May 10 1996
Interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed on Malaysian National Television Program, "Good Morning Malaysia" April 15,1996
Host Nizal Mohammad: How do you do Mr. Mohammed? Imam W. Deen Mohammed:
Fine, thank you. 1 am very pleased to be with you today.
NM: We welcome you. Thank you for being with us today. Is this your first time here?
IWDM: Yes, it is.
NM: What is your impression?
IWDM: I have been excited about visiting here for over fifteen years. We met some wonderful Malaysian citizens who were Muslims and they were interested in what we were doing in the States. They invited us to come and see Malaysia a long time ago. Now, finally it materializes for us in a much more wonderful way than we expected.
We are more appreciative now of your community in the community of man.
NM: What is the purpose of your visit?
IWDM: My purpose is to make contact with the people in higher learning and meet the business people to see if there is the possibility of us having real significant ties with you. We would also like to benefit from your method of propagating Islam and introducing Islam, and also to benefit from your Muslim community model here in Malaysia.
We live in a similar kind of multi-cultural, pluralistic society. So we can benefit a lot from your model, insha-Allah.
NM: What organization do you represent?
IWDM: Our community of Muslims kind of evolved out of what was a proto-religious community using the name Islam to one day attract American blacks to Islam. It was kind of a scheme or a plot to satisfy the nationalistic desires in blacks who were dissatisfied with America during the time when the law discriminated against us.
Around 1930 it was introduced into the depressed black community of America. But we grew out of that.
We believe it was the intention of those people who conceived that idea to have the emphasis on a separate state for blacks as an attraction, but the real interest was to one day get us to appreciate the Qur'an and the way of our Prophet. For the majority of us it has worked.
We have a big community of Muslims now in mainstream Islam. We are very proud of that.
I represent that group that evolved out of that paradox.
NM: Let's talk about that, about Islam in America. What is the population of Muslims in America?
IWDM: We believe that the population of all Muslims in America is about six million. Of that six million the African-Americans are approaching two million.
NM: How many of the six million are whites?
IWDM: A very small percentage but growing. We are encouraged by their interest in Islam. We have a few whites in our association of Muslims.
NM: Now you say that the blacks are dissatisfied....
IWDM: Not now, that was before. Still there is some dissatisfaction but not a big problem anymore.
NM: How do most Americans view Muslims?
IWDM: Much more favorably than even 10 years ago. And 50 years ago it was terrible. There was no interest in Muslims 50 years ago. Those who had some knowledge of Muslims or Islam, they thought that there was no room for it in America, that it was anti-Christ. It was against the Church. It was fanatical. We had a bad image in America.
But that image has improved recently more than ever before. I think its because of the relationship my country, America, has with Saudi Arabia.
NM: It has been a positive effect?
IWDM: No doubt about it. The interest in having allies in the Islamic world as Saudi Arabia and Egypt has greatly improved the desire in the power structure to have a better image of Muslims projected in America. I believe it is influencing the way media are reporting on Muslims in the world.
There is still a serious problem. Humans are humans and you will have some people who are still anti-Muslim and they are in the media. Their influence is not so much that we have to be worried anymore. We are getting pretty good press.
NM: Do the Muslims themselves project a more positive image?
IWDM: Certainly, much more positive. For some time I have been working hard to get Muslims in our association to change from a negative posture to look for things we may like in the life of America.
America has two lives. One is the life of the free who have their own idea of what freedom is. The other life is the life of the free who have the classical idea of what freedom is in history. They are the strong ones. They are the people who support America. They are the people who support humanity and want to see America become more human and more civilized all the time. I am with those people.
I consider myself a patriotic American with those people. I am against those who want to have their own idea about freedom. Their idea is a superficial, artificial freedom. It is not the real freedom.
Media generally shows what is on the surface. It doesn't go underground much. So we see the superficial life.
NM: Yes, I agree. What we see on TV is generally not real.
IWDM: That's not the life that keeps America. I'm with the life that keeps America.
NM: That's good. I am with you.
IWDM: Thank you.
NM: What is your perception of Malaysia as a society?
IWDM: I wish I had a lot more time to say this.
I am very excited about your model as a model for all Muslims. I believe your model is a model for all Muslims in the world.
What I am seeing is a more balanced society here that appreciates the more rational, practical aspects of Islam and interests in Islam. Our Prophet, prayers and peace be on him, said that God didn't give us anything more valuable or more precious than the power and ability to reason, to think. This emphasis on practical life and practical example, I think, is what is making you a model leader for all the Muslim world.
I think we should come from the extremes of ritualism. Piety sometimes can become artificial, making it not really helpful anymore. These artificial kinds of things that we have gotten ourselves into, I think we should look at them again and determine if we have lost the balance that we should have as Muslims.
NM: You are saying that Islam can be translated into action, that it can be more realistic.
IWDM: Islam, though it started in Arabia with the Arabs, was never intended to be just an Arab religion or the religion of one culture.
The Prophet, in my understanding, insisted that those who were preachers who went from him to other parts of the world didn't undermine the culture of the people. But they were to introduce Islam and let Islam do the work of feeding their culture and supporting whatever excellence they already had in their culture. So when I look around the world I still see a beautiful picture of the different cultures we have on this earth. And that's the way Islam should be.
None of us should be so hung up on our particular race, or nationality, or our culture that we don't see that Islam's foundation for human beings is really the humanity. Islam's foundation is upon the humanity of man.
NM: What other perceptions do you have of Malaysian society?
IWDM: We have been deprived of material establishment because of slavery. Now we have freedom and opportunity in America.
We think that the real dignity for all African Americans, not just Muslims, is going to require that we have better business sense and a better appreciation for the role of business in the life of society. We hope to benefit from a relationship with you there, too.
NM: What do you think about the future for Islam in America?
IWDM: The future looks very good to me. It's bright! It's great!
NM: Even with all the misunderstandings and skepticism?
IWDM: That is a small problem. The big thing is that our Muslim society of the world is looked upon more favorably now by most Americans. Definitely, the government wants its citizens to know about Muslims and wants them to appreciate Muslim life and contributions to civilization. This is a good time for us.
There is democracy in America, though the freedom is not exactly the kind of freedom that we understand in Islam. But it at least respects our right to have our own religion and our own way of life in America. This is really the most precious nature of American society.
It invites all people to bring their life to America and establish it and enjoy the freedom of America. I think this is a very good opportunity for us. I think America may be the situation that is going to bring about better conditions for Muslims all over the world.
NM: You mentioned an interest in higher learning.
IWDM: Yes, currently we have applications for five scholarships sponsored by Shaykh Yamani of Iqra in Saudi Arabia for study in your well known Islamic institution here.
I am hoping that my grandson, Taahir, who is an honor student and is graduating in June, will attend.
We are looking for awake minded youngsters from our community, both male and female, to attend the university. We are hoping to meet persons here so that our contact with the university will be more direct.
NM: What is your view of the current situation in Lebanon?
IWDM: We know the Old Testament belief of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The new Israel is much more understanding and much more inclined to be patient and work out peace than the old Israel. But the old Israel can come back if terrorists from our side, from the Muslim side, create too much of a problem for Israel. So that's what's happening. I hope it is temporary.
I think it should be checked. The American government should use its influence to check that.
NM: Any message to the Muslims of Malaysia directly from the Muslims of America?
IWDM: I hope to come back soon. Please make it possible for me.
NM: Will do! Salaams to our brothers and sisters there.
IWDM: Salaams from all of the Muslims in America to you.