Reprinted from the Muslim Journal 3-29-02 and 4-5-02
"Islam wants the Individual and the Community to have Peace in the Soul and Peace established in the Community"
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(Imam W. Deen Mohammed gave this address at Duke University on Feb. 5, 2002. It is titled "Islam wants the Individual and the Community to have Peace in the Soul and Peace established in the Community")
Our greetings is peace be unto you, as-salaam-alaikum. We praise G-d, the Lord, Keeper, Cherisher of all the worlds. We witness that He is One and that Mohammed to whom the Qur'an was revealed is the last of the prophets and the Seal of the Prophets.
My community and I are honored and pleased that I have been invited to come here on the campus of Duke University and address the audience of distinguished persons, believers, Muslims from around the area and non-Muslims in this beautiful Duke Chapel.
All of us should know Islam as a religion of peace, because our greeting is peace, our name is derived from the word for peace, "Muslim," and our religion's name is also derived from the word for peace, "Islam." But we are not always aware ourselves, who embrace Islam or accept Islam as our religion in America and I imagine in other places too in the world, of this religion as the "religion of peace" and of ourselves as "peacemakers" and that our greeting is the "greeting of peace."
We are more aware of ourselves as the ummah or a community or international body of people following our Prophet Muhammed and the book that he received from G-d to all of us, the Qur'an. And it is very important that we do understand that Muslims are a community and that Islam is a message from G-d to the people of the world, not just to Arabs or Africans, but to all the people of the world to guide us into the best model of community life.
Muhammed the Prophet, peace be upon him, was preaching the religion and giving the Qur'an as he received it over a period of 20 or more years. However, during the first 10 or 11 years, he was in Mecca and the religion was not established yet. It was just being taught. When he was given the invitation to leave hostile Mecca and the Meccans of that time to go to Medinah and he finally did arrive in Medinah and then began to establish the religion as the religion of not only the human heart but the religion of the human community.
The daily five-times-a-day prayers were established and a center for teaching and educating the adherents in the knowledge of Qur'an and Islam following the way of the Prophet began. And the community grew and was established under his leadership. In fact, he took his own hands and picked up bricks and worked with the workers to build the first mosque or masjid there in Medinah. Peace be upon our Prophet and blessings.
G-d says to us in our Holy Book, "Oh you who believe, save yourselves and your families from the fire." And in another place in it the fire is given a description. 'Fires that send flames leaping over the sentiments or the hearts of the human beings." They are the fires of appetite, of ill passions, the fires of disappointment, the fires of anger.
Our Prophet, prayers and peace be on him, once told someone, "Do not be angry." That is, do not feed anger; resist anger when it arises in us. We are to resist it and not feed it, for it is like feeding the flames. We know that ill passions and appetites that are not lawful for the religious community can burn out innocent good healthy human sentiments. It can make us hard, insensitive, apathetic, void of love and kindness for and toward one another.
When we become victims of the fires, we lose our human identity as well as our religious identity. The worst is to lose our human identity and behave like the animals and be as cruel beasts devouring each other and each other's properties. This is the curse, the first taste of death and the hell fires.
Pakistan's President, I have read in Chicago's daily papers, rejected all forms of terrorism. The terrorism that we are witnessing now in the world is very strange and very difficult for just an observer to really identify or describe. Most of these Muslims or just have the name Muslims, although I am sure in their hearts they believe they are good Muslims, who sacrifice themselves to get at the enemies are not persons who have the common sins that we are aware of.
They are not persons who want violence or want to destroy things. They are not persons who drink liquor and strong drinks or use narcotics. They are not persons who are indecent in their behavior as members of society or as family members. They won't cheat on their wives. So they are not guilty of the popular sins that we are acquainted with. They have been driven to the point of insanity by horrible things that have happened in their lives.
And we should, as The Rev. Dr. Otis Mose an African American leader of a big Christian following in Cleveland, Ohio, said at one of the interfaith meeting that I attended, hosted by him and our Imam of Cleveland, Imam Clyde Rahman speaking of the horrible tragedies of Sept. 11, he said in his last words to us: "This deserves deep thought. We have to think deep into it." And I felt that I was really thinking and feeling the same thing that he was thinking and feeling, as he gave these words to the audience.
This is not to excuse the crimes or any criminal. This statement from the President of Pakistan went on to say that he rejected all forms of terrorism and "dropped customary excuses" for Islamic militants battling for control in India, so that they can have Kashmir which is a disputed and are shaping history should be expected to come up with the moral strength and fortitude to listen to victims of conflict, like those we have in the Middle East and in Kashmir and in many other places.
The complaints of these victims are important to problems and hence also to solutions. Most Muslims do not study the holy book of Muslims, the Qur'an. In the United States of America, public education is law. It is required of all citizens, of cities and governments, to have elementary schools and high schools. The laws protect people's rights to be properly informed of laws, ideas, etc., that are established to protect citizens and their government.
In the Muslim lands, how the Qur an and Muhammed's Life Tradition should serve to guide and protect citizens and their governments are not required studies. Moreover, by and large, the minds of their leaders have not been allowed to heal from the wounds of the Crusades, of colonial domination of their lands and the hardened Israeli occupation today, which appears to be saying: "Others have no rights to anything, if Israel wants to take it."
In the Qur'an, the holy book of Muslims, Allah the Lord, Creator, says to us: "And take the better thereof." The sacred scriptures, the Books of the Jews the Torah and their books; the Book of the Christians the Bible; and the Qur'an all show human life in its excellence and also in its ignorance, in its sin. Holy scripture is a compliment to man and warns him against temptations, also temptations inviting humans to divorce their upward movement for low desires, to divorce their high calling for a corrupt life.
All of this is given in our scriptures and in the history of people who went astray. If we go to these scriptures without good, clean motives, we will think we are recognizing something we should accept and apply for the good of our own lives and it can be something condemned by the scriptures. We will be reading something out of context or reading something without an understanding of what is being said by G-d or to whom G-d is speaking.
The Bible and Qur'an are for leaders and for their public. But we know that many portions of Bible and Qur'an are too complex and too difficult to understand for the common person. What I am saying is that the Bible and the Qur'an are scriptures of the religious people and need to be taught by honest decent people who are well meaning, not those who are in it because they hate somebody or because they want to put down somebody.
They must be in it because they love mankind, humanity, and because they want to contribute to the betterment of humanity, for human beings all over the world everywhere. The Qur'an came down to humanity, to mankind as a guide to the best human behavior, as a guide to the best moral life, ethical life, industrial life, governmental life, financial life. Devotional excellence is what the Qur'an came down to us for; to have us turned on to devotional excellence.
Muhammed the Prophet said that G-d has inscribed excellence on or for everything. And another saying of his is, whenever the believer endeavors to do something, the believer seeks to perfect it, to make it excellent. The Prophet also taught us that G-d is Beauty and loves beauty. But we miss all of this when we get into an entanglement with enemies, with people we have complaints against, people we want to see punished for wrongs they have done to us and we lose ourselves. We lose more than our religious identity, we lose our human identity.
G-d in the Qur'an asks us to search the scripture with our spiritual curiosity and our rational curiosity. G-d does not want dumb believers; G-d wants intelligent, informed, educated believers with enough knowledge of their lives to manage their lives successfully in community with others, who may not identify with them in the same faith or in the same life.
The builder of the Nation of Islam, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, didn't know the Qur'an or how to read Arabic; he mostly read the Bible to motivate his people, his African American following, to inspire them and give them a sense of the fear of G-d, a sense of the need or obligation to obey G-d.
But he had a belief that the Qur'an was the right book revealed by G-d, and that Islam was the right religion for his people and for all people, and that Muhammed was the Prophet or Messenger of G-d.
He often said to us, in fact I don't know any meaning of Islam that I received when I was a follower in that organization the Nation of Islam than the one he would give: "Islam is freedom, justice and equality."
I always loved that message, because I identified myself with the suffering African Americans, who suffered during our enslavement in this hemisphere and who suffered after our emancipation from the slavery of the South, who suffered discrimination and social rejection and lived with two separate laws one limiting our lives and one giving full freedom to the lives of White folks.
I appreciated that message of "freedom," because we needed to be freed. It said "justice," because we needed justice. And "equality," because we needed equal protection under the law. I identify strongly with the Nation of Islam and its message of Islam, that was a call to embrace and believe in "freedom, justice and equality."
Islam is the religion of peace, yes. But when I became more and more acquainted with G-d's attention to our own lives as human beings and how G-d describes His Own creation, the path of excellence and the path of ignorance and self-destruction, I came to know and appreciate myself as a human creation much more than I had appreciated myself before becoming acquainted with the Qur'an.
The more and more I read the Qur'an, the more and more I saw myself in a higher picture and in a richer picture and in a more attractive and valuable picture. My perception of myself improved so much, as I became more acquainted with how G-d pictured me, or humans, in His Holy Book.
I would like to not really bring trouble to the audience, but some things have to be said, if we are to really make progress, so that we all can have peace together on this earth. Palestinians are victims. Palestinians are in prison. The whole people we call Palestinians are in a virtual prison, and the hardened Israeli government has the key to let them out and the key to lock them in.
We have to look at the suffering of innocent people, all innocent people, and we have to look at the cruelties of people, all cruel people. I have been to Israel and I have been to the Palestinian quarters. I was welcomed into the homes of some of the finest human beings I have ever met Jews in Israel. I had dinner with one Jew at his home on Sabbath Day. In fact, I participated in the Sabbath and ate the Sabbath meal with them. You couldn't find a warmer person or more genuine human being I don't think anywhere.
I experienced the same as guest of President Yasser Arafat and his people. I heard from his people and him: "We don't hate Jews. Jews are our friends and Jews are our neighbors, and it has been that way all the time." They mean before Israel was created in 1947. They had lived with Jews and had no intention to stop living with Jews as friends and neighbors.
One statement I read in the papers recently said: "The professionals need to be called out of the Middle East situation and leave the people alone, and they will find their own peace." Maybe that would happen, but I doubt it. It is more complicated than that, but we need our professionals to be open and have the moral courage and faith in humanity if not in G-d to listen to the complaints of all victims and do justice by all victims.
When I think of the Holocaust, my heart cries for the Jews, the victims of the Holocaust. Also, when I look at some of the rigid rulers, leaders now, in Israel, I see a creation of Hitler. You can become yourself so scarred by trouble in your life as a people or by trouble in your personal life, that you will become unhealthy and unfit to do justice by other human beings.
I conclude my talk. Thank you for the opportunity.