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|Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys|
Islamic Faith Panel Discussion Follow-up Resources
On Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 7:00-8:30 p.m., RHPL held a panel discussion on the Islamic Faith, which was presented in conjunction with the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys grant. This page includes follow-up information from the program.
The Islamic Faith Panel Discussion program was given as part of the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys, which is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, conducted in cooperation with the American Library Association. Support was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional support for the arts and media components was provided by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Speaker contact information
Imam Naseem Mahdi, national vice president and missionary-in-charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
Dr. Achmat Salie, program developer and creator of the Islamic Studies Program at the University of Detroit Mercy
Imam Aly M. Lela, currently the Imam of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD) in Rochester Hills, MI.
Books suggested by speakers
Remaining unanswered questions for speakers
1. Are Islamic extremist groups primarily Shiite or Sunni Muslims?
Dr. Salie: Read the work of Doug Saunders-Myth of the Muslim tide and Please read the works (Dying to Win) of Dr. Robert Papes who teaches at Chicago University. On page three he noted that 95% of all suicides occur as resistance to occupation; as soon as Israel left Lebanon after a brutal occupation –all suicides stopped (that is zero suicides) and no bloodbath ensued. Article Link
Imam Mahdi: My answer to this question is the same that I give when anyone wants to talk about extremists. Extremists have the same ungoldy religion, EXTREMISM, whether they pretend to be speaking or acting on behalf of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, Agnosticism or Islam. So extremists pretending to speak or act in the name of Islam are neither primarily Shia nor Sunni - they are wholly followers of the same ungodly religion followed by all extremists.
2. Which book is most important? The Bible or the Quran?
Dr. Salie: The Quran is important to Muslims and it should be to all global citizens. The Injil (Gospels) is one of several sacred texts revered by Muslims and the Holy Text of Christians; for Catholics the Apocryphal Writings are part of the Bible. Muslims also reference the Gospel of Barnabas in addition to the Injil.
Imam Mahdi: The Holy Quran teaches Muslims to be very careful about the religious sensitivities of people. It tells all Muslims to treat all Messengers with equality and the Prophet Muhammad himself advised his Companions to not go around declaring the superiority of Muhammad over other Prophets. The Holy Quran requires Muslims to believe in the truth of Prophets sent to all parts of the world in all times of need by the Gracious God and the Books revealed by God. This belief of Muslims is not out of political correctness it is a belief that is based on the Unity and Universality of God. So The Holy Quran tells us to believe in the Bible, the Vedas and all other Holy Scriptures. Without this belief a Muslim's faith is incomplete. So BELIEF in all God's Prophets and Books is integral part of a Muslim's faith. This is so important that it is laid out very early in the Holy Quran. In the Second Chapter of the Holy Quran God says while describing the righteous, ".. who believe in that which has been revealed to thee, and that which was revealed before thee, and they have firm faith in what is yet to come." [Chapter 2, verse 5]
3. How can you prove that Muhammad is God's message and the last prophet?
Dr. Salie: Depends on who is asking: Militant atheists, polemical Christians, fellow Muslims, or Muslims with a definite opinion about the seal of prophet hood. The Ahmadiyyah embrace the concept of a shadow prophet or the mujaddid (which the majority accepts).
Islam has a doctrine of the impeccability of prophets; as spiritual ambassadors prophets are sinless. Many Christians use the word prophet very broadly; MLK for instance, had a prophetic voice. Sunnis and Shias have written extensively about prophesy and Muhammad's position as the last brick in the wall of prophets; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ were all prophets. The Quran regards Isa (Jesus) as the anointed one-masih or christos (wiped). Some Arab prophets such as Hud and Salih are not Biblical. Solomon and David are also prophets in Islam. Muslims add (upon him be peace) after the name of every prophet. Many prophets have not been mentioned. Muslims later looked at many founders of religions and philosophers and included them in the list of prophets that have not been mentioned.
Imam Mahdi: The greatest proof of Muhammad's message being from God is obtainable only by experiencing God oneself. All other arguments, talk and reasoning is no good inasmuch as no one can prove any particular scientific theory to be true by just talking about it. Following Muhammad's teachings, even if only for the sake of conducting the experiment, I believe a person can establish a true and living connection with God and thus one can him or her self achieve certainty - the certainty that can provide one the wherewithall needed to effect a spiritual cleansing and avoid the temptation to commit sin and iniquity and learn to love and stop hating.
The proof of Muhammad being the "khataman nabeeyyeen," very incompletely translated as "last prophet," is something that is provided by the very verse in which this title is bestowed upon the Prophet Muhammad:
[33:41] Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has full knowledge of all things.
The Arabic word "khatam" is derived from "khatama" which means, he sealed, stamped, impressed or imprinted the thing. This is the primary signification of this word. The secondary meaning is, he reached the end of the thing; or covered the thing; or protected what is in a writing by marking or stamping a piece of clay upon it, or by means of a seal of any kind. "Khatam" means, a signet-ring; a seal or stamp and a mark; the end or last part or portion, and result or issue of a thing. The word also signifies embellishment or ornament; the best and most perfect.
So the expression Khataman Nabeeyyeen would mean, "the Seal of the Prophets; the best and most perfect of the Prophets; the embellishment and ornament of the Prophets. Secondarily it means the last of the Prophets.
At Mecca, when all the Holy Prophet's male children had died in their childhood, his enemies taunted him with being Abtar (one who has no male issue), meaning that in the absence of male heirs to succeed him his Movement would sooner or later come to an end. In answer to this taunt of disbelievers, it was emphatically declared in Sura Kausar [Chapter 108] – that not the Prophet, but his enemies would remain issueless. After the revelation of Sura Kausar, the idea naturally found favor with early Muslims that the Prophet would be blessed with sons who would live to an adult age.
This verse [Chapter 33, verse 41] removed that misconception inasmuch as it declared that the Prophet is not, never was, nor will ever be the father of any grown-up young men (Rijaal, meaning grown-up young men). The verse – while appearing to be in conflict with Sura Kausar, in which not the Holy Prophet but his enemies were threatened with being issueless – in reality seeks to set at rest doubts and misgivings to which this seeming contradiction gives rise. It says that the Holy Prophet is Rasul Allah, signifying that he is the spiritual father of a whole Ummah, and he is also Khatam al-Nabiyyin, signifying that he is the spiritual father of a whole Ummah and he is also Khataman Nabeeyyeen, signifying that he is the spiritual father of all the Prophets. So when he is the spiritual father of all believers and of all Prophets, how can he be said to be issueless? If the expression be taken to mean that he is the last of the Prophets and that no Prophet will come after him, then the verse would appear to be out of tune, and to possess no relevance with the context, and instead of refuting the taunt of disbelievers that the Holy Prophet was issueless, would support and reinforce it.
4. Peace seems to be at the very core of your beliefs. How are we to reconcile that against the violence of Muslim religious extremists? Are they not breaking the tenets or laws of the Qur'an?
Dr. Salie: Violence and crime is never justified in any religion; The Army of Christ in the Congo, the KKK, more than 1,000 hate groups in the USA, and fascist political Christian parties in Europe do not speak for Christians, Dr. Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 worshippers in the mosque of Abraham did not represent Judaism (see Peter Bernart's Crisis of Zionism), the Tamil Tigers do not represent Buddhists and the BJP in India who massacred more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujuraat did not act on behalf of Hindus
Imam Mahdi: The term, "Muslim religious extremists," makes no sense whatsoever. What has the word Muslim to do with extremism? Muslim means a person who has attained peace, who personifies peace from whom peace emanates. How can a person be a Muslim and an extremist? The truth is that extremists have the same ungoldy religion, EXTREMISM, whether they pretend to be speaking or acting on behalf of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Budhism, Atheism, Agnosticism or Islam. So extremists pretending to speak or act in the name of Islam are breaking the most fundamental tenets not only of Islam but indeed of all religions that came to teach man to love God and serve humanity.
5. What is the role of today's Muslim clerics and leaders to stem the violence?
Dr. Salie: Perhaps the question should read, How do clergy protect their faith against the like of pastor Terri Jones and many pastors who demonise Islam and the Prophet or rabbi Kahane who incited violence. One of the major functions of Muslim 'clerics' is to teach, care for, and guide their communities. Islam's de facto clergy are shepherd to their flocks-shepherding brings out tender virtues in the shepherd (see belief.net). They have condemned all forms of terrorism in no uncertain terms. See the documentation by Dr Alan Godlas. Imams have a calming effect on their communities especially during times when Muslims are victims of profiling, entrapments by the FBI, and discrimination in schools and the workplace. Imams are the ambassadors for their communities; they see to their pastoral and celebratory needs, help them through grief and connect them with others who could help when they face layoffs and disability. Imams hold up the ideals of islam and the moral high ground at all times.
They warn against the dangers of "fundamentalism" (A Christian term) and reductionism. They motivate their communities to champion the jihads (holy struggles) of beauty, balance, wisdom, righteousness, and monumentality
Imam Mahdi: I think all religious leaders have a role to play in stemming violence perpetrated by people in the name of religion and I want to share with you the contents of a recent letter of congratulations to the newly elected Pope by the World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Fifth Khalifa of the Promised Messiah, His Holiness, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. This letter contains advice that I believe is applicable to all religious leaders and that if followed could stem the ever rising tide of violence in the name of religion:
His Holiness, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad wrote:
"First of all, I would like to offer congratulations to Pope Francis I and to Catholics across the world. May the appointment of the new Pope prove to be blessed not just for Christians but for all people across the globe. May the new Pope lead the Church towards the true teachings of Christianity.
I hope and pray that in the forthcoming era the Pope uses his influence to develop peace and harmony in the world. There is a great need to join together upon our common teachings and particularly upon the Unity of God.
Rather than increase division, the world desperately needs unity and compassion. This is something that I wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in a letter I sent to him in 2011.
In my letter to the Pope I also requested him to use his great influence to bring the people of the world together towards peace, reconciliation and mutual understanding and to strive to prevent the world from destruction. I send the same message to the new Pope as well.
In terms of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, we have always been at the forefront of promoting inter-faith harmony and striving for peace. We always co-operate with all people and organizations who desire peace and tolerance and will forever continue to do so.
Once again I congratulate Pope Francis and the Catholic Church and pray that the appointment proves to be a source of peace for the entire world."
6. Why don't we see more Muslim women out in the communities? Even at this meeting we see mostly men and boys – few women!
Dr. Salie: Many mothers put their children to bed early. We do have plenty of eloquent, elegant, and vocal Muslim ladies. Perhaps a program in the morning or on a weekend would have a different turn out- a program about parenting and gender issues would attract many mothers; many career women could be approached to speak for themselves.
Imam Mahdi: If you had come to a meeting arranged by our ladies you may not have seen any men at all! I can say with the fullest confidence that the women of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are fully active members of the communities in which they live wherever that may be in all the 200 countries the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is established in. To assure you that I am not just making a claim, let me state with 100 percent certainty that by God's Grace the women members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community excel the men in their levels of education and involvement in the work of the Community. Indeed I have often asked our male members to try and emulate the work and involvement ethics and discipline and tenacity and organization and if the male members did that we would have far greater success in our outreach efforts.
7. Do you believe dominance of Islam in the near future and how is it going to happen? Whether it is because of our effort or be a divine leader like Messiah?
Dr. Salie: We believe in the Second Coming of the Messiah to usher in a period of Peace and Submission to God (Islam).
Imam Mahdi: Islam talks about a very peculiar kind of victory and dominance and this is preserved in the Holy Quran itself and it is this dominance and victory that we are aspiring and praying and working and sacrificing for. This is presented interestingly enough in Chapter 110 which is entitled, "The Victory."
[110:1] In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
[110:2] When the help of Allah comes, and the victory,
[110:3] And thou seest men entering the religion of Allah in troops,
[110:4] Glorify thy Lord, with His praise, and seek forgiveness of Him. Surely He is Oft-Returning with compassion.
Normally when people talk of dominance they talk of armies entering the territories of the vanquished. Here the talk is of armies entering the religion of Allah...it is totally opposite to the kinds of victories the earthly people think about..
And what do the earthly victors do after entering the lands of the vanquished, they glorify themselves and sit on elevated thrones and have trumpets blown in their honor etc.
Here the victory is celebrated by humility and praising of God and of seeking forgiveness and compassion.
This is the victory Islam is seeking. The victory which is through winning the hearts, minds and souls of people. It has to be a victory that produces humility before God and that impresses upon one one's weakness and lowliness and not one that talks of vainglory and arrogance.
This is a victory that is indeed coming soon because it will be through this type a revolution in the state of man that will enable people of all the world to live in peace and harmony with each other.
8. What do you think about Coming Messiah? What will be his role in reviving religion?
Dr. Salie: See above
Imam Mahdi: We believe that Messiah awaited by all peoples from all the faiths has already come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. He founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community which is a dynamic, fast growing international revival movement within Islam. Founded in 1889, it spans over 200 countries with membership exceeding tens of millions. Its current headquarters are in the United Kingdom.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited Messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian. Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad's advent has brought about an unprecedented era of Islamic revival. He divested Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices by vigorously championing Islam's true and essential teachings. He also recognized the noble teachings of the great religious founders and saints, including Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu and Guru Nanak, and explained how such teachings converged into the one true Islam.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the leading Islamic organization to categorically reject terrorism in any form. Over a century ago, Ahmad emphatically declared that an aggressive "jihad by the sword" has no place in Islam. In its place, he taught his followers to wage a bloodless, intellectual "jihad of the pen" to defend Islam. To this end, Ahmad penned over 80 books and tens of thousands of letters, delivered hundreds of lectures, and engaged in scores of public debates. His rigorous and rational defenses of Islam unsettled conventional Muslim thinking. As part of its effort to revive Islam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to spread Ahmad's teachings of moderation and restraint in the face of bitter opposition from parts of the Muslim world.
Similarly, it is the only Islamic organization to endorse a separation of mosque and state. Over a century ago, Ahmad taught his followers to protect the sanctity of both religion and government by becoming righteous souls as well as loyal citizens. He cautioned against irrational interpretations of Quranic pronouncements and misapplications of Islamic law. He continually voiced his concerns over protecting the rights of God's creatures. Today, it continues to be an advocate for universal human rights and protections for religious and other minorities. It champions the empowerment and education of women. Its members are among the most law-abiding, educated, and engaged Muslims in the world.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the foremost Islamic organization with a central spiritual leader. Over a century ago, Ahmad reminded his followers of God's promise to safeguard the message of Islam through khilafat (the spiritual institution of successorship to prophethood). It believes that only spiritual successorship can uphold the true values of Islam and unite humanity. Five spiritual leaders have succeeded Ahmad since his demise in 1908. It's fifth and current spiritual head, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides in the United Kingdom.
Under the leadership of its spiritual successors, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has now built over 15,000 mosques, over 500 schools, and over 30 hospitals. It has translated the Holy Quran into over 70 languages. It propagates the true teachings of Islam and the message of peace and tolerance through a twenty-four hour satellite television channel (MTA), the Internet (alislam.org) and print (Islam International Publications). It has been at the forefront of worldwide disaster relief through an independent charitable organization, Humanity First.
9. The teenager that was shot in Afghanistan, I do believe, because she wanted to go to school. How does that incidence play into the equality for women. How does Islam address that incident?
Dr. Salie: Islam is clear that education is mandatory on all Muslims male and female. Muslims have produced scholars, memorizers of the Quran and hadith, judges, rulers, women who went to battle, philanthropists, and women in charge of the market place. See the 14 CDs –each one hour long on Muslim women by Umar Farooq Abdulla.
Seven densely populated Muslim countries had Muslim presidents; many mosques have women as board members or even presidents. We do not have glass ceilings nor do we use our women as objects in advertising.
Muslims never have the equivalent of witch hunts. Paradise lies under the feet of the mother. We are also instructed to treat women with care-like fragile glassware. The best among us are the best to their women. In many Muslim countries, more women than men are educated. Carl Ernst noted that the Quran is the only Sacred Text that addresses modern day women rights. The master jurist, Abu Hanifa, wrote that women do not have to cook, clean homes, or nurse children-these are favors, not duties. Many books on Islam written since 2000 are by Muslim women and Muslim female bloggers. Also read Coleman's, Paradise Lies Under Her Feet.
Imam Mahdi: The Holy Quran lays immense emphasis on learning and repeatedly advocates that a believer must employ his or her God-given intellect - indeed, all abilities - to understand and appreciate and acquire knowledge because this is the purpose of everything that God has created - so that man may acquire greater awareness and understanding of the Creator of all that exists. The Holy Quran has taught us the prayer that God may go on increasing our knowledge: 'O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.' [Chapter 20, verse 115]
The Prophet Muhammad knew this better than anyone and he urged the believers - men and women - to acquire knowledge telling them to go even as far as China if they had to in pursuit of knowledge. He is also reported to have said famously:
Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. اطلبوا العلم من المهد إلى اللحد.
The stress laid on the equality of men and women in the Holy Quran is evident in many verses but let me quote just one that is unique - I mean, I have yet to see the like of it in any holy scripture:
[Chapter 33, verse 36] Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.
The equality Islam talks about and that is repeatedly and emphatically mentioned in the Holy Quran is remarkable.
Let me just add that the last program I attended at Western Michigan University was entirely the effort of Mrs Ayesha Mangla. She and her daughter, Ismat Mangla, who is a well known and accomplished journalist, epitomize for me all that I have said about the women of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I could go on mentioning many, many very highly educated and accomplished ladies of our Community who are not the exception to the rule but I think many people would have a hard time believing me and the best answer to this question I think can be given by the ladies themselves and this may perhaps be something that we ought to tackle at another occasion on this topic.
10. Who are the radicals? How did they come into existence?
Dr. Salie: Please read Dr Pape and Doug Saunders for profiles of radicals. The Prophet of Islam, too, condemned extremism, halakal mutanatti oon. Alqasdah, alqasdah tablughoo We condemn all forms of extremism and hate and fear mongering, especially the type of phobias that use misinformation and gross distortions to essentialize Muslims and portray them as a threat. Doug Saunders mention a number of them among academia, journalists, and politicians.
Imam Mahdi: Such people, as I mentioned in two earlier answers, have nothing to do with religion, I mean they have nothing to do with ANY religion. They are people who abuse religion - and they come into being wherever there is good. As a knife in the hand of a surgeon can do good, so religion in a pure hearted person can produce much good. The same knife, however, in the hand of an evil minded person can do unspeakable harm and this is the case of an evil person using religion to bring about much harm.
11.Why are minorities persecuted in all of the Muslim countries? In Pakistan, recently 200 Christian homes were burned down. Did you or any other Muslim leader issue any statement?
Dr. Salie: As for the killings of Christian, Shias, Ahmadis, and others in Pakistan, I suggest the patron listen to the 17 interviews by experts (Ahmed Rashid, Tariq Ali, Khaled Ahmed, Jamsheed, Vali Nasr, etc.) on Pakistan on the University of Berkeley on Youtube or video casts here.
Pakistan has a long history of peace despite all their challenges. The question could only be understood contextually. Many Catholic nuns visit the country regularly to protest the not infrequent US drone strikes. I still have great hopes for the Pakistani nation; they will prosper with respect form global powers for their sovereignty, aid with pressure to reform and improve their human rights history and corruption index, and sincere leaders such as Imran Khan, the cricketer and philanthropist to lead them. Pakistan has produced great talented thinkers and non-violent champions before. The country, during the last 15 years has become a field for many proxy wars. Also watch the talk Karen Armstrong gave to thousands of youth in Pakistan. The killers of Benazir Bhutto, the only woman whose picture is on the wall of the Union Hall at Oxford University, must be brought to justice. Pakistanis in the USA are the most philanthropic persons I know. Their great hero, Muhammad Ali Gina, had a vision of India and Pakistan living side by side as Canada and the USA do.
For an insight into the Shia Sunni differences and commonalities watch this clip. Sayyed Nasr is much revered among Sunnis even though he is Shia and Iranian. Professor Nasr, who teaches at Georgetown University, is a great philosopher and expert on Islamic Spirituality.
Imam Mahdi: We regularly condemn all such inhuman, un-Islamic actions and conduct campaigns to inform the non-Muslims world and educate all Muslims everywhere, that such ideologies have nothing to do with Islam. This subject and its causes are discussed in very great detail in "Murder in the Name of Allah," by Mirza Tahir Ahmad. This book is part of our century long efforts. Here is a very brief description of this book.
"Murder in the Name of Allah" is the first translation into English of Mazhab Ke Nam Per Khoon, a re-affirmation of the basic tenets of Islam.
Hardly a day passes on which an Islamic event does not make headlines. The president of a Muslim country is assassinated by the supporters of Muslim brotherhood; a European journalist is taken hostage by Islamic Jihad; a Pan-American aircraft is hijacked by another Muslim group; American university professors are taken into custody by Hezbullah; Two passenger carrying airplanes were slammed in to world trade center. The glare of 'Islamic' revolution in Iran is reflected through the flares of every gulf oil refinery.
This book is a reminder that the purpose of any religion is the spread of peace, tolerance and understanding. It argues that the meaning of Islam—submission to the will of God—has been steadily corrupted by minority elements in the community. Instead of spreading peace, the religion has been abused by fanatics and made an excuse for violence and the spread of terror, both inside and outside the faith.
In confirming the true spirit of Islam, it makes the point to followers of all religions that the future of mankind depends on the intrinsic values of love, tolerance, and freedom of conscience and of belief.