As Guest Speaker at Pentagon Luncheon
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(This historic address at the Pentagon Luncheon was given by Imam W. Deen Mohammed on February 5, 1992 at the Pentagon Executive Dining Room.)
As-Salaamu-Alaikum. That is peace be on you.
We witness that there is but One Lord Creator of the heavens and the earth for all of us. And we witness that Muhammed is His Last Prophet and His Servant and His Messenger, and we pray the prayers and the peace upon Muhammed and what follows of that well known excellent salutation.
Chaplain Esterline, it is a great honor for me to have this privilege to be invited here at the Pentagon to be given a lunch and have all the wonderful people that I know so very well who worked with us. They are the fine army officer Bilal and other Muslim military men and women of the U.S. our Imams, the sisters, and all who work with our schools, and it is a feeling that has me overwhelmed. It is as if I am floating in the air. I never dreamed that we would receive such an invitation. When the question was asked, how did you get the Imam to come to the Pentagon? I said, I would like to ask the same question.
I wish I could share with you more of what is happening right here right now. But I will quickly try to acquaint our distinguished host and guests who have honored us by being present today from the Army and Military Staff here at the Pentagon and your guests from outside of your staff and outside of the Pentagon. I would like to give a quick description of our religion, also from our situation as African American Muslims.
I will begin by saying although we do not see any compatibility anymore for what we believe as Muslims today with what we believed when we were called the "Nation of Islam" in America, there are many things that we still cherish. Because we see that those things were, if not taken from the religion of Islam as it is practiced throughout the world, in accord with the religion of Islam as it is seen throughout the world. That is the emphasis on discipline, cleanliness, high morals, and industry. We love that. We love to see our men disciplined and having a great, great respect for discipline.
To speak from my knowledge of our Holy Book, The Qur'an, and the life, the sunnah of our Prophet, as you perhaps know, for us we have no priesthood or actually there is no clergy for us. Anyone can qualify as our Imam to lead the congregation in prayer and to deliver what we call the "khutbah" or the sermon or the speech or the formal lecture. The qualification is that they have the knowledge and the good character that we the believers are looking for.
I am going to address discipline. Discipline is very, very significant in our religion. Our religion begins by directing our attention to discipline. God says that He has given us this religion upon the pattern of the universe itself. To understand what God means by that pattern that we see sustaining the universe or holding it all together as one continuous system of matter, God points to obedience and discipline in the heavens. That these stars and bodies we see that make up this cosmic unit world of ours all follow a law and all have their discipline. And they all share one discipline which is the universal discipline or the systemic universe. That system is a discipline.
We understand by that that God is saying it is inherent in us to appreciate discipline and to want discipline. We believe that our Qur'an provides that discipline, That is most essential for us. Man is patterned on the pattern that God has which we can see when we view the universe itself. It doesn't mean that we are big like the universe. No. God says, Think not that you mankind are big like the universe. The universe is bigger than you. And I like that, for I have had a lot of trouble in my life trying to handle things that were too big for me. When I digested that, I started feeling much better. I will quickly go to what is very obvious for us, and that is the practices of the religion.
Most important for us is what we call the Arkaanul Islam Khamsah — The Five Essential Practices for us in religion. The first of them being to witness that there is One God for everybody. And it the first pillar is to witness that that God has Angels, and that God has revealed messages to many, many Prophets and for every people. We don't believe any race or any people have been neglected by God. Over this long time that we have been on this earth, God has sent Prophets and Messengers to everybody. We are to believe in those Prophets and to believe in the scriptures that they brought.
I heard one Palestinian brother who was saying, "Do you know that if we do not believe in Jesus Christ, then we are not Muslims?" I never heard it put that way, but he is right. If we do not believe in Jesus Christ, then we are not Muslims. Any of the Prophets who are established as prophets and most of the Judaic Prophets and the Christian Prophets are the same for the Muslims. If we don't believe in if we reject any of them, then we can't be a Muslim. The brother said, "Do you know we can't follow Muhammed, unless we accept Jesus?" I said that is true. We never heard it put that way, so we hesitate. It took me about a minute almost to say that is true. And I have to agree that it is true. Allah says that we have to accept all of His Prophets.
We also have to accept that every scripture that -came to them was legitimate, that it was from God. We have to respect their scriptures too, although we believe that those scriptures have not remained the same. We do not follow the scriptures of other people, and you do not follow the scriptures of us in Islam. That is understood. We believe that other scriptures have been changed or altered over a period of time. But we also believe that the essence is the same, and therefore we respect the essence of all the great faiths. That is especially for Christianity and it is for Judaism also.
Next what we have to recognize after the One God is His prophets, and we say to acknowledge Muhammed is to acknowledge all Prophets, That is the point. When we say, "Ashhadu anla ilaaha illallah" - I bear witness that there is but One Allah, One God... When we say, "Wa ashhadu anna Muhammedan rasullallah," we are witnessing all of the Prophets. For Muhammad is the one who established for us that all the Prophets are God's Prophets.
We are witnessing to something else that is very important, and there are very few Muslims who appreciate that. It is almost, strange to me that a Muslim could believe that a prophet is God or that a man is God. But we have had that problem even in America. We were introduced to the religion from Fard in that way and were told that a man was God. When we are saying, "We witness that Muhammed is our prophet", we are saying that we do not see our prophet as God. Every time we say that we believe in God or declare that God is One, we have to also say it as "Ashadu anla ilaha illallah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammedan rasullallah". That keeps it dear that Muhammed is not God and cannot be God. He "is only the Messenger of God," The Qur'an
That is the first pillar for us. The second one is to make prayer, and prayer for us is very important. It is very essential. I am sure that some people have made a little problem for you (Pentagon officials) in insisting that they make their prayers. That is understandable, because once the Muslim knows that he is supposed to make his prayers he takes it very serious. And it is hard for him to accept that he cannot make his prayers. No matter what situation he is in, he will feel that he should make his prayers.
Also we should know the whole religion. And when we know the whole religion, we know that there are allowances for us. Our religion is also a rational religion, so there are allowances for us. If we cannot make a prayer right now, we can make it later. As I have not made my noon prayer. I am traveling and still should make noon prayer. Therefore I intend to make it up later.
Prophet Muhammed put very strong emphasis on respecting the one who invites you; Be a good guest. So we have that obligation too. And since there are allowances for us to make up our prayers later, we can make them up later. But it punctual prayer is very important. Now if I miss my prayer every day like this, then I have to work on that problem. And that will be a real problem. We can't give into habit that everyday.
Pentagon Chaplain Esterline was so understanding and so much concerned that he told me that preparations were made and that we could make the prayer around 2 o'clock. But he explained to me further and I saw what the problem was and told him that we could make them prayers up later at another place.
The prayer is very essential. We have to do it (prayers) five times daily. It is a discipline and a devotion. The Fajr prayer is at dawn before the sun comes up. Thuhr prayer is done immediately in the afternoon; it is done as soon as there is an indication that we are in the afternoon. Then Asr prayer follows behind that prayer while the sun is declining and going towards the sunset but not yet where we say it is nearing to set or thinking of it as the sunset. Then immediately after the sunset Maghrib prayer. There is one after all the appearance of the sun has gone from the sky and it is dark. That prayer is called 'Isha or the night prayer. These five prayers are very important for Muslims.
In those five prayers are steps we call the steps of prayer. All of this says to us that the Muslim life must be a disciplined life. The Muslim life must be a life after the order of the universe, a disciplined and orderly universe that follows laws and does not disobey those laws.
After prayer is charity. We share this with the Christians. And I believe the Christians are the most charitable people we can find hardly anywhere. And we love you for that. We love you for that. We know that Christ symbolizes charity for you. One of the symbols or; meanings that Christ holds for you is charity, and we honor, that and cherish it so much.
After charity we have fasting and Muslims fast the whole month of Ramadan. It is the month that has normally about 30 days and sometimes it will have 29 days. We fast that whole month during the daylight hours. Ramadan is approaching now and Muslims are now thinking about the fast during the month of Ramadan.
The last of the essentials of those five is Hajj. For us Hajj symbolizes not only the commemoration of the Prophet Abraham sacrifice that we all identify with Abraham the Judaic faith, the Christian faith, and the Muslim faith -as the patriot or as "Father Abraham," peace be on him and on all the prophets. But important for us, even in a sense just as strong, is that Hajj pilgrimage that we make to Mecca focuses on the unity of humanity. All people are seen going there to Mecca from all races and all nationalities. When we get there at the sacred precincts we have to take off our national dress or cultural dress.
Many people are not aware of this: Our religion Islam does not only accept your cultural distinction — like the African American, if he wants to have a cultural distinction within the international culture of Muslims, Islam not only accepts that but stresses that he should keep the excellence of this African American culture and Islam should complement that and but not seek to change erase it. We love our distinction as a people, our racial distinction.
We know there are some who do not want to hear anything about somebody who is conscious of race. Yes, we should be conscious of race. We want racial dignity and racial distinction. We want cultural distinction. We want that. Even within Islam we want that, We don't want to copy the culture of another Muslim. That copying is not being Muslim. We are to copy the excellence of Islam and the Excellence of Muhammed and build upon that and have your our own unique identity. That is what we stress.
We also stress that we owe an allegiance to the Christian people. Prophet Muhammed established for us that if anyone is befouling desecrating anything sacred to Christians, then we have to join the Christians and even if we have to fight that person or those ungodly people.
We Are Coexisting
Also we have to understand that our religion did not come to establish itself over everybody else. God said that our religion will be the dominant or the prevailing religion. And I do believe that. We have to believe that. God said it, and I do believe that is coming. But it does not mean that we are not going to have coexist and live with other people. We are coexisting. Our religion wants us to recognize the excellence of other people in other faiths and work and cooperate with them in a situation like this occasion where we are a small minority and the non-Muslims are a great majority. We had better learn this in our religion and encourage it. It is very important for Muslims to understand that.
Build upon what is good. And do not try to stamp our name or label on everything. Be intelligent. That is what our religion asks of us. Be excellent. Our religion encourages excellence and for us to pursue excellence. Prophet Muhammed established for us that we should pursue excellence for everything. He said whenever the believer does a thing or indulges in something or embarks on something, "he tries to perfect it." It can be, whether it is his prayer or slaughtering for halal, or art work, or as a doctor in his field, whatever it is. He Muslim is always striving for excellence.
That inherent need is universal for man. That is in our nature to do. That is the excellence in our nature. Our religion teaches us also when we read the Qur'an speaking of what we have as a hope for us and as a model for us: Prophet Muhammed speaks of this to this companions, the first followers of his, those great people who joined him and gave their whole life and all of their wealth and everything that they had for the survival of Islam against idolatry in Mecca and with its threats and the brutal treatment they received for preaching (Islam) the religion.
With God's help, they Muslims were victorious and Prophet Mohammed says of them, "Those people also are the examples for us." It is not just the Prophet himself. We follow his sunnah, his example which is a must, but the first followers are also an example for us. How are we to follow them? The Prophet said, and Allah said in the Qur'an "For their excellence."('bil ihsaani) Qur'an.
Thank you very much. May God guide us always, aameen AMEN.