July 24, 2012
Q&A with the 'Ground Zero' Imam
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
IR: Yes. Well, I mean, look. The questions that we have been discussing have been discussed with the Muslim community both in our home countries and in this community for the last century now. These are nothing new. What we… the challenge we have to do is, how do we bring about together an effective coalition, an effective teamwork that will actually make a difference. And you can’t make a difference by just, you know, calling the kettle black- kind of a thing. We won’t achieve a turnaround if all we do is attack each other. What we have to do is work together.
DP: This is an odd thing. What business do I have, positive, negative, or otherwise, if the problem is within Islam? What are Jews and Christians and atheists and Buddhists supposed to do?
IR: Well look, we have to work together to underline the common ethical principles. The Golden Rule is common to all of our religions, and whenever we don’t abide by the Golden Rule we are actually not a good Christian, not a good Muslim, not a good Buddhist, not a good Jew.
DP: All I’m saying is that if the major problem is within Islam, the task is for you. The outsider cannot change Islam.
IR: That’s true.
DP: Only you can, Sir.
DP: So it’s nice that you’re speaking to me, and obviously I think it’s nice or I wouldn’t have invited you. And it’s nice that you have interfaith dialogue, but the most important thing is for you to go on radio in Cairo and say that Al-Azhar, the major center of Islamic thought on earth, is in bad shape morally. That’s what you need to do.
IR: It’s not that easy.
DP: I know. I agree! You’re right, but that’s what you have to do. Would they allow you on Cairo radio?
IR: Well I have been on Al Jazeera and Allama bia (?) and on many of the Arab media.
DP: And would you say there, “we’ve been on an eight hundred year decline,” like you told me, “and we better turn this around”? Would you say that?
IR: Absolutely. And they would agree with me on this, yes.
DP: Well Al-Azhar wouldn’t agree with you but that’s a separate issue.
You were asked whether in your view Hamas is a terrorist group. What was your answer? What is your answer today?
IR: My answer was “yes.” And the fact is that any entity that targets civilian harm is a terrorist group.
DP: Let’s finally get to the mosque. Are you building it?
IR: Well I don’t know at this point. We need to raise a lot of money. But the plan is not really for a mosque, as I have said.
DP: I know, a mosque and Islamic Center, and I have said that each time.
IR: It’s meant to be a community center, like the YMCA and the 92nd Street Y, to build, to have the kind of programming that builds relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, and to build relationships that can help move this mountain of distrust and suspicion that we have, and turn this story around which I know we can do together.
DP: Would you acknowledge that it is not anti-Muslim bigotry for an American to be opposed to the building of the Islamic Center near ground zero, or do you believe that by definition, opposition is what is called “Islamophobic”?
IR: It’s a mixture of many things. It’s a mixture of fear, misunderstanding…
DP: Well what about human sensitivity? Let me tell you this, if a group of Christians or Jews in the name of Christ or in the name of the Torah had incinerated three thousand Muslims in Cairo, while chanting the Nicene creed in one case, or the Sh’ma in the other, and then a group wanted to build a church or synagogue and large Jewish or large Christian community center within a few blocks of where all those Muslims were incinerated in the name of their religion, I would oppose it.
IR: I understand that sensitivity. And we spoke to many people from the 9/11 community. The thing is, Dennis, I am a member of that community. I’ve been an Imam of a mosque just a few blocks from there for almost thirty years. My community was part of the community of that local community right in that neighborhood, I have been part of that community for thirty years.
And we have a presence there, and the fact of the matter is that we want to send a different message. This is what it was about. It’s not about trying to be insensitive at all. And many Muslims even within the community when this whole crisis occurred felt the same way. But the fact is, we want to change the discourse. This is why I am no longer involved with that group, but if we can find a way to send a different message, a message of cooperation, a message of New York City…
DP: Well look, the greatest message, in my humble opinion, is for you to do this work within the Muslim world. And sir, I thank you for your time. The book is : Moving the Mountain. Imam, thank you again.
IR: Thank you, Dennis.