9/11 – Some Reflections
(Address at the St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopalian Church in Corona del Mar, California on September 11, 2011)
Peace be unto all of you!
In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate
All praise and thanks are for God. Peace and blessings be upon His prophets and messengers, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them and upon their followers.
It is an honor to be with you at this sanctuary and to speak to you on this day. I am grateful to Rev. Peter Haynes for his kind invitation.
On this 10 th anniversary of the September 11 th attack, I join you and our whole nation in remembering the victims of this national tragedy. I also join you in honoring the first responders who risked and some gave their lives to save others.
The victims of the 9/11 tragedy were innocent people of many religions, races and nationalities. In my own community of the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, we lost one of our members’ daughter who worked at the World Trade Center. Those who died on that day were people of diverse faiths, races and nationalities. From every faith community some people died.
The first people who responded to the tragedy and tried to save lives, and some of them even died in saving others, were also the people of diverse faiths and ethnicities. It is important to remember all the dead and express our love and sympathy for those who lost their dear ones. Every human life is precious and every loss of innocent life is painful. Our hearts go for the families of the victims. We pray that God give them comfort and bless them.
As American Muslims we are together with our fellow Americans in these serious moments of learning and reflection. We must continue working together toward building good relations and maintaining security and peace for all people. We are living in a country that has brought together people of diverse backgrounds. It is the duty of all of us to keep it safe and strong and keep it as a model of freedom and justice.
During the last ten years, we have also been emphasizing our total rejection and condemnation of terrorism and of terrorist attacks. When the tragedy struck on September 11, 2001, it affected us all. Our Muslim organizations were among the first who came out to express grief for the victims and to condemn those who attacked. American Muslims participated in the national prayer in Washington after the attacks and in similar gatherings around the country. We joined the nation in raising the US flag all over as an expression of our solidarity. We donated our blood for the wounded and donated generously for the firefighters and for the families of the victims. There was no question that this was a common American tragedy and we all stood together. We thank God that we worked together as one nation. We have to keep this spirit of unity and harmony among us.
I want to emphasize to you and to others that our religion Islam teaches respect of all human life. Islam does not allow terrorism. Those who commit acts of terrorism are a small group of people who have their own ideology of violence, and who abuse and exploit Islam in an attempt to rationalize their agenda. Let me repeat what I said on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, “Those who perpetrated the attacks defied all Islamic teachings and are the enemies of Islam, not its representatives. They cannot speak in our name; they are not our representatives.”
We must realize that perpetrators of violence come from varying backgrounds; we all have to work together to fight this evil. It is wrong to single out any community or faith group with blame of guilt by association. It is wrong to generalize about any race, color or creed. I appreciate what our Attorney General Mr. Eric Holder recently said, "Some hate mongers have adopted the twisted logic that an attack on innocents can somehow be avenged by another attack on innocents. We should resolve to come together as Americans and resist those who would seek to divide us along ethnic and religious lines, and stand united against hate-fueled violence and discrimination.”
Several years ago, a Fatwa (religious ruling) against terrorism was issued by the Islamic Law Council of North America, a body that represents many Muslim religious scholars and experts on Islamic law in the United States and Canada and of which I have served as Chairman for the past eight years. In our ruling we emphasized that it is strictly forbidden in Islam to engage in any act of terrorism or to support any individual and group that is involved in any act of terrorism. Furthermore we emphasized that it is the duty of Muslims to report to the authorities if they know of any person or group engaged in such subversive activities in order to protect the life of other human beings. We referenced many texts of authority from our religion to support our position.
Islam like other faiths mandates the protection of life of all people. Life is a gift of God and it must be preserved, protected and promoted. Our religion prohibits homicide, suicide and abortion or the killing of the unborn. The Qur’an recognizes and reaffirms the principle mentioned in Jewish literature and in Christian tradition that ‘killing one innocent person is like killing the whole humanity and saving one life is like saving the whole humanity.’ (See Qur’an 5:32). Preserving and protecting life is one of the most important values and objectives of Islamic law.
During the last ten years American Muslims have built good relations with our neighbors and with people of other faiths. Our mosques and our organizations have been open to all. We welcome our American neighbors to our homes and to our places of worship. Today, Muslims are more involved in interfaith dialogues with Jews and Christians. We are more active in social work and services. We believe that this community engagement is very important. In this way we can help ourselves and others and remove suspicion and doubts from the minds of our fellow citizens.
There is a serious misunderstanding of the concept of Jihad in Islam. Jihad does not mean ‘holy war’; it means ‘struggle and effort.’ The purpose of Jihad is not to convert people by force or to kill others. Islam forbids the use of force in the propagation of religion (See the Qur’an 2:256). The purpose of Jihad is also not to take over other people’s lands and resources by force or to dominate and colonize others’ lands and countries. The purpose of Jihad is to struggle against evil and sin in one’s life and to protect one’s own as well as others’ rights of life, liberty, faith, family and possession. It is true that some Muslims have abused the concept or practice of Jihad, just as some Christians have abused the concept of ‘crusade.’ The great majority of Muslims, just as the great majority of Christians, live and want to live in peace with their neighbors of other faiths and want to work together for the betterment of life and society.
There is also much fear created about Shari’ah law. Shari’ah is the religious law of Islam. The Shari’ah is not against the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Muslims have no desire to impose Shari’ah on non-Muslims. Shari’ah is like the Halakhic law of the Jewish people or the Canon law of Catholics. The same prejudices that people had at one time against the Jewish people and their laws or against the Catholics and their traditions are now being perpetrated against Islam and Muslims. Many innocent Americans who do not know much about Islam are now being victimized by this propaganda. The problem has reached to such a proportion that a Jewish columnist wrote in New York Times on September 2, 2011:
“More than a dozen American states are considering outlawing aspects of Shariah law… A bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly equates Shariah with a set of rules that promote ‘the destruction of the national existence of the United States.’
The same author further says,
“The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. Most Americans today would be appalled if Muslims suffered from legally sanctioned discrimination as Jews once did in Europe. Still, there are signs that many Americans view Muslims in this country as disloyal. A recent Gallup poll found that only 56 percent of Protestants think that Muslims are loyal Americans.” (Eliyahu Stern)
We need to work together to change these misconceptions and apprehensions. America is a country of many people of diverse colors, races and religions. The strength of America is in its basic values of ‘One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all.’ This is part of our Pledge of Allegiance and this should be our way of life. As Americans we should be free to worship and practice our religions the way we believe, but we must be together in defending our land and freedom.
We must transcend our narrow vision of race, color, ethnicities or religions to promote a healthy and happy society for all people of this land. The world today is rightly called ‘a global village.’ In this global village we cannot survive with prejudices and hate of others. To be religious today also means to be inter-religious. We must acknowledge the commonalities among us and must learn to appreciate our differences as long as we treat each other with respect. We must promote our American values of ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’ for all people. Protection of civil rights and civil liberties of all people is of paramount importance and we must work together to preserve this important cornerstone of our democracy.
I want to assure you that my faith emphasizes ‘cooperation in all that is good and forbids cooperation in evil and aggression.’ (The Qur’an 5:2) This is the mandate on all Muslims, not secular Muslims, moderate Muslims or Westernized Muslims, but all Muslims who love their faith and live by the principles of their faith.
Let us turn now from the last ten years to an outlook on the future: a time when we commit to work together to move our country to find more jobs, better education and better health services, with safety and security for all.
Recent polls show that American Muslims in general are positive about America. They are confident that the good American spirit will prevail over all the other odds and difficulties, Insha’Allah. The credit for this Muslim optimism goes to our Islamic teachings that say, “Do not despair the mercy of God.” (Qur’an 39:53) The credit also goes to many of our neighbors and co-workers of other faiths who have been good to us and have shown the American spirit of understanding and openness under difficult circumstances. We thank them for their support and extend our hands of friendship to all those who uphold the values of justice and fairness always.
I pray to God, the Lord of the Worlds, to continue His blessings on America and its people and to continue to guide us to do what is right and most pleasing in His eyes. Amen.