Reprinted from the Muslim Journal (1-14-05 to 12-8-05)
"Bridging Diversity, Communities of Health, Hope and the Human Spirit"
By Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(This address at the Association for Professional Chaplains Convention held at the Fairmont Hotel, in Dallas, Texas, April 17, 2004, was given by Imam W. Deen Mohammed.)
With Allah's Name we begin, the praise and the thanks is for G-d. We thank Him for the gift and blessing of the model human person, Muhammed (PBUH), the honorable and noble servant and Messenger of G-d, and what follows of that salute or that traditional salutation to the Last Prophet, the Seal of the Prophets mentioned in the Bible as it is given in the Qur'an.
We praise G-d, and we greet you with peace as Muslims say, As-Salaam Alaikum. It is really a pleasure and a great honor to address you here at this luncheon and to be invited by your Association of Professional Chaplains.
And it is also a great pleasure for me to see upon entering so many members of our association of Muslims. You make me feel very happy and proud of you. Your presence here today is wonderful.
This is a good experience for you and for us to set at the table with these fine servants of G-d and mankind, to share food with them and to hear their voices and their minds. And I hope that you have done the same thing; I hope you have shared your voices and your minds at the tables with those who have invited and welcomed us here.
We begin with G-d's Name, the Merciful Benefactor, the Merciful Redeemer, or in the Name of G-d, the Beneficent, the Merciful, as it is translated in some translations of our Holy Book, the Qur'an.
I recall as a little boy younger than 11 years old, maybe 6 or 7 years old, my mother would dress me up real nice, and she would tell me, "I'm sending you to the Temple." I would go there, and I would hear the preacher preaching.
My father finally was able to come home from prison; I was about 14 years old. And he would open his lecture or his speech with, "Islam is Freedom, Justice and Equality." That was his habit over a period of 15 years or more, where he would open his speech like that first with a prayer and then "Islam is Freedom, Justice and Equality."
That stuck with me and I think it helped form my sensitivities and also my interest. And today, I see the world of Islam, and I think the whole world of Muslims need to understand Islam is Freedom, Justice and Equality.
Al-Islam wants excellence for human beings, the same as Christianity, Judaism. All of our great religions want behavioral excellence for human beings, excellence of the human nature that we have — if there were conditions, circumstances to feed it and help us realize our excellence or experience growth of excellence for our human life, for our soul as human beings.
Al-Islam Proclaims Man's Common Excellence
Proclaiming the excellence of man's common life, that is what Islam is, proclaiming the excellence of man's common life under G-d. That he should serve the community of mankind as a servant of G-d. What we perhaps need more than anything else in this world today is the innocence that G-d created us with and that all of us are born with.
Some of the organizations that I am a member of, when we meet, the leaders often mention the need to achieve transparency. We have in our Holy Book the saying, "enter the door" on hands and knees with the nose and forehead touching the floor. All of that is expressed in a little short phrase in Arabic: "Enter the door or enter the gate in submission."
But that is not enough, just to say in submission. I think when we describe it
clearly and literally, it gives us the meaning as I have just given it to this honorable audience.
There is a growing awareness among these leaders, like the leaders of this organization that you mentioned me being a part of or a representative of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. And I have heard our leader, Dr. Bill Vinley, mention the need to achieve transparency.
There is hope for us and the world, as long as we have leaders in these organizations organized for peace, not only at home but peace everywhere on this planet earth and for justice everywhere on this planet earth.
We know we have many such servants serving mankind under G-d, as servants of G-d working alone or working with their friends in their neighborhoods or working with their associates, their colleagues. The world always has hope, as long as we have such persons who have achieved or are trying to achieve transparency.
The picture of world leaders today is shameful, and that is saying the least. Whether the picture we're looking at is the picture of the Asian world or European world or African world or the American people, we are looking at a very shameful picture.
I recall in my childhood, older women while they were observing the behavior of a child, they would say, "That boy is rotten to the core." Now we should never become rotten to the core.
We have in our Holy Book, the Qur'an, the saying, "Your death and your resurrection is liken to that of a single soul."
The more our world works to mute human innocence, the more it gives itself to moral corruption of the human thought processes. Soon the loss of transparency brings on death of the whole society.
We know there are the living still walking the earth. But when we look at the general picture or the big picture, the picture of our publics and our leaders among them, it appears that we have allowed the whole society of man to lose human innocence, to lose transparency, openness — where you are not afraid to face your own secret thoughts and you are not ashamed if others see your own secret thoughts.
In time, if you lose this core that G-d created us with, business life will be void of human life. The approach to troubling issues won't have the support of this life that G-d gave us to save us in every area of life.
African American neighborhoods remain in their business life in infancy, because the leadership, I mean our leadership itself, is dead to man's original life that G-d gave us, when He put us in the Garden or put our father in the Garden.
I got this saying from Christianity, from the Bible. Unless the children be reconciled..., now I understand it means the life. Unless the children's life be reconciled with the life of the father.... As I know Christianity, perhaps many Christians see this as reconciled with G-d. Yes, but it also is reconciled with Adam in his purity, before he lost it to the seducer.
Unless the children be reconciled in their life with the life of the father, the whole earth will be cursed. And when I look at our world today on television and what leaders are talking about, the violence and the trouble in our world, it seems as though the whole world is under a curse.
Selfish Promotion Invites Moral and Rational Death
Selfish promotion of one's own interest invites not only moral death but the death of rational life as well. To work against moral life is stupid, not wisdom. Wisdom is not to see moral life separate from rational life.
We all know that in these great heavenly religions, as we sometimes call them — Judaism, Christianity and Al Islam — we understand the fall of man, the fall of our Father Adam.
It came only when he ate of a certain forbidden food and caused the generations to separate moral life from rational life or to see them separately.
Moral life will soon disappoint us, if it separates from rational life. And rational life will soon disappoint us, if it separates from moral thought or moral life. I believe that Al Islam and Christianity are the same, in that we want to keep this life consistent, healthy and whole or complete.
In my conclusion, Muhammed the Prophet said, there will come a time when Jesus Christ and himself will be seen together. We believe in the birth of Jesus Christ without the help of man or without the involvement of a male, a man.
Maybe I cannot use the same language, the Immaculate Conception. I feel comfortable in my own self, but I do not feel that comfortable speaking as a student of Islamic knowledge, to say it or put it that way. That is why I have not put it that way. But I do feel comfortable in my soul with that language.
Al Islam and Christianity are separated not by knowledgeable people in these two religions, they are separated by people who have political interests.
We have a scholar in Islam, Dr. Ibrahim Izzideen. He was giving an interview to the Focolare international movement of Catholics started by Chiara Lubich, who was experiencing as a child, as a young lady, a teenager about 17 the horrors of World War II, with bombs falling all around.
She decided to give her mind to Jesus Christ, peace be on him, as a servant, as a Catholic, as the person working hard to bring people to love one another, to call people back to Christ's Love.
I became acquainted with her, meeting her through her book on her life, and I fell in love with her soul and her mind.
We formed a friendship, and that friendship now is a friendship for myself to those who are associated with me in the following and herself with those associated with her in her following.
The point I want to make here is that when we study these two religions with innocent hearts, as it says in our Book, "None can touch it." None can grasp the beauty and substance of the Qur'an, except the purified ones.
When we are innocent in our hearts and minds and in our souls, we do not have any intentions that will shame us before G-d or the public, if we were to disclose those intentions. We have transparency, and G-d guides us to the substance and purity of our scriptures.
I have read the Bible very carefully and very diligently. First I said to myself, "I want to be fair, I do not want to read the Bible and be picking it apart and questioning everything. I want to be able to go through the book like I want to. I vow that I will not stop to take anything apart or to question anything. I will read the Bible from cover to cover."
I did that, and G-d helped me to do that. At the same time, when I was making the pledge to myself to do it that way, I also said, "And when I finish reading it that way, I'm going to pick it apart." And I did, but the first reading converted me to the purity of the Bible. I see a continuous line of purity from Genesis to Revelation.
So G-d put me in a situation where I could study it and look at it critically, and I did. So I have come to the conclusion that our religions want a world order that respects G-d and has man working in the service of mankind under G-d. G-d says He does not want anything from us; He needs nothing from us. He only wants from us our obedience.
Nations Loss of Morals Will Hurt Masses and Leaders
In Al-Islam, emphasis on behavior is very strong. Muslims are not to behave any kind of way. We can't follow the world of cultural trends that take us from life to death, back to life and then death. To me, nations that permit that kind of cultural life to control the lives of the masses of people, the leaders also will fall victim to it.
Because the common denominator for all of us is our moral life, our sensitive soul that G-d gave us, our emotions, etc. And no one is safe, no matter how educated we become, no matter how powerful we become. No one is safe from that danger of losing his soul, if we allow the influences that are against the health of the soul to take over the life of the public or the life of society.
In my opinion, we are no better than those ancient nations that regulated their societies by that kind of logic or that kind of insight into the nature of human behavior.
I believe that it is time for this great world that has advanced us in science and technology and also in human nature we have become more socially mature because of the great advances we have made in the sciences and with our particular experience that we have with our democracy in the United States of America.
So my prayer is that we study the society, study what governs our society and get the devil out of our society.
Peace to you, As Salaam Alaikum.
We do have time for questions and discussion, and the Imam has graciously agreed to stay with us....
Ms. V. Williams:
I'm from Michigan. First let me say it is such a blessing to be here. I thought it was really OK to walk across the stage to get my board certification after all those years of struggling with CPE. But to actually listen to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad's son, I just can't put it into words.
So I thank you for that. My question: You are so wise, you have traveled the world, you have credentials and you're such a man of stature, but I have a simple question.
If you were sick in the hospital and could not get a hold of anyone of your own faith to come in and see about you and one of us had to come in and see about you, what would you expect from us?
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
I would trust you to take care of me.
Ms. V Williams:
You know I might be able to do that but there are some of us maybe who will not be able to do it, so we need a little bit of advice. Would you want us to sit with you, would you want us to sing, would you want us to hold your hand. Help us out just a little bit.
Because some of us might not know what to do with you. You are like way up there, untouchable like, but you've got to be touched. And sooner or later when you're in your sick bed, you're really down here with us. So if you could just give a little bit of advice.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
What would I want you to do? I would want you to recognize that I am a Muslim first. And then ask me how can we best make you comfortable while you're here with us?
And I'll tell you pork smells good and I know it tastes good, but don't put pork on the diet please. And they did not do it. I had salmon fish; it was very delicious. Some Muslims make a big deal of not eating pork, but they commit bigger crimes.
I never make a big deal of the pig, a sweet little animal, to me. He is just as cute as he can be. I don't say he's ugly, to deal with my discipline. I don't have to say its ugly and it tastes bad. I know it tastes good. All of you are wise and intelligent people with good taste; you're eating it and enjoying it. So I know it tastes good.
G-d didn't say stay away from pork, it's an ugly animal, it tastes bad. No, that is not the reason. It is psychological; it is a symbol of the confusion in the moral life in people. So it is saying don't eat of pig behavior, don't eat of pig taste, etc.
Now don't you Muslims who are here say, "The Imam said we can eat pig." No you have to obey the rituals, because they are very important. If you eat the meat, pretty soon you will lose the meaning. For Muslims, we can't eat pork, and there are other requirements we have.
We need a place to pray, and it doesn't take much. Some think they need Aladdin's carpet. We don't need the carpet; we pray on the wooden floor or any floor. As long as it is clean, it is good enough.
First I would like to be recognized as a Muslim by the person who is going to care for me. Then I would like to tell them the things you may not be aware of that I need as a Muslim. That is all I would want.
As Salaam Alaikum, Brother Imam. We would like to say hello and thank you for being here. I'm sure I speak not only for myself. I love you unconditionally and I'm sure everyone else does also.
I have notes here, Brother Imam. You said that our science and technology have advanced us in our moral development. I'm sure I'll get it sooner or later, but if at all possible I would like for you to expound on that, so I could get it today, insha Allah
Repeat what you would like explained again.
He said that our science and technology has advanced us even in our moral development, and I just would like a little more insight on that, insha Allah, G-d Willing.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
I'm not sure that I recall that, but I would have to agree with that. Science and technology have helped us clean up our environment and know what contributes to diseases, etc.
And the more you have an opportunity to live in a cleaner and richer environment, in terms of education, science etc., the more you see how to evolve morally. Science and technology have helped us to better our moral state also.
It was a real joy to hear you speak. I first want to say that I hear your humility of spirit, and that means so much. And what you had to say is something that all of us can readily understand and also take and make and bring it into our own lives. And for that I really appreciate what you had to say
I served for several years as a chaplain in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. And while I was there, I was privileged to work directly with a number of Islamic Imams and also with several who were following your faith.
And I found some wonderful people there. I will say to you ' that what strikes me as very powerful is that you speak of transparency. And what I found in that setting is that it is nearly impossible for someone in that setting to be transparent; it is just so difficult.
It was so hard for me. I think that I tried for five years to be that, if you will. It was very hard to remain that way and just to be open. Is there anything you can say about where you feel the incarceration situation in our country is going and what you might hope to change in that situation in time to come.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
That's a big and difficult question. We have to begin some where, and I think what would help most are two things: More opportunities for persons of my background, males and females, who weren't fortunate to be the children of highly cultured parents in this society and well educated persons.
I had to struggle to stop using certain language, like "you is." And I blame the culture for giving us those habits, because I can recall a song with words, "Is you is or is you aint my baby."
And we did not have the money to put that on the air, so I kind of blame the establishment for my bad language or my Black English, as some of them call it.
We can start by giving more opportunities to persons like me who want to see change for the better and have no problem with the rich. I know G-d determines who will be rich. If He wants to make you poor, you're going to be poor.
So I don't envy the rich and I know that to have wealth doesn't mean you're a bad person. Some of the best people have wealth and that is why we have the great society we have. They help our society with their great wealth. I don't have any problem with people of a different color or different religion.
So when we find a representative of the masses of people or the people in the ghetto, the neighborhood people with that kind of decent life and makeup, we should do what my friends did who knew of me, we should invite them to sit with the learned, the educated, the power holders, so that person can be equipped to do a better job in his own circumstances with his own people.
That opportunity was given to me by WCRP (World Conference of Religions for Peace) and thereafter by others. So I'm grateful to them.
Once I was invited to speak to the Forbes people, and they called themselves the capitalists. They brag that they are the capitalists, and they are proud to be capitalists. They invited me to speak to them. And when I spoke to them, they asked me what do you want; what can we do for you.
I said, "If you want to help, deny criminals notoriety on TV. I said, "If you want to help us, don't get in our way." And I felt their sincerity. They said, "We will not get in your way."
And the other thing that I think will help the little leader be accepted by the big leader. I don't know if we can manage this, because they probably can't manage the first one too well. But we can make progress, I'm sure, because I'm a sign. I'm evidence that we can make some progress.
If we can get the visual media, television, to accept that we shouldn't reward criminals by giving them what they want. They want to be seen, we should get the good youngsters and the good people, put them on TV more for their achievements. And punish the criminals by not allowing them to have notoriety at our expense.
You have perhaps already answered my question, but I too wanted to thank you for the beautiful gift of wisdom that you gave us this morning, with offering us that image of transparency and openness.
I wondered if you have a commission that you have for us to carry out. Or an additional question, is there a word of wisdom that the American community of Islam would like to offer the wider world at this time?
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
No, I don't. I'm very pleased with you. I like you just as you are. Your organization, your association. I don't think you need my advice for anything, but perhaps if there is more opportunities for me to visit you when there is another occasion like this, I would like to have more time.
I could spend maybe a couple of days rather than have to get on the plane shortly and I would like to become just better acquainted with you. And I want you to know me better.
My name is Yusuf Kavachi. I am Imam here at Dallas Center Mosque Islamic Association of North Texas. Before coming to ask a question, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you all APC here in this metroplex. We are very glad having you all here in Dallas, Texas.
My request from our leader, Warithud Din Mohammed, since after September 11, we Muslim community members have a little concern about human rights practices. What advice can we get in short form to our chaplain organization?
How can we secure human rights, which we feel some of our brothers and sisters are suffering or subject to suffering because of our faith or because of being a little different faith-wise or cultural-wise or dress-wise. This is my request from you, thank you.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
This is us in America. We owe the progress for human rights to all of the wonderful people who have promoted human rights, but going back to the wife of the President during World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt the wife of President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt.
Muslims, when I read of her sincere efforts to awaken the international society, .the international world to the importance of human rights, I really see something that Muslims should have just become aware of. And all over the world, we should have had Muslim leaders cheering her on.
It is because we don't know our own religion. We need to study the Qur'an and the life of Muhammed the Prophet (PBUH) with an interest in knowing what is the human picture that G-d wants for us.
I say that firstly. Then lastly, I say you cannot appreciate human rights, you cannot really qualify for human rights, if you have already chosen the life of an animal, not the life of man. And many of us we prove by our behavior that we prefer the life of the animal, not the life of the man.