Imam W. Deen Mohammed Speaks on the Religion of Islam at the Religious Forum of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, NY
Q: Are there any restrictions in Islam in terms of establishing better cooperation among the various religious traditions in the world?
IWDM: Yes, it is. That is a very important question, especially for new converts and religious leaders. The first thing we are obligated to do is to be aware that we don't lose ourselves in these exchanges with other people. That we keep our own identity in tact, that we don't take the attention away from our own content. That we don't allow our own Islamic content to be changed. This advice is given to us in many ways, but one specific in the Qur'an says: Neither the Jews or the Christians are our "Wali".
Now some ignorant translators of the Qur'an have created a lot of trouble with their translation of this. They translate it to mean that we are not to take Jews or Christians as our friends—that's ignorant. It might be an innocent error but it is ignorant for Muslims to say that in light of what Allah says in the Qur'an of our relationships with Christians and with Jews, and of the principles that God says to us that also rule in the leading community of the Jews and leading community of the Christians — principles that God wants for all of us.
In everyday use of the Arabic language no one uses the term "Wali" as friend. Wali means a patron who takes it upon himself to work for your interest, to protect and promote your interest. Allah says that the Muslim should never turn over the promotion of his interest to another people — not to the Jews, not to the Christians. As long as we know this while we are having dialogue, then I don't know of any other restrictions.
Q: How do you view the move by some political leaders to have prayer in the public school?
IWDM: We support the right to have the time that religion establishes to commune or to express yourself to God in prayer. We support that with some concern and with some reservations. In America we are not under any one religion. Maybe we started out under one religion, but we are no longer under any one religion and never was it intended that this country be under one religion or any religion at all.
I don't, myself, prescribe to the separation of church and state to its limit, but given the nature and true character of this society and of this government that we have, I think we have to as much as possible see down the road and see how it is going to effect the just treatment of all religions, ail faiths. If it gives opportunity to any believer or religious person and doesn't discriminate against any of them, I think it is good. If it also gives the same right to the atheist to not to have our situation imposed upon him, if it does justice by all the legal legitimate citizens of these United States, then I am for it.
Muslims could do it without imposing anything on anyone else. We do not even have to do it inside the school. If we could just be excused, we can go outside on the lawn or use a facility that is not bothering anyone and we can do our prayer. This doesn't really present problems to Muslims. If it doesn't present any problem to other people of faith, then I don't have any problem with it. But if it is going to impose something unjustly on any citizen, then I could be on the side of those who would have a complaint.
Q: How does the Muslim view Mary, Mother of Jesus?
IWDM: The Qur'an says of the Mother of the Prophet Jesus -peace be upon him and we say peace- be upon her also, though she is not a prophet but we believe she received revelation from God. So she gets the same kind of respect that we give to the Prophets, and we say of Christ Jesus that we believe Jesus also is the Christ. How Muslims see and understand the term Messiah is not necessarily the same as how Christians see it. We also believe that she is a great sign and proof to man that God is God with all of the attributes and great titles that we give Him. Just as He was able to create the first man, He's able to create another man from a woman without man. Now any Muslim who doesn't believe this is not yet fulfilling the obligation of belief (faith) as a Muslim.
We believe in what is called in Catholicism the Immaculate Conception. For students or scholarly persons let me stress that the biggest understanding is given in the Bible and in the Qur'an that Christ Jesus and his mother are "signs" of God.
Q: What role do women play in your association?
IWDM: The women in my association of my mosque or schools I believe they have less of a problem regarding this issue than I would say most women in the international Muslim community. It's because I believe anyone who identifies with Black freedom struggle just can't be ignorant of the issue of women's rights. Even before we came into the awareness of "Islam Proper," that is before we came into the real meaning of how this religion is to be practiced, we already were recognizing women, that they need to come forward, that they need to have more freedom and to have more responsibility outside the home in the society of Muslims.
Some examples: The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, who died in 1975, had women in his immediate staff before he died. At one time he put a woman over the school. When I came into the leadership I followed his way of respecting the women and I supported a woman to be made editor, and until this day twenty years later, we have a woman editor, Sister Ayesha Mustafaa. She is editor of our Muslim publication that's really out of the ministers' hands; they don't control it, I don't control it.
So we don't have a problem, but there is a big problem in the international Muslim community. What we are hearing now in the new leadership that's growing internationally is that the cultures are responsible for this. They say, if we had followed the tradition of the Prophet we would not have this problem. The Prophet gave his major address — and when you hear a man say "I may not see you again" everything he is addressing in that major address should be of real importance to us for the present and for the future. The Muslims somehow have lost that. Prophet Mu-hammed mentioned himself, that he is cleared of all responsibility, that he did his work and he had the crowds at the pilgrimage witness that he had done his work. He said: "Let God be a witness and the people a witness that he had answered his duty to God."
Then he addressed their duty to themselves and to each other. He made an issue of the neglect that may be in a Muslim regarding how he should see his Muslim brother. His Muslim brother has rights as an individual, has rights to property and the protection of his life. His life is like blood. He also has respect to his privacy, that you just don't enter into his house and interfere with his private life. He addressed the rights of the slave to be free, the right of every human being to have freedom and dignity. And he addressed the treatment of women and cautioned them to be aware of the treatment of women.
To me, if the Muslim of the East would have kept up with the Prophet's interest and saw what he was talking about, we wouldn't have the problems that we have in the world today. They have allowed their cultures to influence how they look at women, and we have big problems in the Muslim world. But that's changing. When did we ever see what we are seeing today? We have three Muslim women who are heads of states.
What I always say to women is that the role of man as Imams is more symbolic than it is real. That is the role of man as leader with authority is more symbolic than real. For example, the qualification for him to be in that position is that he has good character, and the second is that he has knowledge. The first qualification is good character so we will find many Imams leading people in worship who are less educated than those behind him in the prayer. Many are more informed in the religion but because he has good character and because he is free to devote himself to do that, he's their Imam. The man with more knowledge and more ability is supported. The people will say they are proud "this is our Imam."
Now, if a woman in an Islamic society has the freedom to educate herself just as the man does, that means that she can compete with the Imams and others for authority in the knowledge. The Islamic community or society permits her to grow and rise in the society to lead even Imams. This occurs sometimes when the woman is above the Imam in Islamic knowledge and the Imam will be quoting the woman in his Khutbah (or sermon lecture). I'm saying these things to say that there is no excuse for discriminating against women or holding women back. Women should not be jealous or hold envy for the position of the Imam; the position of the Imam is no more than the position of a rooster and all human beings can be more than a rooster!