August 27, 1993
An Interview with Imam W. Deen Mohammed in London, England — Part 2
Q: What do you think of the situation of the European Muslims particularly in Bosnia?
IWDM: The people of Europe are closer to the Muslims of Bosnia than the people of America. But I think the American people don't like the mistreatment of life, not to mention human life. American people have an appreciation for life and a soft spot for the person or the life that is being mistreated.
We have our arrogant people in America, but they are a very small minority. Most Americans, if given the information correctly, would support, urge, and insist that our president and our government act very swiftly and do whatever America can do to stop the terribly cruel treatment of Bosnian Muslims.
Q: Do you feel in such a way that you as a person can help bridge the gap of misunderstanding and conflict between the West and the Muslim groups?
IWDM: Yes, I do believe that I can help. I do feel that I as an individual and others in America have worked to bridge a gap, if there is one. And I appreciate that we are doing that. Perhaps we are not informed enough of what is happening in Bosnia.
I was to be in Washington for a meeting of mostly Muslims to look at the situation in Bosnia and see what steps we could make in addition to those we were already making. We wanted to bring attention to the problem that is there as humanity's burden. We expect to be meeting more often, and we are trying to urge our government leaders — our president, senators, and congressmen — to look at that situation and see it for what it is. It is real cruelty to the Bosnian people.
In America now, every time the media mentions the Bosnian situation, they say "the Muslims and the Croatians" or "the Muslims and the Serbs," and we don't like that. Also we see another media attempt to make this problem political and to muffle a charge of genocide. But we do believe that the army wants to exterminate the Muslims of Bosnia, to wipe them out and get rid of them altogether.
So we don't think the issue should be seen as all political. We don't think it is just for territory. We do believe the ethnic cleansing is to get rid of Muslims.
In the past we have suffered ourselves as a racial group in America, and because of that we are needed and should be seen supporting the Bosnian people. We also believe the African American Muslims as well as all of the African American people, all Blacks, should join the good Whites in America and bring pressure on our government to do something quick about the situation in Bosnia.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of Islam?
IWDM: I used to have hopes for the future of Islam in America. But now I have more than hopes, I have some plans. That is how much faith I have. We are planning our future in America. We believe that America accommodates us and has more civilized decent people who respect all the great religions than those who don't. We believe that now we should plan our future in America.
We are planning to live and lead through our children and institutions. We already have very fine elementary schools and high schools and we have to join with other Muslims of other nationalities. We have to put our funds together and work for establishments of higher education, so that we can leave our generations to come fine institutions and brilliant African Americans who are sincere about their religion. We are looking for those who will cherish institutions and prepare youngsters to inherit institutions.
Q: Mr. Mohammed, what will you be saying in your speech tonight?
IWDM: I will be bringing attention to something that I think will help all of us, if we recognize it. I'm speaking now as a Muslim and as an Imam or leader in Islam. It is about something that I think will help all of us.
That is the tendency to go to extremes when we are dealing with the problem of racism. Racism in its ugliest form is a problem not only in America but all over the world. It is not a new one but one that has existed for ages.
I think what Islam does is show us that there is a need in man to have pride and to have dignity and to have recognition for his achievements. If the different races could understand this legitimate human quality and human need in man, I think we could make more progress. Ignoring that contributes to racism. We, the Black race, have to recognize the achievements of the White race and we should not be envious of those achievements. . We should see those achievements as the achievements of humanity. And the White race should do the same thing by others.
Our Holy Book says that God wants us not to discriminate against each other on the basis of race or color or national identity. God wants us to come to know each other, to be curious and to want to appreciate each other's achievements.
Q: What does religion have to offer to counter racism?
IWDM: The religious prejudices is a very serious problem, but I don't know that it is equal to the problem of racism. We have to deal with the religious prejudices too. I believe in the great religions of Christianity and Islam there is enough evidence and information to inspire us to work for cooperation and respect each other's religions and tolerate each other more.
Q: There was a story in the paper recently of children of African background and of Asian background being spat at in the street for their color. How do you change that?
IWDM: You change it by being a little more level headed than we have been. That is what I'm saying. We have to be more level headed. We have to be more rational. Emotionalism is a big problem.
If you look at the United States in its old dress, there is no encouragement there. But if you could see the quiet work that is being done by my religious associates and by Christians that I know to be rational, you would know this thing has been exaggerated. [Racism is an exaggeration. Too much is charged to racism].
Q: We read that racism in the United States is on the increase. The institutional racism is no longer there, but with the financial problems in the United States and in the rest of the world, racism is coming back.
IWDM: But there is more progress for racial harmony in American than there is a return to racial conflict and agitation. I don't say that the media is not correctly reporting what is happening in America, but the media can't know (all) what is happening quietly in America. I am meeting people of different colors and of different nationalities who have appreciation for tolerance among religions and races.
The old way was "let's mix it and make everything perfect." But things will not be as they are in heaven, and in heaven I don't know that things are going to be so mixed up. I believe it is possible to grow in tolerance.
Q: What do you say to people who are victims of racism?
IWDM: I think Whites are the victims of racism, too. Let us say we have made a mistake in the way we have dealt with racism and let us be less emotional and respect each other's rights and respect each other's aspirations.
Q: What is the message of unity in Islam and in your father's teachings?
IWDM: You know we got from the old idea of Elijah Muhammad a message of, separation and not of unity with mankind. But one thing that was working for us was the respect for the Book of all Muslims, the Qur'an. We were not supposed to study it; it was there but as a distant object (a mystery). The Nation of Islam under my father respected the Qur'an. He taught all of us to respect that Book. I think there was a plan to have something there to rescue us after the ugly America had changed.
As you know there is Louis Farrakhan and some others who still preach. But they are changing some because the circumstances which gave rise to the separatist stand are not there anymore. We don't have two laws in America any more. There is one legal order.
Q: You clearly see yourself as a Muslim. Do you see yourself as a Black man?
IWDM: You can bet I do. I am as sure of my awareness of me being of African decent, a "Black man." And I also have to tell you that my skin complexion is lighter than a lot of people who are called "White", like those in Ethiopia and in Asia. I am most conscious of my African identity, and I would urge all Africans or Black people who convert to Islam to remain conscious of their African identity tie.
Q: But you are not African. You are what we would call an American. How do you deal with the fact that you got to America through the slave trade?
IWDM: Well, you are British too, but you come from somewhere else. I deal with that by appreciating just as much that I am an American of African decent. And I love both.