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Sitting down with NY’s most influential Muslim

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 16, 2008 | 10:37 am

Reuters religion editor and FaithWorld administrator, Tom Heneghan, recently interviewed Mohammad Shamsi Ali, New York’s “most influential Islamic leader” and the Muslim emissary to local police and the mayor’s. Here’s what Ali had to say about being Muslim in America and dealing with radical Islamists:

“We feel at home here. To be honest with you, those people who are really sincere with their religion and understand the religion properly, they see many things Islamic in America, more Islamic than in many Muslim countries. First of all, freedom and Islam are like fish and water. Islam cannot live without freedom … Here in America we have freedom. You can express yourself freely. It is guaranteed by the Constitution. Then you have justice for all, equality. We have to say there are some interruptions because of the security. But it doesn’t at all change the real nature of America. For those Muslims who understand the teaching, this will make them feel that America really belongs to them and they belong to America.”

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“Some Muslims like the Islamic Thinkers Society are against Jews and against non-Muslims. I consider them ignorant and in need of an education. I feel a deep responsibility to bring them back to the right track. It makes me worry when I see what Imam Shamsi Ali, 23 April 2008/Tom Heneghanhappened in Britain, in London with Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun. They are very much fundamentalist radicals. I don’t think these will give any benefit to our community, nothing at all. Among the Jewish community there are also fairly radical people. It is the responsibility of us in the middle to strengthen our unity and come together and try to find solutions to problems that surround our communities. I say to non-Muslims: let us do the job but have confidence in us … In a meeting with the NYPD, I told them we acknowledge the presence of radicals in the Muslim community — but it doesn’t mean we support them. In fact, the radicals are marginalised in many ways right now … So I don’t feel we need aggressiveness. I feel we need to reach out … We need confidence in us (from non-Muslims) and we need support. Don’t put suspicions over us. We are not confident enough to do the job. All good Muslims must have good intentions for America because this is the country where we live and we consider this our own country. The opposite is true too — if you’re not good Muslims, you’re not good Americans.”

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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