Interview: Faith Communities Together: Part 2
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(This interview conducted by Focolare representative Ms. Paola Santose-fano with Imam W. Deen Mohammed focuses on the upcoming event in Washington, D.C., themed "Faith Communities Together." On Nov. -10 - 12, 2000, 10,000 followers of diverse faiths are expected at the Washington Convention Center to hear addresses by the honorable Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, and honorable Imam W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the largest group of indigenous Muslims in America.)
FOCOLARE: So, for you, it was important when you met the Holy Father?
Imam Mohammed: I met that great man. And what was I experiencing? I was thanking G-d. Because I know where I came from, and this was almost like a blessing from heaven for me. That I was being received in The Vatican by the Pope of Rome. That was a very, very special experience.
And I don't think it was something that just happened in my life. I think it was G-d's blessing to me. To have me welcomed in The Vatican in the audience of Pope John Paul II.
To be truthful with you, the first time I saw him there was a feeling that I didn't know if he knows me; I didn't know if he was comfortable with me. The second time when I was invited with other religious leaders to be there, I didn't feel that at all. He looked me right in my face, right into my eyes and I saw love. I wanted to kiss his hand, but we don't do that. I don't allow anybody to kiss my hand.
If anyone were to try to kiss my hand, I would stop them. One time, someone did it quickly, so I said: "Let me kiss your hand." But I know what it means to the church, that tradition and that respect. I was almost moved to kiss his hand, but that would not be right for my image and people would think that I am Catholic. That is the only reason why I didn't do it.
FOCOLARE: But you did embrace him.
Imam Mohammed: I greeted him as I would greet a Muslim leader of high respect and high esteem and highly reverenced person.
That's the way I greeted him. And I also greeted him with love and affection, and that was not what I got from him but what I got from Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement. I love him because of you all. I respect him because of my knowledge; I love him because of you all.
FOCOLARE: We hear there is a great excitement about the November Event. Can you share something about its preparation?
Imam Mohammed: We appointed Imam Izak-El Pasha to work with the Focolare in New York, with Julian and Sherri, and we think we are making pro-gess. I am really very pleased with the program and the brochure that was published in our paper. I am pleased with that.
I am not sure if Imam Pasha understands how important it is to us, that is to my office, to have musical presentations by a person we have selected. Salimah Omar is a jazz artist with a lifetime achievement and is 80 years old. She is well known in the jazz circle and has experience with jazz artists of New York and other places.
She composes, she's a pianist, she sings, and we have asked her to be responsible for our presentation. I don't know if Imam Pasha has made that clear to you and Sherri. We are preparing. We also have Wali Ali, who is a professional guitarist and vocalist. We also have a gentleman who is not known at all from Memphis, Tenn., and he has a trio and their performance is beautiful.
We are asking Salimah to work with them, and she wants to bring together some
young children, too, to sing some songs she has written, some going back to the time of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. She thought it was a good song, and I do too, if she makes some word changes and she has made these changes.
When she sings, you will feel the church influence, when this song is sung. The church influence is in us because of our background. But this is not to imply that our religion has been weakened or that there is some kind of amalgamation or something.
No, because of the Qur'an and my leadership, our religion is pure; it's not mixed with Christianity or anything.
But for our own personal lives and souls, the imprint of church principles and Christian love and Christian spirit, to me, my religion as I understand from Qur'an and Muhammed the Prophet welcomed that. It does not say, "Get that out." No, it says, "This is the good Muslim."
So we don't have to get rid of much of our Christian life that is compatible with Islam. I wish all our people understood that. What is compatible with Islam, we should not think that because it is Christian, it is no good.
This is touchy, but it is important for me because I couldn't be the person that I am. I wouldn't have been prepared for Islam, for the Qur'an and Muhammed the Prophet had I not been influenced the way I have been influenced by my mother and the membership that came from the church.