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American Muslim Leader Says Islam Cannot Justify Terrorism

American Muslim Leader Says Islam Cannot Justify Terrorism

Interview with CAIR Director, Dr. Nehad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the American Muslim community issued prompt and clear condemnation of the September 11 terrorist attacks to affirm its legitimate place in American society. Source: Washington File (EUR514), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., October 12, 2001.

"The message we are sending out is that we are part of the national process of healing, and our community has suffered twice. Many members of the community have been killed and injured, but also our community has been blamed for the acts of individuals that we do not know," Awad said in a recent interview with Washington File writer Mofid Deak.

Awad said the terrorists "hijacked" Islam to justify their evil acts.

"These people do not belong to our community here. The only thing they took from us was the name of our faith. They stole it from us," Awad said.

In the interview, Awad also noted the desire of non-Muslim Americans for more information on Islam and the need to clearly separate the acts of September 11 from the tenets of Islam.

Awad recalled his horror at reading the twisted use of Islam in texts associated with the perpetrators. (On September 28, the FBI released the text of identical letters in Arabic found in three different sites in the United States link together the hijackers of three of the four airliners.)

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a non-profit, grassroots membership organization founded in 1994 with chapters across America to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America. CAIR is recognized as one of the principle Muslim American organizations in the United States.

The transcript of Nehad Awad's interview with the Washington File follows: (begin transcript)

Deak: Muslim American groups came out strongly and unequivocally in condemning the terror attacks in New York and Washington last month. What's the reason for such strong statements at that time?

Awad: The magnitude of the tragedy goes beyond belief. All of us were devastated by it. Not only Muslim groups throughout the United States have come out so strongly against these terrorist attacks, but also Muslim and Arab American individuals have come out clearly and flatly denouncing what happened.

And I also think Muslims around the world -- clerics, institutions, scholars, governments, political parties all across the board -- just came out condemning these attacks and describing them as pure evil acts that cannot be justified by any cause or any faith. In fact, the term we're using now is that the Muslim faith itself has been hijacked by the perpetrators of these vicious attacks.

Deak: What are American Muslim groups doing to show that Muslim Americans are a legitimate part of the American body politic and society?

Awad: We understand where we live and the importance of communication, the importance of coming out to show not only the general population, but also ourselves, that we have a lot to offer. We want our fellow Americans to know that we're feeling the pain like everyone else, or even more so.

As everyone knows, Muslims were among the victims, but I want to point also that Muslims were members of the rescue teams. Muslims donated blood and organized blood drives in different cities. And I know many Muslim physicians who treated the wounded and injured in the New York hospitals.

This tragedy hit all of us. While it showed the worst of humanity -- when some evil-doers came and attacked. It also showed the best of humanity, where all of us Americans -- Muslims, Jews, Christians -- came together and united to help one another.

Our organization in particular has been very active in helping the Muslim community participate in American public life for many years, but this tragedy has presented challenges to our community because our community has been severely misunderstood and not well represented politically and in the media.

Deak: Some people in the United States actually have said that American Muslim groups have not been strong enough in the condemnation of the attacks. What do you say to those people?

Awad: This is a very unfair statement. Think of the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh. Think of the bombings of abortion clinics and the murder of people who work in abortion clinics by people who claimed to be Christians. How much pressure was put on Christian institutions and individuals to explain that their faith is against violence?

Deak: None.

Awad: Yes. That's because Americans understand the difference between the teachings of Christianity and the evil acts of crazed individuals. Unfortunately, that understanding is not automatically applied to Muslims because of stereotypes and lack of knowledge.

That's why our organization stepped in and asked every national and local Muslim organization to come out to say as strongly and clearly as they could that Islam never condones the killings of civilians and innocent people. Our community is now maintaining a positive high profile to show America that we are part of it.

I think we are very happy to see the statements coming from the President, from the Attorney General, from Secretary of State, from many, many public officials, and also members of Congress people affirming our place in America. It was a tremendous outpouring of support to the Muslim community because of the hate crimes that followed the terrorist attacks.

Deak: What is the message that your group and other Muslim American groups are sending out after the attacks?

Awad: The message we are sending out is that we are part of the national process of healing, and our community has suffered doubly. Many members of the American Muslim community were killed and injured in the attacks, and the American Muslim community has been blamed for the acts of individuals that we do not know.

Nobody until now has been able to produce any evidence that these people have had any presence in our community or that they are members of it. They came from the outside. And I think quite a few public officials have made this important statement, that these people do not belong to our community here.

These people do not belong to our community here. The only thing they took from us was the name of our faith. They stole it from us. Just as they stole names and identities. And they borrowed viciously our Islamic names and they did evil. That's all they did.

So I think we are under tremendous pressure to go out and tell Americans that we are part of America, and there should be no rush to judgment.

Deak: You said the terrorists "hijacked the faith." What did you mean by that?

Awad: The New York Times contacted me a few days ago and they asked to help translate some of these letters, copies of which have been found in luggage and cars belonging to the terrorists, and analyze them.

From the moment I saw those letters, I felt sick to my stomach. Then I consulted with other scholars, and they had the same reaction. The terrorists are sick individuals and they have no knowledge of their religion. There is no way they or anyone else can link what they have done to the Islamic faith. Their knowledge of the Islamic faith and its practice is very shallow.

Whoever wrote those letters was just trying to deform the Koran to justify what the terrorists were about to do -- and in very poor language. There is no person in his right mind, no person who has any understanding of Islam, what Islam stands for, can ever misconstrue our prayers that we recite every day as a justification for violence.

That's what I mean when I said they hijacked our faith. They used our wonderful faith to justify their killing of innocent individuals and destruction of buildings. There is something severely wrong with these people and the way they look at Islam itself.

Deak: Even though there were some attacks and other forms of harassment against Muslims and Arab Americans right after the attacks, there have been some good, actually positive, stories of support offered by ordinary Americans. Can you relate to me a few of those things?

Awad: Oh, there's been so many, it's difficult to count them. But I can tell you, we were visited by a lady who is the head of an organization of 4,000 (non-Muslim) women nationwide, and they decided to wear the Islamic head scarf in support of Muslim women on Mondays, and just to go to their work wearing the Islamic head scarf.

Deak: Did they actually do that?

Awad: Yes, they did, in support of Muslim women. Another lady contacted us and said she converted to Islam some time ago and she was hesitant to go to the mosque at this time of crisis. But she overcame her fear and when she got to the mosque she said she found her non-Muslim neighbors waiting and greeting the mosque-goers with flowers and smiles.

She said tears came to her eyes when she saw how kind people could be.

We have been receiving anecdotes from people nationwide telling us about these good stories. I, myself, at the office here received a call from a police chief in Pennsylvania. She said how impressed she was with one of our representatives, and she went ahead and gave us her phone number and said to call her in case we need her.

When we receive this kind of support on a daily basis from our fellow Americans, it really assures us that we are all united and we should not let a few bigots take over the debate of this issue.

Deak: Last question. Out of this horrible tragedy, some opportunity may have emerged for Muslims and Arab Americans to educate non-Muslim Americans about Islam. Do you find this to be the case?

Awad: I think the key word is education. Islam is the most researched subject in the world today. There is a lot of interest in Islam. People are fascinated by this faith. They would like to know what's right and what's wrong about what has been said about it. They want to go to the original sources to see it. We ask mosques nationwide to receive people, and they have been having open houses throughout the past weekends. Thousands of people have been visiting mosques for the first time to discover the peaceful nature of Islam, how close Islam is to Christianity and Judaism, coming from the same roots that have similar teachings. Many Americans now understand that no faith on earth, no divine faith, would jeopardize the lives of innocent people.

Also, the administration has shown real openness to the Muslim and Arab community by listening to its concerns, by coming to its defense, and by showing solidarity and support in the face of hate crimes.

The administration has sent a clear message and made a genuine effort to set a national tone of tolerance and respect for an important segment of our society, the Muslim community.

Deak: Thank you, Dr. Awad.

(end transcript)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).