By Stu Bykofsky
Philadelphia Daily News
FAIR OR NOT, many Americans see a link between Islam and 9/11, which explains some opposition to the Park51 Islamic Center-cum-mosque near Ground Zero and the hateful plan of a Florida minister to burn Qurans.
Additionally, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last Sunday interviewed a British-born jihadist, Imam Anjem Choudary, who made highly disturbing comments, including his religious view that Islam cannot coexist with democracy.
Since most Americans know little about Islam, I asked two local American Muslims to talk about how they understand and practice their faith. They eagerly agreed. One is Rafiyq Friend, a courts employee; the other is Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Pennsylvania branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
STU BYKOFSKY: Choudary praised the 9/11 attack on the U.S.A. How do you feel about it?
RAFIYQ FRIEND: As an American Muslim I condemn any attack where the loss of innocent lives takes place. The Holy Quran says that when you kill one innocent life it’s as if you’ve killed all life.
MOEIN M. KHAWAJA: Muslims, especially Muslim Americans, despise this man, Choudary, and are appalled that Britain cannot find reason to arrest him. 9/11 stabbed Muslim Americans in the heart twice. Once because our country was horribly attacked, and two, because the faith that gives meaning, peace and purpose to our lives was terribly and unjustly tarnished by al-Qaeda.
SB: Do you condone suicide attacks against civilians? Does it matter if they are Muslims or non-Muslims?
FRIEND: There is no place in the doctrine of Islam that says you can take your life or kill others in the process. This includes Muslims and non-Muslims.
KHAWAJA: Islam does not condone suicide at all, under any circumstance. Worldwide, Muslims have been the victims of terrorism more than anyone. All moral, peaceful people are on the same side. This is not a Muslim vs. non-Muslim issue. Terrorism is an issue of evil against humanity.
SB: Choudary wants Sharia, Islamic law, in Britain. Some Muslims in Europe are pushing for Sharia. How hard would you push for Sharia law for America?
FRIEND: The Sharia is and should be applicable [only] to those who practice the religion of Islam. The purpose of Sharia is for one to impart justice in Islamic communities. The Prophet Muhammad embraced religious tolerance as long as it did not conflict with those who practiced Islam.
KHAWAJA: There is a lot of misinformation as to what exactly Sharia is, even amongst Muslims. Sharia is a set of principles – do not cheat, treat others well, justice, etc. – derived from Islamic texts. The vast majority of these principles are moral guidelines which cannot ever be enforced; it is a matter between you and God. I would not push for Sharia-inspired law in America, as our great country already has the civic foundation set up for a just society. Where I do follow Sharia is in my personal moral guidance, and that is not to be forced on anyone.
SB: Choudary says he is a Muslim “first and last,” that Britain’s passport is merely a travel document. Are American Muslims Americans first, or Muslims first?
FRIEND: I believe the majority of American Muslims think of themselves as Americans who practice the religion of Islam.
KHAWAJA: Am I an American first or a Pennsylvanian first? People have multiple societal identities that can coexist without any problems. Muslim Americans are Americans, and they pray to God like Muslims, it’s quite simple.
SB: Choudary says democracy and freedom are anathema to Islam. Do you agree? Why?
FRIEND: Islam and democracy can coexist. God Almighty has given man the opportunity to choose, and clearly there is a distinction between right and wrong. The Holy Quran says there should be no compulsion when it comes to the matter of religion.
KHAWAJA: Open discourse and the freedom of conscience and speech is an absolute requirement for Islam to flourish. Extremism emerges where freedom is suppressed. Islam is a religion and not a government system; it flourishes in communist China, in the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia and in the democracy of America. Islam is healthier and reaches its full potential when practiced within the political context of a democratic culture.
SB: Choudary demands all Western forces leave Muslim lands, even when they are there by invitation of the rulers. Osama bin Laden says the same. Your reaction?
FRIEND: If Western forces have been invited by their leaders they should not have to leave as long as they do not interfere with that country’s government or their religious practices.
KHAWAJA: It is fine to have a political objection to something, it is not fine to express that political objection through violence. Bin Laden and Choudary are wrong to link a political demand to Islam or religious matters, let alone advocate violence as the answer.
SB: Mr. Khawaja, please address accusations that CAIR is “linked” to terrorist organizations.
KHAWAJA: If there were a shred of evidence that CAIR were connected with any wrongdoing, the U.S. government would have shut it down. Instead, the U.S. government gives tax deductions to those who donate to CAIR, as our chapter is a 501(c)3 organization. CAIR has an undisputed 16-year track record of public service work.
Some readers may not accept Friend’s and Khawaja’s words as the truth. I give them the benefit of any doubt and call upon all American Muslims, who are almost entirely moderate, to lift their voices loud and often against the jihadists who cause the world so much pain.