February 5, 1993
A Misunderstood People and Religion
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
There are many African Americans with qualifications whom we learn about through programs on television and through reading literature on the history of our people in the armed services, particularly in the Air Force. Our airmen were able to impress the Air Force and Army with their skills and abilities in combat as pilots. My acquaintance with the honorees at the Nov. 20,1992 tribute dinner given by the Los Angeles Masjid Bilal was really from reading about them in the newspapers and seeing their story on television.
Celes King rose to the rank of brigadier general, and that is just one of his great achievements, for there are others that are just as gratifying to us as African American people. Speaking to you individually, I do not know if each of you still share what was part of our positive spirit which was to have enjoyment in the accomplishment of another African American. Whether one has any personal accomplishment or not, when that person hears about the accomplishment of another African American person, he enjoys that and shares that achievement.
We began not as individuals, we began together. Our history in this country is not the history of some single person beginning his life. It is the history of beginning as a group. We were put down as a group, and we had to get up as a group. We, who are still sharing that positive spirit, have been strengthened, encouraged and made to feel much more comfortable upon learning about the great achievements of our people individually, like Celes King and many others. That common spirit has accounted for us staying on the up-and-up and having the faith in ourselves to go forward.
As African Americans, not only do we have the burden of having our own human worth misunderstood, but we are aware also that the religion that we are very proud of and very happy about (Islam) is also greatly misunderstood. It is greatly misunderstood in the world, and I am not looking over or excusing Muslim countries from east to west and north to south. In most Muslim countries, our religion that is called Al-Islam in the text of our Holy Book is misunderstood.
From the booklet, understanding Islam and the Muslims, published by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia here in the United States, it is stated in response to the question "What is Islam?": "Islam is not a new religion but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life for Muslims. Muslims follow a religion of peace, of mercy, of forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith."
These "grave events" that this paragraph is referring to is blind fanaticism that is attributed to the Muslim world. The worst in this fanaticism is the new development we call terrorism. What we see as an effort on the part of desperate Palestinians or other desperate segments of Muslims in armed struggles to get attention to their own situation is to tell the world: "We are being persecuted. We are being oppressed." And this comes across to us in the media as terrorism.
I am not attacking that kind of behavior, I am attacking the behavior that allows the one who is trying to get attention to his problems an option to kill people who are not even a part of the problem, innocent passengers flying on a plane, etc. That is the thing that we see as wrong. I do not want to just condemn terrorism without making it clear that we do not have the same way of looking at Arabs who are trying to get attention to their problems. We are not looking at them in the same way that most of the media looks at them.
We know they have a just cause and know that they have been persecuted and oppressed and dominated by Western colonial power. Western colonial power got control of their lands and dominated their lands and their cultures. Western colonial power decided how they were going to practice their religion and put limits on them. Western colonial power took over the education system in their country and influenced even the way they perceived or understood their own religion.
This is no light matter. It is a very serious matter. Muslims in the world, if they are misrepresenting Islam today, it is not only because of their own shortcomings. More correctly it is because they have been dominated and even their system of education and their teaching in their mosques have been influenced by Western intruders.
These intruders wanted the knowledge to be presented in a way that would not make trouble for the intruders. The Muslim world has experienced that and suffered it, and much of the confusion about what is really Islam and what is really a Muslim is owing considerably to past colonial domination.
Egypt and Muslim nations on the continent of Africa, the Middle East, India, out of which came Pakistan, all of these Muslim sections of the world were once under Western domination or colonial domination. Even Saudi Arabia, though never occupied by Western forces, it too had to march to the dictates of Western colonial powers for a long time. The peninsula did not get the name of Saudi Arabia until its first king, King Abdul Aziz. He came into power with the support of Western powers. He formed an allegiance with the U.S. president at the time.
King Abdul Aziz Al Saud joined the great intellect Abdul Wahhab as his student and military arm. This school of thought in Islam brought about by Abdul Wahhab did not exist before. I am saying that to you because some do not have the courage to support my call for a school of thought to be formed by us under us here in America. I am letting you know that the schools of thought in Islam did not stop with the first four. The Islamic world is not so backwards in its thinking that it cannot accept a new school of thought.
That would speak for the wisdom in our religion and the Qur'an as the source and head of that wisdom that points to the intellect as the great focus for bringing about change for the betterment of society. It is the intellect. It is always in the background and really should be in the forefront for all healthy change in society. That is why we say Adam began life on this earth. Adam the Prophet, peace he on him, is a symbol of the beginning of the human intellect and its role in the community.
Another caption in this same booklet put out by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington addresses the diversity in Islam. And this is not me saying this, it is the learned men in Islam speaking. They are saying that Islam is a religion of many cultures, not of just one culture. That Islam is a diversity of cultures. They give here architectural designs for mosques, the Muslims holy places of worship, as evidence of this diversity of cultures.
We have to get away from the idea that a mosque with the big round dome is Islamic. It was the Greek and Turkish cathedrals that first used those big round domes. For the modern churches are known by the steeple, as you will see in England. The Arabs didn't have any culture with round domes before Islam, unless they dug up some ancient remains of a civilization that their people did have and that the Qur'an mentions some thousands of years before the coming of Islam.
Before Islam came to the peninsula, the Arabs were a tribe of Bedouins. Bedouins then were people who traveled by foot or on camel or mule or horse. In the desert the mule and horse are not as useful as the camel. The Bedouins then were a people who moved about. I hate to associate them with Gypsies, but you will see that Gypsies do not seek to settle in any town like the Irish or Jews have done.
The Gypsies will look at a situation and try to decide how .much quick money is there. They look for an oasis like a Bedouin in the desert, and they have a travel plan to pick up some quick money. They keep the map of where that oasis is. This is a good picture of the situation of the Arabs on the peninsula now called Arabia be-fore the teachings of our Prophet Muhammed Ibn Abdullah, the prayers and the peace be on him.
We have a diversity of culture in this religion of Al-Islam, which is commonly referred to as Islam. And excellence and freedom is still our common motivation. There is a need for knowledge and God has created darkness as a means of making us appreciate light. Allah does not say that He created the world from light to darkness. He says that He brought us out of darkness into the light. He says he created first the darkness and then the light. This is also in accordance with the Genesis saying: "There was darkness upon the deep, and God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light."
I want to see us freer or realize the excellence that God created us for. And I think that is the common aspiration of our people, whether they be integra-tionists, separatists, black nationalists, or other. It is the same whether we be Christian or Muslim, or Moorish American or Ahmaddi or of the Nation of Islam or Muslims of the world. We have in common a belief in our excellence and the destiny for that excellence in obedience to Allah's plan for man.