Muslim world. With regards to Middle East peace, we must come with reasonable and constructive stands on how to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Land for peace is a realistic goal based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, and eventually mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians will become the rule and not the exception. Coexistence is essential for Jewish and Muslim people to gain security for themselves, and letís not forget that Christians in the Holy Land have been reduced to a fraction of their original population since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began in 1967. It is not realistic to expect peace while not expecting the end of Israeli settlements or the military occupation. Nothing shapes the psyche of the Muslim world more than the events related to the Palestinian issue, and nothing else impacts Americaís image in the Muslim world as much as the Palestinian problem. As this crisis spirals out of control each and every day, the notion that the U.S. is an honest broker rings hollow throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, the passive approach reflecting the absence of any will at all to bring meaningful pressure to bear on both parties will prove to be a disastrous policy that betrays Palestinians, Israelis, and even Americans, who, by virtue of their tax dollars that support Israel, have an interest in seeing peace and justice advanced in a sustainable way.

Kashmir is yet another country that deserves our utmost attention. It is a potential flashpoint for nuclear conflict, which is still a major threat. The situation can degenerate rapidly with more flare-ups over border disputes, violent clashes, or even extremist religious rhetoric, be it Muslim or Hindu. For so long, Kashmir has been ignored as a policy issue, even though it is a region that constitutes the greatest military concentration in the world, around 600,000 troops. Even though Musharraf and Vajpayee have done their best to avoid a confrontation for now, there is no guarantee that it will not erupt in the future. Unless we resolve the conditions that have created the Kashmiri conflict, then we should expect this problem to worsen, not improve, whether in terms of nuclear proliferation or terrorism. Kashmiris must have a say in the future of their land, and Pakistan plays an instrumental role in dealing with this conflict. Pakistan, with all its internal problems, must be viewed as the close and friendly ally it has been throughout the Cold War and in the War on Terrorism. To treat it as the problem or the scapegoat for the troubled Indian subcontinent will damage our image even further and our interests in the long run.

In dealing with Muslim countries, Muslim groups, and the Muslim masses, it is important to recognize that the use of reason, a pillar in the foundation of our secular society, is not alien or modern to Muslim cultures. The Koran stipulates that the use of reason is one of the commandments of God, alongside justice and decency. The Koran also challenges people to use reflection, and it defines itself as a book made for those who think. The problems are immense amongst Muslims, but the opportunities are equally great.

It is time to review our orientation and methods in resolving these and many other problems. It is time for including American Muslims in not just the celebrations in Washington but in the difficult discussions that will affect the future of the United States and the world. I feel privileged to be a Muslim living in America, as many American Muslims do. We can live Islam according to our human understanding and be responsible American citizens at the same time. Chances are that this expression can be one that is admired and hence gain the respect it deserves from Muslims worldwide. Itís a matter of letting the voices of the people be heard and of acting upon it in a way that brings the best of our country, the United States, under the spotlight.

Question & Answer Segment:

Mr. Lang: Mr. Al-Marayati, on behalf of the Open Forum Iíd like to thank you for that very thoughtful and passionate presentation. At this time Iíd like to open the floor to comments and questions.

Question: Iím President of the Vital Voices Global Partnership. Itís great to be back in the State Department again, and Iíd like first to congratulate Alan Lang for continuing to use the Open Forum to bring in the best and brightest minds and voices into the foreign policy process. Thank you. Salam, Iíd also like to thank you and your wife for the work that you have done over the last several years on these important issues that have become even more important over the last several months. You are to be congratulated for the on-going dialogue and the work youíve done here in the U.S. What advice would you have for U.S. foreign policy makers on how to support the moderate women who are working in Muslim countries around the world who are trying to have an effect on what goes on in their governments?

Mr. Al-Marayati: First, they should read my wifeís, Lailaís, article which talked about Muslim women being reduced to the burka. I think one of the problems, the obstacles, is that common Western perception is that if we take the burka off and the hijab, the head scarf, off Muslim women, then they would be emancipated. They are more free and less oppressed, and I think that it is a mistake because it becomes culturally an insult to many people in the Muslim world. Number two -- there are more issues besides the superficial covering or dress of men or women for that matter. The issues of education, literacy, poverty, the right of health care -- those are the more important issues that we have to start addressing. We have to be aware of the other extreme where women are forced to take off the head scarf, such as in Turkey where a woman who is elected to the Parliament was kicked out because she wore the head scarf. In some places, dress has become a politicized issue. I think we have to overcome that sense of adding to the politicization and deal with more substantive issues. Thatís the main point.

Another misconception is that emancipation has to happen by taking away Islam from these Muslim women through other approaches be they secular or nationalist or whatever. I think thatís a mistake because it is not the most effective route to take within the Muslim countries. There are now more reports of Muslim women going to these leaders, Muslim women groups going to Islamic leaders, saying -- if you claim that you are representing Islam and an Islamic group or Islamic government then you must accept the rights of women within this Islamic paradigm. They are challenging these leaders and emancipating themselves within that Islamic context. I think that has to be explored or at least acknowledged to begin a dialogue. I think that would be more effective in terms with dealing with womenís issues in Muslim world. Having said that, of course there are several issues and problems throughout the Muslim world involving women. It comes down to dictatorship, whether itís religious dictatorship or secular dictatorship -- oppression of half the population is so easy you can dismiss and marginalize women through any kind of decree or law. I think that has to be exposed and condemned for what it is, and that is the exclusion of and discrimination against women.

Question: You are probably aware of the fact that this refers to Samuel Huntingtonís book, The Clash of Civilization: Remaking of the New World Order, in which he says Islam should be the new enemy image. In fact bin Laden was working for the United States for a number of years. So my question is to you, given the fact that there is a faction in the United States Administration and Government that wants to have regional wars against Islam and spread religious war. How would you and your organization address that, since itís an act of policy by the highest levels of political thinkers?

Mr. Al-Marayati: I wouldnít agree that itís the policy. Neither the Secretary of State nor the President, both of whom met with my organization and other organizations, have adopted that orientation. I believe they are actually on the other side of the issue, and believe that there needs to be more dialogue, there needs to be more integration in terms of cooperation and discussions involving these very serious issues. Part of the problem, this clash of civilizations, is that it is a form of reductionism which reduces everything to a "one size fits all approach," and thatís why we are not able to make distinctions between the mainstream and the extremists, between populist and terrorists. I think thatís a policy challenge for all of us. The other issue is that, when it comes to world civilizations, Islam is responsible and actually considered in a positive way for Islamic civilizations. When I go to schools I have to tell the students the "bad news" that their algebra homework can be attributed to Muslims and that there is a lot of overlap actually (laughter). Itís not an issue of values. The values of freedom, of justice, and of decency are universal guidance. So if you pick a Muslim in Karachi or Muslims in Cairo that is the same cry for freedom as a Christian in Los Angeles or a Christian in Europe or anywhere else for that matter. Every human being wants the right of self-determination and that is why Woodrow Wilson was cheered by Muslims. Back then the slogan was "Death to the British" and when Woodrow Wilson articulated his principles of self-determination, they were applauded. When Eisenhower told Israel and France and England to get out, that was applauded by every person in the Muslim world. So, I see it as more political than cultural and I donít see the premise of your question in the policies adopted by this administration. I think there is much more opportunity for discussion on that point and much more clarity in my opinion.

Question: Iím a member of the National Press Club. I was wondering why, when things from the extreme elements such as the Palestinians dancing in the street on September 11th in more numbers than are often admitted, sometimes it was played down like there were 5 or 20, but there were really very large numbers. That was quite disturbing to many Americans. When we hear calls from the so called Islamists -- no doubt what you would call radicals, not moderates -- for the assassination of the President and the establishment of the Islamic United States and even the Islamic world, why donít we hear more denunciations of this from the rest of the Islamic community and the moderate Muslims?

Mr. Al-Marayati: I would say that you donít hear it, not out of the lack of transmission, but out of lack of reception. As I said, did anyone really feel the wave of expression of those 500 Muslims in Pakistan during their rally against terrorism and for tolerance and condemning any kind of celebration over the kind of behavior that you eluded to. Letís not think that there were only Muslims who were involved in that. Number one, many of these stories were received in our community with a lot of doubt because we didnít understand the nature of them. Were people saying, yes, we supported the September 11th attacks, or was it something else that was happening in those press reports? You have to excuse us when we donít accept the total picture from the media.

Question: I work at the State Department. On the cultural side of things, certainly I accept your statements about the views of the moderate Muslims in society. But if you look at Islam historically, it would seem that in an ideal sense starting with the very beginnings of Islam, the idea was to really try to eliminate the difference between secular society and religious society -- that civil society and religious society would all function under the same rules, the same bodies of law. Certainly, to be fair, in the Middle Ages, this was certainly the idea also in Christian society, but we have moved away from that in the West. It would seem to me in substantial portions of the Muslim world starting with Saudi Arabia itself, the idea of integration still exists and this integrated society does not seem to leave place for other religions and other view points. I wonder how you reconcile this sort of ideal view of Islam with your view?

Mr. Al-Marayati: I think mine is the ideal view to begin with. Itís very idealistic -- too idealistic, my mom says -- but having said that I think there are a couple of problems. Number one, the modern Western model was one that was more of a reaction to leaving the religious journey of Europe and therefore we have to understand it within that context.

Within the Islamic context, itís a different condition all together that Islam brought liberation and brought pluralism that created the Golden Age, so thereís nothing intrinsic in the faith itself or in the Muslim world that should prevent persons of other faiths from expressing themselves freely.

Within Islam, there are also what are called secular processes and concern for the rights of minorities. The prophet said for example, "Any one who harms a Christian or a Jew harms me." Itís that kind of understanding that would hopefully reconcile some of the major concerns that we have in many of those countries.

Now there are two problems in those types of countries that you are talking about -- one, the notion of the religious police. In my opinion, Islam has no room for religious police because of the first amendment clause in the Koran verse, "Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith." So if there is no compulsion there should be no policing of practices of faith. Even within Islamic history, there are stories. For example, Omar, the third caliph, had gone over the wall to catch somebody drinking alcohol, and the person said, "Well I may have committed one sin but you have committed three. Number one, you didnít knock on the door, number two you are spying on me, and number three you are invading my privacy." So the notion of privacy is still considered to be an essential part of the faith and there are rights to privacy within the Islamic context.

Number two, the second problem, is this unholy alliance between the Ulema and the state because again traditionally the Ulema, the scholars, were supposed to be separate from the state. The heads of states were never scholars. Shiism had developed as more of an opposition movement and they were never part of any government but now that the scholars become the state, they have created a theocracy which is alien to Islam.

The Koran says weíre not suppose to have any clergy for that matter, but you have states that have mufti, sheikhs, and mullahs that are more than just scholars. They are given political power. They are in unholy alliances with the state or they are the state themselves. That to me is a problem that has to be addressed within the Islamic contexts of separation of powers and of allowing minorities to express themselves freely, because it is just a matter of their rights but it is our Islamic obligation. The Koran says "we have to bestow dignity on the children of Adam." So itís my responsibility as a Muslim to respect and defend the human rights of any person be they monotheistic or atheistic or polytheistic because the human being is more sacred than anything else.

Question: Iím a student. In the past youíve been hesitate to defying as a terrorist organization (sic).

Mr. Al-Marayati: Says who?

Question: Well, in November 1997 at the University of Pennsylvania, I believe.

Mr. Al-Marayati: Were you there?

Question: No I wasnít. What do you think of the attacks from Lebanon?

Mr. Al-Marayati: First of all, I think you should listen. Number two, when it comes to terrorism from Hizbollaah or Hamas for that matter we condemn those acts of terrors. When it comes to building of hospitals or clinics we donít condemn that. We donít even condemn Sharon. We condemn his policies. So I think itís best in the interests of both Muslims and Jews, rather than trying to get each other to say the magic word, for each other to listen carefully to what we are saying so that we can break the cycle of violence. That should be the goal. Therefore, that goal is when somebody commits an act of terrorism and this is our record regardless of the background of the victim we join together in condemning that act. If you recall, Israel killed over 20,000 people in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That is a statement of fact. Terrorism is defined as attacks against civilians and noncombatants. So if military personnel targets a noncombatant, that is also terrorism.

Question: I applaud your talk. It was very eloquent, very nice, but can you talk about all the Muslim community? As you said, there are some segments of the community which donít speak your language which we should get to see and to hear. The best thing I heard is -- it was wrong but or it was wrong because letís say Muslims were killed also but there is not such forthcoming talk as you gave today (sic). How can you involve the other segment?

Mr. Al-Marayati: I tend to disagree with the premise of that question because it is my understanding, and I can ask my Muslim colleague here, if Iím wrong to correct me, that there were Muslim leaders throughout the world that also condemned the September 11th attacks. We were here in Washington, DC on September 11th. We were all attacked in our buildings because we were suppose to meet with the President that day -- so every major Muslim political organization was represented in Washington DC. By noon or shortly thereafter every Muslim organization condemned the terrorists attacks unequivocally. There were no ifs, ands, or buts. We said this is an attack against our country. This is terrorism and this is against Islam. I think every Muslim here did what happen (sic) and I think I can explain part of the problem. During the first few minutes, it was reported on some of the networks that some Muslim organizations condemned the attacks, but then after that you didnít hear from Muslims. We didnít get the microphone. Other people had the microphone. So when you turned on the TV or you read the paper, chances are a non-Muslim was talking about these issues. There are few Muslim columnists. There are few Muslim spokespeople in the national media. I think that void creates confusion and doubt among certain people as to what exactly the Muslim sense of it is, whereas we know exactly what it is because we were here and we saw the press releases from every Muslim organization.

Mr. Lang: I like to thank you all for your comments and questions. At this time, Mr. Al-Marayati, it gives me great pleasure to present to you our Certificate of Appreciation. Thank you for participating in the Open Forum Speakers Program. Congratulations.



Released on April 3, 2002

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