Islam and America, Three Years After 9/11

Far from being incompatible, Islamic values and American values are very similar, says a Muslim leader.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen

 

Continued from page 1

You also outline responsibilities for non-Muslim Americans, for Western media and businesses. What are they?

The business world can help in transmitting to the Muslim world the notions of capital formation. What leads to a successful economy is the financial infrastructure. Helping people create wealth.

You're saying if we're more interconnected financially, that might help overcome tensions?

Yes.

About the media: Muslim leaders frequently condemn terrorism, but many non-Muslim Americans don't seem to be aware of that. Why is there the perception that no one is speaking out?

The media is not amplifying the message of these condemnations as much as they could. Another reason is that American foreign policy has contributed to a lot of the rage and anger in the Muslim world. It's important that America is seen as even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It's also important that America not be seen as a marketer of ethics which are not acceptable not only to Muslims, but to believers, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews. We don't like pornography, something which reduces family values, the violence we see from Hollywood. That's the picture people are seeing of America.

You talk about all Americans voting with our pocketbooks with regard to Hollywood. What can American Muslims, specifically, do to help defuse tensions?

We want the Muslim-American community to be the mediator, to say to each side "the picture you are seeing of each other is false." That's why the book [addresses] what's right with America and what's right with Islam. We have to look at what is right in both traditions and see how similar they are.

You say U.S. Muslims are uniquely positioned to help "wage peace."

Correct.

If you personally had been completely in charge of the American Muslim response to 9/11, what would you have done?

Well, we did condemn the actions of 9/11 saying it was outside of Islam. It was condemned by nearly every Muslim nation and scholar.

We encouraged people to understand that Islamic values are part of the Abrahamic system of values. Our commandments are the same as those of Judaism and Christianity. We tried to address the issues that fueled it, issues of power and economics. People in the Muslim world feel disempowered and economically deprived.

After 9/11, we ran an essay by Khaled Abou el Fadl, who said he would have encouraged Muslim Americans to visit Ground Zero and bring, say, a flower. What you're talking about is obviously more broad-based.

Yes, those things are very powerful symbols of American-Western sharing in the grief and mourning for what happened. I've participated in a number of different interfaith memorial services for those who have died.

But beyond the mourning, the real issue is the diseased, dysfunctional relationship between the United States and the Muslim world--understanding it through courses and attacking the root causes. If we address these causes, change will happen rapidly.

Continued on page 3: »

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