Prominent American Muslims denounce terror committed in the name of Islam
Transcript of CBS's 60 Minutes interview on Sept 30, 2001 between Ed Bradley and
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of California
Imam Siraj Wahaj of Brooklyn
Dr. Farid Esack, Visiting Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Hamburg
Imam Faisal Abdur Rauf of Lower Manhattan
Dr. Vali Nasir, Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego
Bradley: When the suspects in the September 11 bombings were identified as Muslims, people who follow the teachings of Islam, President Bush went to great lengths to point out that the overwhelming majority of the world's more than one billion Muslims are decent, law- abiding citizens. How then is it that a religion that promises peace, harmony, and justice to those who follow the will of Allah can have in their midst thousands committed to terrorism in the name of Allah? Tonight we'll try to answer that question. Every Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m., Imam Faisal Abdul-Raouf leads an Islamic prayer service at the al-Farah mosque. This is not in Cairo, not Baghdad, not Riyadh. This mosque is in downtown New York City, just 12 blocks from where the world trade center once stood, where the U.S. government says Muslims perpetrated the worst act of terrorism in our country's history. This area had been cordoned off by police because it was so close to ground zero, so until Friday, imam Faisal and his congregation had been unable to pray here. How do you feel as a Muslim, knowing that people of your faith committed this act, that resulted in the loss of 6,000 lives?
Faisal: It's painful. When this thing first happened, everybody in the community said, "Oh, God, let this not be a person from our faith, tradition, from our background."
Bradley: What would you say to people in this country who, looking at what happened in the Middle East, would associate Islam with fanaticism, with terrorism?
Faisal: Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam. That's just as absurd as associating Hitler with Christianity, or David Koresh with Christianity. There are always people who will do peculiar things, and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion. But the Koran is... God says in the Koran that they think that they are doing right, but they are doing wrong.
Bradley: There are now more than six million Muslims in the United States, more than the number of Episcopalians, or Lutherans, or Methodists, or Presbyterians. Islam is now this country's fastest-growing religion. After Friday’s service, we talked with some members of the al-Farah mosque. So the average American, if you say "Islam," what do they think?
Congregant: When I think trouble... The average? The average American, they think trouble, terrorism. Terrorism, yes. Fear. And you know what? I think all of us wish to speak to all... Every American and tell them, hey, we are American, and we're Muslims. We're not terrorism.
Bradley: Explain for someone who doesn't know, who doesn't understand your religion in the simplest term.
Congregant: in the simplest term, Islam says that human life is the most sacrosanct, and there is no way that Islam would allow a suicide mission, and would allow the killing of innocents.
Congregant: Islam means a submission to god. It also means peace to a lot of people, which is what it means to me. "Islamic terrorism": I mean, those two words have no meaning to me as a Muslim.
Bradley: But Muslim terrorists, in the name of Islam, have struck against the United States time and time again. Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in these latest attacks, is also thought to have been responsible for the car bomb attack in Saudi Arabia that killed five Americans; the attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 sailors; the deaths of 18 US army rangers in Somalia; and the bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa that killed 224 people. We met with four of this country's leading Islamic religious leaders to talk about this wave of terror, including the most recent attack at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Imam Siraj Wahaj of Brooklyn, did you think Muslims could have committed this?
Wahaj: No, just from theological process, Islam doesn't only talk about the ends, but also the means; that however angry you are, you couldn't do anything like this. You couldn't kill innocent people.
Bradley: Imam Hamza Yusuf of California:
Yusuf: It's prohibited in Islam to torture animals. It's prohibited to kill animals without just cause. So the idea of killing human beings, innocent human beings, is anathema to Muslims. They're deeply shocked by it.
Bradley: While Islam forbids the killing of innocents, in this 1998 interview, bin Laden justified the US embassy bombings in Africa, saying every American man is our enemy, whether he is a soldier or a taxpayer. As for the women and children who died, he says women and children die every day in Palestine. In a statement last week, bin Laden called for a jihad or holy war in the name of Allah.
Yusuf: I would say that he has no legitimate authority, that in Islam jihad can only be declared by legitimate state authority. And this is accepted by consensus. There is no vigilantism in Islam. Muslims believe in state authority.
Bradley: You think he's a vigilante?
Yusuf: absolutely, absolutely. All Muslims are guided by the words of Islam's holy book, the Koran, which is believed to be the word of God, and explains how Muslims should lead their lives. It also says fighting should only be in self-defense, a fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but be not aggressive. And the Koran forbids suicide. They cannot bring any textual evidence from the Koran, from the traditions of the prophet, to prove anything that justifies what they've done.
Bradley: So then it's outright aggression?
Yusuf: It's outright aggression.
Bradley: It has nothing to do with Islam?
Yusuf: That's my belief.
Bradley: So if the people who are responsible for this are followers of Islam, how do they justify this?
Yusuf: There is no justification. But how do Christians have to justify Christians who kill people at abortion clinics? Many of the terrorist activities in this country are actually done by extremist Christian elements, and I don't think anybody in the mainstream Christian world would see that as anything other than a serious aberration. Unfortunately, because of our ignorance in this country of Islam, we see these type of things, and there is an assumption that somehow Islam condones this thing.
Bradley: it is the Islamic belief in the afterlife that could be an incentive to die in the name of Islam. According to the prophet Mohammed, the next life is paradise, offering forgiveness.
Faisal: In the Islamic belief system, the next life is the primary life. The next life is more real, more intense, and more vivid.
Yusuf: I think that there are people that do these things that believe that we have a noble end, and the noble end is to bring about some kind of conflict to wake up the Muslim world, to start a global jihad against the evil west.
Bradley: And the Satan of the evil west, according to Muslim extremists, is the United States and its culture of commercialism, which Imam Farid Esack equates with a religion.
Esack: it is the fastest- growing religion in the world, the religion of consumerism, and everybody is being drawn into this new religion. And if you do not buy into this, you are an outcast, you are a heretic, and there is the hellfire of utter poverty which awaits you.
Bradley: And throughout the Muslim world, there is also strong opposition to America's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East because of its support of Israel and economic sanctions against Iraq.
Faisal: it is a reaction against the US government politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries.
Bradley: Are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?
Faisal: I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but united states policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.
Bradley: You say that we're an accessory? How?
Faisal: Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.
Bradley: Bin Laden and his supporters were, in fact, recruited and paid nearly $4 billion by the CIA and the government of Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to fight with the mujahadeen rebels against the former Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan. After the Soviets pulled out, the Saudis, our best friends in the Arab world, our staunchest ally during the Gulf War, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the newly-formed Taleban regime, and then felt that bin Laden and the Taliban were out of control. Bin Laden's faith is a strict, puritanical form of Islam called Washbasin, which was founded in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia, and is now that country's predominant ideology.
Vali Nasir: Wahabism tends to produce increasingly that kind of stark view of what is right and what is wrong.
Bradley: Vali Nasir, a Muslim and Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego, is an expert on Islamic extremist movements.
Nasir: It's more likely to support the kinds of violence that the majority of Muslims don't believe their faith actually supports.
Bradley: Osama bin Laden grew up a Wahabi in Saudi Arabia, and has turned that extreme vision of Islam into a terrorism network that has backed the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and has adherents in violent fundamentalist movements in more than 20 countries. At the core of Wahabism is Saudi Arabia, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars promoting this ideology, which forbids any form of music, dance, or movies. Those who drink alcohol can be flogged, and anyone who commits adultery can face execution. When you say that Saudi Arabia is the ideological center of gravity for Muslim extremists, Muslim fanatics...
Nasir: Well, because Saudi Arabia has been exporting its vision of Islam, has been investing in religious institutions, education systems, movements that promote its vision of Islam, and has contributed enormously to ideologization and fanaticization of Islam all the way from Malaysia to Morocco.
Bradley: And how does that view of Islam promote violence?
Nasir: Well, it makes it more likely that, given the crises that are rampant in the Muslim world, it's much easier that a militant, fanatical interpretation of Islam becomes the basis for launching movements that are increasingly turning violent.
Bradley: But is there a big leap from that to an act of terror?
Nasir: There is a leap, but the issue is that that helps legitimate an act of terror, that helps recruitment for an act of terror. What Saudi Arabia is doing is not promoting terrorism, it is promoting that climate.
Bradley: One of the ways the Saudis have been promoting that climate is to finance religious schools, many of them on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where young Muslims from around the world go to be indoctrinated in the strict tenets of Wahabism. Imam Farid Esack was one of them. He spent eight years in a seminary, where he was given lessons not only in Islam, but also in urban warfare and the ultimate sacrifice.
Esack: The notion was that death in the path of god was the highest of our aspirations.
Bradley: what is the basic philosophy that was taught in seminaries like the one you attended?
Esack: I think that there is sense of a very literal understanding of the faith and a profound sense that if we adhere to the literal understanding of the faith, then we will be saved. But then there's also a sense that we are the only ones in the world that really matter, and that other people in the rest of the world, particularly people who do not share our faith, they do not matter.
Bradley: do you think that teachings like that have contributed in any way to the proliferation of extremism and even terrorism in the region and from the region?
Esack: Yes. I certainly... I have no doubt about it.
Bradley: We wanted to talk to the Saudi government, but its embassy in Washington did not respond to our request. Last week, the Saudis broke off diplomatic relations with the Taleban. And now the United States, in the words of President Bush, is in hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taleban forces harboring him in Afghanistan, a prospect that frightens Muslim leaders in America.
Yusuf: If we're going to go into the Muslim world for more collateral damage, more bombing, more death, more destruction, the creation of more extreme conditions, we're not going to win a war on terrorism. We're going to in fact exacerbate the symptoms.
Esack: So the way in which the United States and its allies in the world today go about and dealing with this crisis, that will really determine for a very, very long time the nature of whether fundamentalism will grow and whether it rears its many, many ugly heads.
Bradley: You said earlier that you point the finger at US policy, I think, as an accessory to the crime, is that right? Let me point the finger at you for a minute. What have you personally done to denounce Muslim fundamentalist beliefs that inform these terrorists?
Siraj: Ed, if you're asking the question, have we as Muslims done enough, no, I don't think we have. We should do more. And I think one of the lessons of this tragedy is to do something. The question is, what do we as a Muslim world-- 1.2 billion Muslims-- what do we do now to make it a better world?
Bradley: Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the responsibility... Does not Islam, does not Allah require that Muslims police their own religion and rid themselves of extremists?
Yusuf: Yes, absolutely. It's an obligation for Muslims to root them out. And I think it is a jihad now for the Muslims in the Muslim country to rid themselves of this element.