June 10, 1994
The Imam W. Deen Mohammed-Elaine Rivera
Interview: Part 5
(The following interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed and Elaine Rivera, a reporter for New York Newsday, conducted in Calumet City, Illinois on April 11, 1994, will be printed in Muslim Journal in its entirety. This is Part V.)
RIVERA: You said this had nothing to do with it, but don't you think by you being in that (the Newark) area you will start getting more attention?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, because Newark is about 35 minutes from New York by car. And New York and Harlem are very important places because of Malcolm but also because of Marcus Garvey, Adam Clayton Powell, and it is a place where Blacks have been more conscious of themselves as a people and have more of a sense of pride than we find in other places.
Malcolm chose to be out there and stay there for that reason. So I will be in a better situation. Also the media is a little bit stronger out there. So if we can get media attention out there, I am sure it will go all over the United States.
RIVERA: When are you planning on going? In the next year?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, I hope by 1995 I'll have residence in the Newark area.
RIVERA: They have secured your land and you will build the house?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Yes, we are going to build the house. They have purchased the land, but they didn't make the purchase to time in with your story.
RIVERA: Now your organization is not really as big as the Nation, the outward kinds of a big corporation.
IMAM MOHAMMED: The visible presence of my associations is not as big as the presence of the Nation of Islam under Farrakhan. The other one we don't refer to as the Nation of Islam, which is the international Nation of Islam or the community of Muslims all over the world. The "ummah" as it is called in Arabic.
RIVERA: There are different sects in Islam, so where are you?
IMAM MOHAMMED: We are more to be identified as Sunni. But we don't identify ourselves as Sunni. We believe it is a big mistake for Muslims to start calling themselves Sunni and Shiites. But we identify with the Islamic practices of the Sunni more than we identify with the Islamic practices of the Shiites.
RIVERA: The Shiite are more militant.
IMAM MOHAMMED: But they are also more spiritual. I find the Shiite to be more spiritual and more mystical than the Sunni.
RIVERA: It's my understanding that the Shiites are the largest growing group among Muslims.
IMAM MOHAMMED: Here in America? No, I know that is not true. The largest growing are those who identify as Sunni. We believe ideas like the 12 Imams and those mythical ideas and also the emphasizing of blood lineage is something that is un-Islamic. These influences we think come from the outside of the world of Islam. The 12 Imams is more Bible than Islam. The emphasis on blood lineage or who is the descendant of the prophet is automatically a saint or someone for us to lift up and glorify, to me, is un-Islamic.
Now, I don't want that to misrepresent what I am saying. I love the Shiites that I know. I love them and think they are very devout Muslims and I think they are very human-people. They have a strong human sense, and I think they are more spiritual than most of the Sunni Muslims. But at the same time, I cannot feel comfortable identifying with them. It is not because I don't love them or that I don't think they are very good religious people. But it is because they have this problem.
We have members of the Nation of Islam who believe in what my father taught, who believed it in innocence. They were God-fearing and wouldn't go out and rob anybody — White or Black. They were God-fearing and virtuous people. I love them the same way. They are more from what I think are true Islamic ideas than the Shiites are. But they present the same kind of problems for me. I love them, but I can't identify with what they believe in.
RIVERA: Are you also a spokesman for Arab Muslims as well?
IMAM MOHAMMED: Certainly. When we think of Arabia, automatically we think that most Muslims are Arabs. But I'm sure you are aware that the Arabs are a minority in Islam, not a majority. Most of the Muslims are Asians and Africans; they are not Arabs.
But I find that most of the Arabs that I meet and know, and I meet a few Christian Arabs at times from Lebanon and Egypt, I have no problem feeling very comfortable with them in Islamic discussions. I have no problem going to their mosques following their Imam in prayer, joining their leader in prayer. I have no problem.
RIVERA: You must be embraced by Muslims all over the world.
IMAM MOHAMMED: When they know that, they do embrace us. In fact, they feel like they want to even celebrate our coming into Islam or conversion to Islam. They welcome us and they pour their hearts out to us. Most of them.
But also we have strong appreciation and identity with Pakistanis. Pakistanis have been a little bit more vocal when it comes to the religion. In America and everywhere they go, they are a little bit more vocal. They have been propagators in Europe. And they came to America and propagate here in America. So we have a kind of a strong identity with Pakistani Muslims too.
RIVERA: You don't proselytize like the Nation of Islam did.
IMAM MOHAMMED: We don't. We think it is an insult. It discredits our religion when we go out with high pressure sales techniques. That takes away from the religion. We only invite. And that invitation is given in the language to let the people know that it is an "invitation" — it is not an order for you to become a Muslim.
It says: "Those who will believe, let them believe. And those who have a will to disbelieve, let them disbelieve." We are told by our Holy Book to invite but to be prepared for rejection. Some people are going to reject you, and you are not supposed to be bothered by that. Let them reject.
(Note: This is the completion of this interview.)