This is an edited transcript of the talk that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf gave on Sunday, Sept. 30th, 2001 at Zaytuna Academy and Institute in Hayward, California regarding his reflections on the Sept 11th tragedy and his trip to the White House from which he had just returned. In this talk, he distinguishes what the terrorists did from what Islam teaches, addressing several important issues in regards to the tragedy such as the Islamic concept of jihad and martyrdom. Anyone wanting to gain a clear understanding of what the religion of Islam has to say about the calamitous event is sure to find this talk beneficial. If you would like to obtain the audio cassette of this talk, please go to www.alhambraproductions.com.
We should all realize that the outreach has been extraordinary in terms of the numbers of people contacting Muslim organizations and reaching out to the Muslims. I think some of these stories need to be documented because they are very profound and powerful stories, and I think that something very interesting like a book can come out of this. It may be titled, The Best of Americans in the Worst of Times or something similar to that.
A mosque was attacked in Seattle, and a group of Christians started an organization called, "The Peace Keepers" and actually went and guarded the mosque. Also, if you do not have a copy, I would get a copy of the tape the MCA (Muslim Community Association) in Santa Clara made of the love messages that they got. The tape is just of people calling up, and that was very powerful to listen to one after another, messages of love and support. By far, the majority of people who have called have called with those types of responses, and I think what we should see from this is that there are a lot of good people in this country. That, in it of itself is very powerful.
There are a lot of people who do have the right sensibility. They also realize the stupidity of assuming the acts of a statistically insignificant number of people, whoever they were, represent the majority. In this country, there are almost 300,000,000 people; the attackers of Sept 11th are amongst a number of very crazy people that would do very crazy things given the opportunity, and some of them have actually proven that, and they are the Timothy McVeighs of the world. So, I think that in it of itself, this outreach is something that we should all be very optimistic of.
On the other hand, we also should keep in mind that living in the Bay Area gives us a false sense about the pulse in some of the other parts of the country. The outreach we have experienced here is probably from some of the most educated and most tolerant people because this is a very tolerating area. It tends to embrace others and things considered strange, and that is something that people here pride themselves in, so we do have that here.
Another aspect of this area is that it is very heavily populated with immigrants, and that in it of itself is good because those who work with immigrants see the human side, which is always important. The immigrants, especially those coming from other countries where the social conditions are difficult, tend to know what these types of incidents mean.
In certain parts of this country, there is a lot of jingoism going on right now. There is a lot of anger. I flew across this country with a friend, who is a tall, dark-skinned Arab, and it was very shocking to see the eyes of others, and this is not paranoia. People looking at him as we were traveling were really frightened. There was real fear. We were in the front of the plane, so every time my friend got up, I looked back, and I noticed people would go into a state of rigor mortis as though they were thinking, "What's he going to do?" and that is a tragedy. We traveled two weeks earlier, and people did not have those feelings.
Also, I have been across the country now four times in the last ten days, and the planes are empty. There are a lot of economic repercussions to this; 15,000 people have been fired from United Airlines. There are going to be disgruntled people. So, those elements are going to be there; there are hard times ahead.
Now, in terms of what happened in the last week, I think people need to Understand. One of the things about many people is that they tend to be very shortsighted in a lot of ways; they do not look at long-term strategy. The Muslims are particularly this way. We have forgotten what strategic thinking is. The odd thing about it is that we had designed the classes this semester to teach strategic thinking. That is why we had the Battles of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and Dr. Thomas Cleary's Art of War courses. It was not belligerence; it was quite the opposite. I was hoping we would learn from the battles of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. I wanted us to explore how he planned and what the purposes of his actions were. You can see in his actions always an understanding of this long-range thinking.
For example, Suraqa Ibn Malik was attempting to catch the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam to get a reward of 100 camels promised by the Quraysh to whomever brought the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam in. When he met him in the desert, the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "What did they offer you?" He said, "100 camels." The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "Suraqa, what would you think about wearing the bracelets of Khosroes?" and this is something that happened at the time of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. He always saw way ahead, and that is wisdom. Even his ahadith apply until the end of time. That is the beauty of the ahadith. He was not speaking only to his community.
Look at the hadith: "If you leave one-tenth of what I have given you, you will be punished, but there is coming a time on my ummah that if they hold to one-tenth, they will go into paradise." Now, think of the strategic planning of that hadith. Think, had he just said to his sahaba, "If you leave one-tenth of what I have given you, you will be punished," what would that mean to us? We know what the sahaba did, but the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was not speaking just to the sahaba; he was speaking to us. He was speaking to people whom he knew would be in such difficult situations that holding on to their deen would be like holding onto burning coals. That is the beauty of Prophetic wisdom. He spoke to every time and every place, and he certainly spoke to the time and place that we are in because these are the fitan.
Fitan is Arabic. Fatanah means "to test gold." One of the things you can see in this time is that the basic material people are made of becomes apparent. Is it gold, is it silver, is it lead, or is it some kind of toxic element? You see what people are made of. Some people can act, and you are amazed at their humanity. Other people come out, and you are amazed at their inhumanity, but that is what fitnah does. It exposes people, and that is one of the wisdoms of tribulation.
I would like to talk about how people judge situations. Many people often judge a situation with the short-term in mind and without looking at the long-term implications. People who tend to get caught up in the moment of their short-term judgment lose an understanding that every moment is actually part of a continuum. Not only is the moment that we are in right now based on everything that preceded it, but it also will affect what follows it. There is no such thing as an isolated incident. Every incident in your life is related to the totality of your life. You cannot separate any individual life. That is why a human being is not judged for any individual incident, but you must look at the whole spectrum of growth.
One of the things that people do not like to do is allow people to grow. They want to pigeonhole you. However, conditions necessitate different responses: not every condition necessitates the same response. If you give the same response, you are a fool because there is a time for anger, and there is a time for forgiveness. There is a time when you need to get angry, and if you do not get angry, you are not responding appropriately to the situation. Our prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam got angry, so there is a time for anger, but there is never a time for wrath because wrath is excessive anger. There is never a time to lose your reason from anger. I know that some people will judge from outward appearance because that is all we have on which to base our judgments. The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "I was commanded to judge people according to their outward states," but Allah does not judge by the outward because Allah encompasses everything. "Muhitun bi 'ibaadihi: Allah encompasses his servants" to know their inward and their outward. "Ya'lamu sirrakum wa l'alaaniya: He knows your inward and your outward," and He judges actions by your intentions.
Allah gave to his servants a means to maintain harmony for the believers: the idea of having a good opinion-husnu dhann. Having a good opinion of people is the principle upon which our teaching is based. We should look for an excuse for others and not assume the worst. We should always look to say, "perhaps, perhaps, perhaps," and come up with excuses. The hypocrite's nature is that he will always look for a reason to condemn. The munafiq will always say, "he did it because of this; he did it because of that" and try to find fault. That is unfortunate to mention.
In reality, what we have done too little of is build real institutional bases and have engaged in too much empty rhetoric. Now, it is coming back to haunt us. However, the Chinese symbol for crisis is also the symbol for opportunity, and I think this crisis that we are in is an opportunity. The power of the historical moment we are in is extraordinary because we are in an unprecedented situation. For the first time, large numbers of Americans actually want to understand what Islam is. Even the Iranian Revolution did not do this because that was again something that happened far away. Here is a time where it has come home, and people are trying to make sense of it.
I have been getting many calls from people wanting to know the concept of martyrdom. Martyrdom is not an alien concept to the West. The West has a history of martyrdom. The Christian Church honors martyrs. They are the highest people in the Church and are recognized as saints because they are people who died for their beliefs. Some of the people of the Revolutionary War were considered martyrs. Those are words that Westerners use. Martin Luther King Jr. and people like him are considered martyrs, so the concept is not alien to westerners. However, the idea of martyrdom being associated with violence against innocent individuals is such an atrocity to any sane person, and the travesty is when Islam is indicated here to have anything to do with this. That is why we just cannot see this incident in religious terms. It is really important to keep focusing on the fact that this act really does not have anything to do with Islam.
Unfortunately, in the past, we have had people whom we have been plagued with called the Khawarij. They emerged early on and were the first people who split from the rightly guided khulafa. They emerged from the time of Sayyiduna Uthman. These are the people who surrounded his house and actually killed him. One of the things about these people that is very problematic is that they are very "religious," and this is where the real crisis comes. These people display a religiosity about which our Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "You will hold your own prayer in contempt when you see their prayer." In other words, they will be praying so much, you will feel that you do not pray enough. Similarly, he sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam went on to say, "You will see them fast, and you will feel like you do not fast." They fast every other day or on Mondays and Thursdays, and you will feel contempt for yourself when you compare your fasts to theirs. He sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "They read the Qur'an, but it does not go past their throats." The 'ulama say this means that they read the words, but they do not know the meanings.
There are verses in the Qur'an that if read outwardly, you will think they are a license to kill people, but that is not what the verses actually mean. The verse in Sura Tawbah was in clear reference to a group of people that broke the treaty with Muslims. The Muslims were commanded to fight them wherever they found them. They were a specific group of people, and that verse is not a generalized verse. It applies only to that time of treachery. Allah does not prevent you from being good to those who have not fought you or chased you out of your home. Be good to them, and share in your wealth with them. You can interact with and help non-Muslims. This is permitted in Islam. The Qur'an is a holistic body of guidance, and if you take parts of the Qur'an without understanding the holistic body, you will go astray. For this reason, Buddah Al-Jakany in Mauritania wrote a book, and in it, he said that every single group that has gone astray has used part of the Qur'an to prove their error. There is not a sect in the history of Islam that did not use the Qur'an as a foundation for their misguidance, not one. They all proved their points from the Qur'an.
When Ibn Abbas went to the Khawarij to try to speak with them, the Khawarij said that one of the reasons they rebelled against Sayyiduna Ali is because Sayyiduna Ali asked that a hakim be brought from Mu'awiya's group to sit with a hakim from his own group so that they would as arbitrators come to a decision on the particular matter. To this idea, the Khawarij said that the Qur'an says, "La hukma illa lillah: There is no judgment except Allah." Allah is the only one that can judge, and so they said, "What you have done is going against the book of Allah, Imam Ali." They said, "You do not understand the Qur'an. The Qur'an says, 'La hukma illa lillah.'" That was their slogan, literally: There is no judgment except Allah's. What did Imam Ali do? He sent Ibn Abbas to go and debate with them. He advised Ibn Abbas: If they debate with the Qur'an, debate with the other parts of the Qur'an; if they do not agree, then go to the hadiths.
So, Ibn Abbas went, and he argued with them. There were about 30,000 of them originally, and about 3,000 of those went over to the other side and joined Ibn Abbas because he convinced them with his arguments. He said, "Does not Allah allow arbitration between a man and a wife? Does not Allah allow arbitration on hajj? You bring a hakim to decide what the penalty is." Ibn Abbas showed them how in the Qur'an itself, Allah allows people to arbitrate, and thus he proved that Imam Ali was not going against the Qur'an.
So, the point is that the Khawarij have been a plague on the Muslim ummah from early time, and, I think out of the 1.3 billion people in this ummah, there are some people , unfortunately, who are misguided enough to think that by committing such horrific acts, they were doing something good.
That is the reality of it. Whatever it was and whoever was behind the recent events, the people who benefit from it are the enemies of Islam. On the other hand, Allah says, "Maybe you hate a thing, but in it is much good for you." The reality of the situation is that immense good can come out of the tragedy. US News and Report, which is one of the major news journals, had an article on jihad that I could not have done a better job writing. I was amazed. It was an excellent article explaining the rules of jihad. My God, millions of people are going to read this and have to confirm that these are very human rulings. They mentioned not poisoning wells, not killing livestock, not cutting down fruit trees; that is Islam. I think an intelligent person is going to have to reason that if that is their reason in war, then the attacks on September 11th certainly have nothing to do with Islam.
Unfortunately, we have other elements in the media that have a very serious agenda, and this is evident to anyone who has been watching some of the media, particularly, Fox. They are hardliners. I think what they did to Muzammil Siddiqi was a horrific thing to do to him because it just does not represent Muzammil Siddiqi. You have Muslims that were supporting what they believe to be a legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people in their fight.
I have never and I will never agree with suicide bombings. That has never sat right with me, ever. I think it is just so antithetical to the truth of Islam, and I have always had that problem with it. No one can ever find anywhere, in the last 13 or 14 years of my public speaking, where I have condoned that. I have never been comfortable with that or comfortable with any types of terror because my understanding of Islam is that it is a chivalrous religion. It is a religion that demands honor in engagement, and my belief is that I would rather die than reduce myself to the level of these types of people because I know they certainly use it against us. They do. However, as Umar Mukhtar pointed out, when they wanted to kill the Italian prisoners and he refused to let them, they said, "Well, they do it to our prisoners," and he replied, "But they are not our teachers."
These people are not our teachers. They did not teach us how to fight. We have laws and rules, and those are our principles. On 60 Minutes the other night, four of us were interviewed, and they interviewed us for three hours. They give you enough rope to hang yourself, and then they kind of edit from that. It is very tricky business talking to these people. During the three-hour interview, I was asked, "Where does this idea come from if it is not from Islam?" I replied that it is an old idea called The End Justifies the Means, and it is a philosophy alien to Islam because we believe that if the ends are noble, the means have to be consistent with the ends. We believe in noble ends, and therefore our means have to be consistent with those ends because if you say the ends justify the means, what you are saying is you can use ignoble means to achieve noble ends, and that is inconsistent logically. That is the philosophy here, and it is not from Islam.
I think that we have a lot of work to do. In chemistry, there is something known as dissipated structures. Prigogine got a nobel prize for showing that when massive turbulence is created in a system of chemical bonds that breaks all those bonds, what happens is they re-bond at a more complex level than the initial. It goes to a higher level, and this is consistent also with nuclear fusion. The point is that these types of things should actually force us to go to a higher level of understanding and operation, not to a lower level. This should literally force us to raise the level of our discourse, to raise the level of our understanding, and to do a lot more than we were doing before because there is no room for sleep anymore. Get your sleep that you need for your body, but the rest of the time, you have to be awake, and if this does not do it to wake us up, nothing is going to do it, really, because we are now in danger. We hope for the best, but the danger is repeated incidents and more blame because even if a White Supremacist group does anything, who is everybody going to blame when it happens? They are going to blame Muslims, right?
This is the time now to reach out and build bridges as fast as we can with as many people as we can, to get out there, to extend hands to anybody who is offering hands of friendship and understanding right now; we have to reach out to them and really try to create some understanding. Part of what we really have to focus on and what I want you to understand is that Islam's word for calling others to Islam is da'wah, which in the Arabic language means "invitation to a banquet." What we have to remember is what Muhammad Zakariya said, "An invitation is only real if it's open to rejection," and that is the beauty of our Lord: He has given an invitation and is not forcing anybody to go to the banquet.
When we look at the people out there, they have every right to believe what they believe, to be doing what they are doing because it is consistent with where they are. Our job is only to present Islam in the best way, and there are two responses that we hope for: either somebody sees it as the beauty that it is and the truth that it is and is welcome to join us or a person gains a heightened appreciation for this incredible, human tradition because it is part of the tapestry of human civilization, and we have, I think, the greatest contribution. That is something we are all proud of, and it is something they need to find out about and learn about so that at least they can appreciate it. There will always be the disgruntled few who are going to hate you anyway, and Allah mentioned that in the Qur'an; there is always going to be that, but I do not think that represents a majority of people, yet the majority can be manipulated by that minority, unfortunately, especially with the means that they have in their hands. You can see: they can paint day night and night day, black white and white black. They can call war "peace" and peace "war," and people start believing it. They can call murder "collateral damage," and it sounds a lot nicer. "Collateral damage" sounds a lot nicer than slaughtering innocent civilians. It has got a nicer ring to it, and that is called a euphemism: "kicked the bucket" - he did not kick the bucket; he dropped dead. It is just a euphemism like, "retired to the farm." That is how they say in idiomatic English, "he died": "he retired to the farm." He did not retire to the farm; he stopped breathing.
I mentioned what happened in the last week, and I will just tell you, it was a very difficult trip. I was asked by somebody I know, and whom people probably know, who works in the White House. He is a Muslim, the son of a very prominent Muslim, and he called me up and said, "They're asking for somebody to come to talk to the President and represent the Muslims, and I thought that you would be the best person in my estimation to do that. So could you come?" So, I talked to Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, and he said that it was a fard on me. He said, "You have to go." I went, and I was part of I think about 30 religious leaders there. The Head of the Mormon Church, the Head of Billy Graham Ministries, his son Franklin Graham, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in America, and a lot of other very prominent religious leaders were there.
There were also a Tibetan Lama, one of the heads of a national Sikh organization, and Methodist Bishops. A lot of different people were present. From that group, a handful, six of us were asked to meet with President Bush in the Oval Office. So, I put forth four points, and we were given quite a bit of time. I was allowed to say everything I wanted to say. I gave a copy of The Essential Koran to the President, and the night before, I spent a couple hours going through the book and putting Post-Its on all of the verses that I thought were most pertinent. I said, "I know you're very busy, so I put these in so that if you don't have time to read the whole book, you can read these verses." I also gave him a book called Thunder in the Sky which is a book Thomas Cleary translated on the humanistic use of power. In other words, it is about how to use power to benefit humans and not to harm them. I also gave him a piece of calligraphy done by Muhammad Zakariya, who did the Eid stamp.
When I called Muhammad Zakariya, he was in Virginia; he lives a few miles away from the Pentagon, and he was writing what is called a hilyah in calligraphy from the Shifa' of Qadi Iyaad. He was writing a description of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam from Umar ibn Al-Aws. Muhammad Zakariya told me what was the sentence he was writing when he heard the explosion. The beauty of this is that only Allah can do this. That was for Muhammad Zakariya because Allah is the Author of this; Allah is the One who has decreed all of this, and that moment was for Muhammad Zakariya, and then it was related to the President because it ended up going there. Muhammad Zakariya told me that the sentence he was writing when he heard the explosions was "Wa kana salla llahu 'alayhi wa sallam la yadfa'u sayyi'ah bi sayyi'ah, wa lakin wa ya'fu wa yaghfiru: He would never repel an evil with another evil, but he forgave, and he condoned." Allahumma salli 'alayh. And that is our teaching.
That is his description of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and that is how we know that no matter what America has done to Muslims anywhere, our teaching is that we do not repay evil with evil, and that is Islam. It is not all this rage and anger that is out there. That is Islam, and it is a hard thing to do except when you remember that this is dunya,
and you are looking at infinity; you are not looking at dunya; you are not looking at 50, 60, 70 years; you are looking at infinity, and you want Allah to forgive you for your own evil. Is not that what we all want? We just want forgiveness on yaum al-qiyaamah because we are all guilty. We think that we
are independent from Allah. We are all guilty from that perspective. The point is, here he was writing that, and I told the President that. I said, "When the Pentagon was struck, Muhammad Zakariya was writing that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam did not repel an evil with an evil."
Similar incidents occur, and that is the beauty of our deen. This is a true story; it is not made up. Muhammad Zakariya is saadiq. He is truthful; he does not lie, and I believe him. I do not need any witnesses - the angels were the witnesses. Those are our two just witnesses.
The points that I made at the White House were four. The first was emphasizing, and it had to be reiterated again and again, that Islam does not have anything to do with this, that this is not the teaching of Islam.
It is a religion that teaches mercy and compassion, and when it uses martial force, it uses it with just laws, and non-combatants are never involved. It is based on legitimate authority, not on vigilantism. We do not believe in vigilantism; we do not believe in outlaws; we do not believe in Robin Hood.
It is kind of interesting that in this culture, Robin Hood is a hero because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and even more bizarre is the story of Samson. I told them on 60 Minutes, which I doubt they will air, that Samson is the first suicide bomber, and he is in the Bible. If you do not know the story of Shamshun, Samson was in the temple of the Philistine, and he was an Israeli. He asked where the pillars that hold up the temple were, and he went in chains, and he pushed them, killing himself and everybody else as revenge for the Israelis against the wrongs of their enemies. That story is in the Bible, and I was taught that as a child. Samson was presented as a hero. That story is not in the Qur'an; it is conspicuously absent from the Qur'an.
The second point I made to the President was the danger of polarization. I said that this could polarize the world, and we could get a self-fulfilling prophecy of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, such as China and Islam versus the West. Nobody wants that; there is no benefit in that, except for warmongers: people who make money off of the death of other people.
I also spoke about the idea of a consensus. I had already spoken to Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, and I had also conveyed that to some Arab Ambassadors. I told them that I felt there should be a summit meeting of the most prominent Muslim 'ulama in the Muslim world to declare terrorism as inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and that it is prohibited by ijma', consensus of the scholars. I said the attacks should be just rejected by an ijma'. I also suggested that there should be one done by the Abrahamic religions in someplace like Rome or Jerusalem, where there is a declaration that the taking of innocent lives is not consistent with the teachings of the prophets, whether it is state terrorism or individual terrorism. Both forms of terrorism are rejected by religion, and let them be seen as what they are: as political means to political ends because that is what they are. They are political means to political ends, and that is not what the prophets came to teach. They came to teach prophetic means to prophetic ends.
Then the last point I made to the President was about oppression. I said that this country had a responsibility in creating just regimes because of the power that this country has and that we have to recognize that the oppression and the extreme circumstances in the Muslim world breed the type of extremism that exists in some parts of the Muslim world.
I think that the Muslims are incredibly moderate. The Iraqis have displayed incredible patience, perseverance, and lack of animosity and hatred. Muslims are a testimony to patience at times of adversity. Ismail Faruqi was in a debate once, and I heard this from a man who was present at that debate. He said that someone was saying how terrible the Muslims were, and Ismail Faruqi said that you see the Muslims now with their corruption, and you go to the countries, and you can laugh at how corrupt these countries are, but have you seen us suffer? He asked, have you seen what happens to us when we get afflicted with pain and suffering? He said, then you will know who we are because when we lose all our money, we do not jump out of buildings. We say, "Ma sha' Allah; la quwwata illa billah: Whatever Allah wills happens; there is no power except by Allah," and that is the truth. The Muslims have been incredibly patient in the light of all this, and that is because we do have hope, and we know that despair is Iblis, and we know that ya'as is prohibited in Islam. We do not despair. "La tay'asu min rawhillah : Do not despair from this spirit that God sends." Do not despair of it, and that is why in the worst of times, Allah sends that madad (help), and you should all know that. It is Allah who sends that. It is Allah who gives people that strength to get through even the most horrific times because if He did not send that, we would all go crazy; we would lose our minds; we would go totally insane.
That was the gist of what I said to the President. Then I was asked to be the guest that night of the First Lady, and I was told that there was going to be a speech. I had no idea that it was going to be the way it was; I really did not, but that is the situation I was in, and my intentions in it were trying to do what I could do in this type of a crisis. You have to do what you think is the right thing and the best thing for the overall benefit, I would say not just for Muslims but for everybody: Al-maslaha al-'amma. I think we have a concern for humanity in general and certainly for the Muslims in particular. Always the ummah is paramount, but we are also supposed to be caretakers of humanity. That is a task that we were given by Allah, so we should not act without the rest of humanity in our considerations.
I would like to emphasize something here. I thought that the most profound person and the one who seemed to be the most genuine person of all those people that I met was Rabbi Joshua Haberman. He defended Islam when he spoke to President Bush. At one point, I looked over at him when we were in the Roosevelt room or some other room. Mayor Giuliani, the Governor of New York, and the Chief of Staff were also present, and Rabbi Joshua was sitting in the corner reading something in Hebrew. Everybody else was 'schmoozing,' so I went over to the Rabbi, and I asked, "What are you reading?" He said, "Well, I'm reading the Psalms," and he was. He seemed like a genuine person, and we spoke quite a bit. He said that the tragedy of this is that Americans are so ignorant of Islam; they do not know the greatness of its civilization; they do not know the history, and they really think that this represents Islam, and this is the real tragedy. He also said that as somebody who has studied Islam, he knows that the easiest religion for a Jewish person to convert to is Islam. Wallahi, that is what he said. He said, "Your shari'a is not that different from what Musa was given." There are good people out there. That person was genuine, and that is what I got from him. I asked him, "Are you a student of Martin Buber?" and he said, "Yes." That is what Martin Buber was about-just having real regard for other human beings, and I think that, as Muslims, we need to inculcate that in our relations with other people.
When some of the Muslims say "kuffar," there is this disdain and contempt for people. Listen to those love messages to MCA, and see if you can say "kuffar" with the same kind of contempt and disdain. Those are good human beings. The disdain and contempt we should have is for ourselves for not reaching out to those people, for not being true representatives of Islam because Allah teaches us a du'ah in the Qur'an: "Rabbana la taj'alna fitnatan liladhina kafaru : O our Lord! Do not make us a tribulation for those who do not believe in this religion," and in a lot of ways, we have become the biggest barrier.
I think we have an immense opportunity, and this is a time when we really need to reach out and go out there with respect, recognizing that they have their ways. What we need to have is some mutual understanding of each other, of our communities, and of their communities. I got a call from the head of the Christian Businessmen's Association - they're all CEOs of business - and he called me and said that he read the interview I had done in the San Jose Mercury and that he would really like me to come and address their business association. We continued talking, and he said, "The thing that troubles me most is the arrogance of our country." He also said, "If you do not have humility in your heart when you have power, God will destroy you." This is what he said to me.
We often forget that they have truth in their Books, yet we believe in the Bible; we believe in the Injil, and there is truth in there, and there are people who do read those truthful things. One of the Bishops said to the President in the Oval Office, "You have to remind people what the Bible says: "Vengeance is Mine sayeth the Lord." That is what he said: "Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Lord." He advised the President not to take vengeance because that is what people want when they get hurt, and vengeance is not from any of the prophetic traditions.
Another thing that happened in the White House was that I told the President that Infinite Justice is an attribute of God and that by using that name, it is like saying that you are God, and the President was shocked. He said, "You know, we don't have any theologians down in the Pentagon, and they name this stuff," and so they changed the name. Alhamdulillah. A friend of mine told me that during the sixties, somebody used the term in a speech, "a hail-Mary play," and he said that he read an article in the Egyptian newspaper that was trying to prove that this was a crusading conspiracy because this politician had used the phrase, "a hail-Mary play." He explained that Egyptian scholars do not know American football, and the writer was simply using a sports metaphor.
That is what we find when we demystify power. A lot of it is just our own ignorance here. People need to hear the truth, but if you are harsh or hard-hearted, people will not listen to you. They will just flee from you. I think that we have allowed too much harshness into our discourse, and I can say that for my own self in some of the past talks I have given. We need to really rethink a lot about what we say in our discourses.
Question and Answer Session
Q: Could you clarify what you told President Bush and what his reaction was to what you told him? And what is your view on measures either against Afghanistan or the Taliban?
Shaykh Hamza: I thought he seemed to be listening very attentively to what I had to say. When I mentioned a couple things, he confirmed them: he said "I agree with you wholeheartedly." He also mentioned to one of the aides that what we had to say was useful. I think about four or five times, he came up to me and shook my hand very firmly and thanked me as what seemed to be a very hearty thanks for just coming and edifying him. So, that was my take on it. I was impressed: there were only three of us who spoke in the meeting, including Franklin Graham, who said he was willing to go wherever to service the troops if there was going to be a war; and the Jewish man, who said that he hoped that the President would reconsider the war and that he thought that war was the worst thing that they could do. He also asked people to pray, to go back to their communities and pray.
I did mention Afghanistan to him. I told him that the Afghanis have been so hard-hit, and they cannot take anymore and that the vast majority of them are innocent people. I mentioned that more innocent blood is going to further polarize the world, and that there are going to be more Muslims who view America as inherently belligerent towards Muslims, and this could turn into a major Muslim-Christian battle. He said that this was also a major fear of theirs. He said that he was rebuked for using the word "crusade." He said when he said it he did not mean any religious connotation, but it was the first word that came to him, so there seems to be a real concern here. I think that there was deliberation here because it looked like they were just going to go bomb like crazy at first, and I'm really hoping and praying to Allah that it doesn't escalate.
Q: What is the best way to do da'wah if one does not have much knowledge?
Shaykh Hamza: I would talk to ING about that. One of the things that I am hoping for is that people who have been students here, who should have learned something, get more involved. Not everybody is a public speaker, but there are a lot of things you can do. You can write letters to the editor; you can support people, but we need more people to get active. We have a real dearth of spokespeople for Muslims right now, and we need intelligent discourse. The beauty of intelligence is that people recognize it, and they listen to it. If you make sense to people, they tend to respond.
Unfortunately, people who are called sophists, who are people that use sophistry and demagogy, can do the same thing, but whenever you get a sophist against somebody who is logical, you will always see the sophist lose. The dialogues of Socrates are some of the best examples because he went up against some brilliant sophists, and they would always fall apart when he would debate them because he knew how to pull their arguments apart.
That is why I think that if Muslims could get out there and just speak from the heart, it would make a real difference. I think duplicity is a really dangerous thing. Our public and private discourses have to be the same because one of the things they are trying to do now is undermine the public discourse of the Muslims. What they did to Dr. Siddiqi was really malignant because he was at the National Cathedral and gave that prayer, and he also met with President Bush, and they had him on Fox News from some old video saying that he supported Hizbullah and Hamas and things like that. Then they were calling him, "terrorist in the White House" and things like that. We are no longer in the little leagues anymore.
We have hit mainstream. Muslim voices are getting on major networks. There are people who make their livelihood assassinating the characters of other people, so we have to pray for our brothers and sisters out there as well. They can take things out of context; they can manipulate; they can do what ever they want, but Allah is the Protector of those who believe. Allah protects those who believe.
Q: How should women wear the hijab?
Shaykh Hamza: I think that the area that we are in is probably one of the safest areas in America, but there are other areas where it is dangerous. Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah gave a fatwa, and it was a very good, sound fatwa. His point was that if Muslim women were in danger of being harmed or accosted, they should not go out, and if they have to go out, he said that they are not obliged to wear the hijab. That is what he said. He gave all his usuli proofs for it, so I would stipulate with that that if there are dire circumstances, then that is a dire rukhsa from a person with a valid license in Islamic law because Islam is an intelligent religion. The laws are there to serve human beings; we are not there to serve the law. We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law.
That is where the confusion lies because people do not realize that. The law is for our benefit, not for our harm. Therefore, if the law harms us, we no longer have to abide by it. For example, pig is prohibited because it harms us, but if we are going to die without eating pig, we do not follow the law anymore because now the law says eat the pig. If you are worshipping the law, then you cannot understand that. You cannot worship the sacred law because the law is there to serve you; it is for your maslaha, your benefit, and that is our fiqh.
At night, especially, people have to be careful. It is always better to be in groups. Generally in most places, people will come to your defense. There is a lot of sensitivity in this area. There are non-Muslim women all over the country who have been wearing scarves in solidarity with the Muslim women. It has been shown all over. I would recommend having a PR campaign.
Show pictures of Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary since they are basically wearing the hijab, and explain that this is a sign of purity as it always has been, so people should not desecrate it. Do this to remind them that it is from their own tradition. Also, have a picture of a nun next to a Muslim woman, and ask why is one pure and the other impure? By what criteria are you judging? You can do things like that just to take things home to people.
Q: What should we do about sending children to school these days, and how should we advise them to deal with teasing?
Shaykh Hamza: The first question is very serious because there are a lot of children in the schools who are being blamed by people. Children really can be very cruel. I hate the idea of group mentality, groupthink, cliques, gangs, and clubs because children really suffer in such environments. School is meant to be a place where you enhance your mind, not where the mind is shrunk, so I think it is time to consider home schooling or Muslim schools.
I think public schools are difficult places, but people are different. If you are in a more educated area, I think you will come across more people who do not have those attitudes. Also, in the real underbelly areas, underclass areas, people, especially African-American communities, tend to know about Islam, and they know Islam is a good thing. A lot of African-Americans in this culture have a good view of Islam, and that is positive because there has been a lot of work done in those areas to take that message out to people.
I thing there is more of a problem in the middle-America type scene. I think you need to talk to your children a lot. My son saw one of those films of these hooded guys breaking in, and there was a cross that he attacked. My son said to me, "Oh, those could not be Muslims," and I asked why not? He replied, "A Muslim would never attack a cross." That is just how he saw it, and that is true. We do not desecrate crosses. That is a sacred symbol of their religion. Sayyiduna Umar did not desecrate crosses when he went into Jerusalem. Jerusalem was opened by the Muslims; the keys were given to the Muslims.
This is an opportunity for our children to be proud and to let others know, "terrorism is not my religion." Do not teach them to be cow-tailed and to capitulate to that type of pressure. It is important for them to be affirmative. Children tend to respect courage. The thing a bully loves most is that you just fall apart. If you stand up to him, even if you lose the fight, everybody has respect for you afterwards.
Q: What do you think about the Taliban?
Shaykh Hamza: I do not like to get into Afghani politics because it is very complicated, but I think we should be against war. I personally am totally against modern warfare; I really am. I think Muslims should be much more outspoken about the prohibitions. Gai Eaton wrote a book saying that Muslim scholars have taken positions about emulsifiers and biscuit ingredients that are dubious, but somehow, they just have not really come out and condemned modern warfare for what it is; it is evil. Modern warfare uses weapons of mass destruction, and we do not believe in weapons of mass destruction. We can say they have them, so we need them. Well, take that to its logical conclusion. They can destroy us, so we have to be able to destroy them.
Well, if everybody can destroy everybody else, I guess we are all going to be destroyed. It is called, "Mutually Assured Destruction: MAD." That is what they used to call it in the Cold War. The logic used is that if they can wipe us all out, we should at least be able to get our missiles off before their missiles hit us and wipe us all out; at least we will wipe them all out too, so we all get wiped out, and nobody wins. Great. That is not an end or aim of shari'a. You cannot kill with fire, which eliminates nuclear power. No one can kill with fire except the Lord of fire. You cannot poison, so there goes biological and chemical warfare. "Do not poison the wells of your enemies." Well, what does that mean? Who is going to drink the water? They are and their animals, which means they would die of chemicals. So, we are told, do not use chemical warfare either. There goes modern warfare. In addition, we are prohibited from indiscriminate killing. So, we should speak out against this stuff. We should be at the forefront of the movement against weapons of mass destruction, really.
Q: Should Muslims support and participate with Leftist groups who are working for justice and anti-war movements?
Shaykh Hamza: I think that there are a lot of good people in such movements. For example, the people with KPFA are good people. Also, my brother was saying he wants to put an Afghani flag on his car, and my mother keeps saying, "We are to blame." She was in the Civil Rights era, and she did a lot of work in the anti-war movements. She is against all that stuff. She said we pay our taxes, and so we have some complicity in all this stuff that is happening. There are a lot of Americans who know that. They are an intelligent minority because a lot of people do not know. Even intelligent, educated Americans have no knowledge of what goes on in the rest of the world, and you know that. You see it again and again. Really, intelligent people who are really good in their fields know nothing about the types of suffering that are going on in other parts of the world.
On the other hand, from a Quranic perspective, we also have to get out of pointing our fingers and blaming the West all the time because that is an empty, disempowering road to go down. Muslims need to take some responsibility for why we have the most corrupt countries on the planet. You just cannot blame the West for that. Nobody puts a gun to your head and forces you to take bribes, but that is what happens in the Muslim countries.
You can blame it on the conditions, but what brought about the conditions? The West? Well, what brought about the West? Allah is in charge of the universe or not? He gives His dominion to whomever He pleases. In other words, Muslims are not the only ones who get dominion in this world, and if He gives it to other than Muslims, it is because Muslims cannot handle it.
Think about that.
Everybody says the Americans do all this terrible stuff around the world. The only reason that Muslim countries are not doing it is because they do not have the power. That is why they can only do it to their own population, and I am serious about this. All they can do is torture, persecute, and oppress their own population because they are not able to do it outside of their own country whereas there is a lot of bad stuff going on outside this country and bad stuff that goes on inside this country as well, but that is the reality of it. We are in a bad situation all around, but this is the best world that we have, and it is the one that Allah gave us. This is it, and all we can do is work to make the whole thing better. That is our role, historically. As Muslims, we have to stand for the truth and with those who speak the truth whether it comes from us or from others.
Q: Recently a co-worker asked me if I could say that Osama Bin Laden is a non-Muslim and if he truly did this act. How should I respond?
Shaykh Hamza: I think it is important to tell people that murder is not a reason for being out of Islam. Whether he did this or not, he claims he did not do it, and people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. There needs to be due process of the law in terms of this incident. In terms of Bin Laden, from what I have heard from his own mouth in taped broadcasts, which I have seen, he has some serious misconceptions about Islamic law because you cannot claim that American civilians are halal to kill; you cannot say that. No matter what your disagreements are with the foreign policy of this country, civilians are civilians, and we do not believe in killing innocent civilians.
Now, I have never met him; I do not know him, and I really do not know very much; I have only heard clips and such. Irrespective of who he is, I know that at one time, he was considered a hero and a freedom fighter by the Reagan administration. That is a fact. He was trained by the CIA. He was initially sent to Afghanistan by the Saudi government's backing, and he collected a lot of money. He built some hospitals and some charity organizations; he did a lot of good in that area. Now, though, the problem is that according to Islamic law, he does not represent legitimate state authority. He has no authority to declare war on anybody. He is not the khalifah. If he represents 3,000 men, those people are whom he represents.
There are a lot of Muslims around the world that feel this kind of solidarity with him, and I think that it is misplaced emotionalism. It is a romantic type of image of an individual standing up. It is like David versus Goliath, and as I explained to Ed Bradley, America loves underdogs that stand up against all odds. Hollywood movies are filled with these types of characters.
Saddam Hussein is considered a hero to some Muslims. The guy is one of the worst criminals in the history of Muslim rulers. The man is a criminal. He has killed incredible amounts of people, gassed his own people and other Muslims, but here is a guy that postures and says, "the Mother of all Battles," and unfortunately the Muslims are in a beleaguered, defeated, and humiliated state, and so anybody that raises their head and shows this kind of posturing is seen as a hero by a lot of Muslims who feel this gung-ho type of thing. However, it is very dangerous for us to say that Osama Bin Laden represents Muslim law because he does not. He does not have that authority, and people have to understand that by shari'a, he does not have that authority. The only people who can declare jihad are legitimate rulers, and none of these groups has that legitimacy. I am sorry, but that is shari'a, and I challenge anybody to bring textual evidence for proof otherwise.
Q: In an interview, you mentioned that the Qur'an never used the word jihad to imply fighting and the Qur'an never mentioned hur al-'ain.
Shaykh Hamza: I did not say the Qur'an never mentions hur al-'ain. I said that the 72 virgins is not in the Qur'an. It is in the hadith. About jihad, there is no verse where jihad is specifically used to refer to war, and you can look through the entire Qur'an. When Allah speaks about war, He uses the word qital. Jihad is a general, comprehensive term that includes a military endeavor that is for the truth, but it has the broadest meanings in the Qur'an. It includes all that Muslims struggle to do. For example, building schools is a jihad; fighting the nafs is a jihad; and so forth. That is why the Qur'an does not limit the word. Juhud just means struggle, and that was what I meant in the interview. There are verses where it does refer to martial combat, but it does not specifically limit the term to that one use, and that is why we do not have a "holy war," so to speak. The struggle for the sake of Allah is a high thing.
What I said about hur al-'ain is that the 72 virgins is not mentioned in the Qur'an. I did say that you have to be very careful about literalism with the Qur'an. For example, the Qur'an says about Allah, "there is nothing like Allah," and then what does Allah say after that? He says, "and He is the All-Hearing and the All-Knowing." Well, how would you know what All-Hearing and All-Knowing is if you did not have hearing and knowing? Also, Allah sees, so how would you know what sight is if you did not have sight? Allah gave you sight, but is your sight like the sight of Allah? Absolutely not.
Now, Allah says about jannah that it is something no eye has seen, and it never occurred to the human heart. So, when you look at the other descriptions of paradise in the Qur'an, you have to know that those are approximations. Do not think that Allah is describing physical types of things that we know of in this world. That is what Imam Al-Ghazali said, and that is what the 'ulama say. One of the things that some people are trying to use against Islam is that they say we envision paradise as being this type of sexual romp or something like that, which is a terrible thing. For the human being, the highest level of pleasure is in sexual relations, and therefore, it would be appropriate, according to what Imam Al-Ghazali says, to give some indication of the pleasures of paradise by talking about something that human beings know about, which is that experience, because the majority of human beings do not have intense mystical experiences in their life. There are mystics who do have these experiences that are very profound and intense, but most people do not. The most intense experience that they will have of pleasure is in this act, and when Allah describes the pleasures of paradise, He uses those examples because they are close to people's understandings.
That is not to say that hur al-'ain do not exist because they are real. However, to think that they are somehow related to the bestial elements of this world is incorrect. Allah says that these are pure beings. Paradise is total purity, so, it is about purity; its not about anything that relates to the mud of this world; that is euros. It is in the world. So, I said that because I think that sometimes people misunderstand the way Muslims view paradise. For example, what is in it for the women? What do the women get? Well, jealousy is removed from their hearts, they say. Allah says that both of them get their rewards. Believing men and believing women get the same rewards in paradise. Another thing to remember is that the highest station in paradise is the presence of Allah; it has nothing to do with any sensual description. The lowest jannah is the jannah of food and drink, and those are just approximations. Do not think that paradise is going to be just eating and drinking like here. It is not.
Q: Would the firefighters in New York be considered shahid by Islamic shari'a?
Shaykh Hamza: I think that is for Allah to judge. I believe people are taken to account based on what they know. According to Imam Al-Ghazali, and Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj told me this as well, if people have not heard the message of Islam, they are not taken to account for Islam. I think that people who do good deeds, according to our beliefs, are rewarded for the good that they do. Even Abu-Lahab is given water in the hellfire for freeing a slave the day that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam was born, and that is in a sound hadith. If Abu Lahab, the worst enemy of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam is rewarded for the good he did in this world, our Lord is a Just Lord, and He rewards good. So, what I did say is that if there were martyrs in this situation, then certainly they would be those people, but I cannot say who is a martyr and who is not. Even if a Muslim dies fi sabilillah, you hope that he is a martyr, but you cannot say with any certainty because it is for Allah to decide if it was sincerely for the sake of Allah, but they were heroic people; they were good people.
The man I sat next to that night in Washington was one of the heroes of that day, and I told him it is an honor sitting next to you. He was an Irish fireman from New York, and he said in response, "Don't say that. I shouldn't even be here; I was just doing my job." That is literally what he said to me in total sincerity. Then I said to him, "You guys did a great job," and he said, "No, we didn't." He said, "We should have gotten a lot more people out of there," and he said the city has a lot to answer for because that was a very poorly executed operation. He said a lot more people should be alive.
Q: A number of non-Muslims asked me about what they could do to help. What should I tell them?
Shaykh Hamza: Finding out about Islam is a really good thing to do to help. I would really recommend Dr. Thomas Cleary's, The Essential Koran. I think it is a really useful introduction because the Qur'an has verses about which even Muslims need to know the interpretations, and there are all these translations out there without interpretations. There are verses like, "strike them if they're disobedient" referring to women, and the outward of that ayah does not mean what it appears, and it cannot be used to justify domestic violence.
Shaykh Hamza: This question is about the shooting of the Muslim woman in the head in public. I have never heard of that as a punishment. I know that if you look at the hudud, what are called the penal laws of Islam, you are supposed to try to avoid implementing these penal punishments as much as you are able to, and that is the real spirit of the shari'a. I would say that Afghanistan is in a condition right now where you cannot implement the had punishments. Sayyiduna Umar removed had punishments during a famine because people who would not normally steal were stealing, and I think that conditions are extreme in Afghanistan right now. For instance, with adultery, you have to look at how many men have been killed in Afghanistan.
How many women are completely on their own now? The shari'a is a merciful law. It teaches people to look for mercy. I think people locally really need to help ING. They need more volunteers, more full-time people, and you need to sacrifice with your wealth and your time as well. I think it is really important to help those organizations that are most effective. I feel sorry for the entire Afghani population, not just there, but here as well. They are people who have just seen too much pain and suffering, like the Palestinians and like other Muslim peoples, and our hearts need to be with them; they really do. The Jews have seen a lot of suffering also; they really have. A lot of what goes on in Palestine is a result of the type of interiorization of the abuse and humiliation that they experienced in Europe, and a lot of people do not realize that. They have internalized that humiliation and treatment. Dr. Cleary mentioned how they used to make the Jews run naked through the streets in European cities and whip them and spit on them. People forget that. So, there is a lot of suffering out there, and I think that we should be more compassionate.
Q: If Bin Laden does go to trial, who should try him?
Shaykh Hamza: He has allegiance to the king of Saudi Arabia, and that is who his bay'ah is with. All Saudi citizens are required to take bay'ah with the king of Saudi Arabia, so that is their concern.
Q: My family is non-Muslim, and the more I try to tell them that this was not Islam, the more angry they get with me. What should I do?
Shaykh Hamza: That is sad because my family had an opposite reaction. I am really sorry about that. This is one of the unfortunate repercussions.
Q: What should I do to help if I lack knowledge?
Shaykh Hamza: I think that the best way to help, if you do lack the knowledge and things like that, is to support the organizations that are doing this type of work. That is the best you can do.
I want to thank all of you, in sha Allah, for coming. Don't give up. If anyone wants to know who is really behind the conspiracy, know that it is Iblis. He is our avowed enemy, so just recognize that, and do not go into despair. Do dhikr; remember Allah; do the Prophetic Invocations or other dhikr. Do dhikr. This is a time to really be in a state of dhikr. Have love, mahabba; have some love. This is a time to put aside our petty differences because we are facing much, much greater things. Really, have some respect for your Muslim brothers and sisters. As for the ones who are making mistakes out there, just forgive them, and know that they are trying. There are some fools amongst us, and they are often worse than our enemies. Like they say, give me an intelligent enemy and not a stupid friend. It is Arab proverb because they say a stupid friend harms you when he thinks he is trying to help you. At least with an intelligent enemy, you know he is trying to harm you. So, barak Allah fikum.