Welcome our listeners of Radio Hurytna. With you is Hind Bashandy on a special program. Our dialogue today is with the Imam of the largest mosque in the U.S., Al-Farah Mosque in New York. He is the founder of the Institution of Muslim Leaders, considered to be the first organization that brings together leaders from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds. He also is the founder of the Cordova Initiative which we will get to know more about shortly. He is also the author of Islam, a Search For Meaning in 1996 and in 2000 he authored Islam, the Holy Law and in 2004 he authored What�s Right With Islam, a New Vision for Muslims and the West.


We welcome to Radio Hurytna the distinguished Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, peace be upon you (Salam Al-alyakum) and welcome


Rauf: And peace be upon you. Hind. Thank you.


Hind: We also thank you. I also introduce you to Mr. Hazmi Msalim who will do an immediate translation for us to Arabic if we need it although you do speak Arabic with English of course [smile]


Hind: Your last book What is Right With Islam. It responds to 3 main questions, what is Islam? Why Muslims Hate America? and What is the Solution?


We will start with the second question, Why Muslims Hate America, and I ask the opposite question, why do Americans see us as terrorists or suspicious or they see that we are all Bin-Ladens.

Rauf: The main thing to every nation is national security. When there is a threat, the most important issue is national security, especially to the public. We also in the Muslim world, if anything happens in every country like what happened in Germany or any Muslim country, also in Egypt or any Muslim country like Saudi Arabia for example, it would be important to them of course. If something happens in Egypt for example the Copts or with religious minorities who have the same faith as the Christians in America, it makes them care, they are of the same faith.


What happens from terrorist actions, it causes a national security threat, a threat to them as a community of Americans and Christians. The same with us, when Palestinians are under pressure or attacked we care as Arabs, we feel that we care, we feel attacked as Arabs and Muslims. This is natural. To any community. If something happened to the Bashandy family, aren't you a Bashandi Hind? [Hind smiles]


Hind: I am Layla


Rauf: Ya Layla. Your family will care. It is a natural human dynamic. What happens between countries, tribes and religious communities? This causes anger and emotional reaction. We have to understand these things; this is the reason why people are afraid.


Hind: Is this the people [Americans] that care or is it the American government that cares?


Rauf: There is no difference, when people feel something, the government feels something. The government is who? The government is also the people. Who is the media? They are the people, the relationship between government and people, they have a seamless relationship. A government worker also has a relationship with the general population. Always what happens to populations the government feels it, and has to react to it.

Hind: Not the opposite? Some say that George Bush is the reason for this hatred, that it's the opposite, he transferred the hatred to the Muslims, the opposite from when Obama came, they were relieved by good tidings after his speech in Egypt to the Muslim world. People then end up thinking that the American government is the one with the movers and shakers, at least from the perspective of how Egyptians see it.


Rauf: Listen, you have to understand that I don't like the phrase "American government" or "America" in general as the perpetrator; this way of expression is wrong, even now we use this expression in our communities; we accused Islam as the perpetrator even though Islam is not the perpetrator.


Hind: They are certain individuals to blame.


Rauf: Islam is what you do. You say No God but Allah, perform the prayers, give Zakat, fast Ramadan, go to Hajj. This is Islam. The prophet (PBUH) said, it's Hadith.


When we say "what is Islam's opinion", "what will Islam do for such a case" "what will Islam do in this situation and that" if you ask, "what is the opinion of faith" on a specific situation.


Hind: it's not people, but what I mean by "American government" is individuals, the governing body.


Rauf: But the governing institution is a concept.


Hind: Ok


Rauf: The government is not the action, an individual is the action. So why is this thinking wrong? What happens to us is this. We ask, "why did America invade Iraq"? America did not invade Iraq. Bush invaded Iraq. People in the Muslim world forget fast how so many people demonstrated against the invasion in New York, hundred thousand demonstrated in Washington, people demonstrated also in Los Angeles demonstrations in New York, against Bush. Bush's decision to attack Iraq was not popular, it was divisive to the American population. We usually say, "Why America did this and that". The mistake in that is we think all Americans


Hind: We have a problem of generalization.


Rauf: There is a huge segment of Americans that were against the war in Iraq. The same thing happens in the West. They say "why Islam attacks us" instead of saying "why bin Laden attacked us" they say "why Islam attacked us?" When you think that way, Islam becomes an enemy and this method is dangerous. When you say "government" or "media" it is better you speak regarding specific individuals and make them responsible and not make all the media responsible or all of Islam responsible.


Hind: Let's talk about a certain individual - Bin Laden. There was a new press release, a tape coming soon on radio, he was saying that he does the attacks on America as a response. Yet America was not satisfied neither the people in Gaza. This type of thinking, we are speaking of this individual who is supposed to be Muslim and supposedly he is giving a certain image for Islam. What is your view on this response? That someone committing these attack operations, like the U.S supports certain things that happen in Gaza or what happens in Israel, so we respond to it in similar operations in America.


Rauf: See again, this is a mistake, for an example, when terrorist operations happen in Egypt for example, we had a terror attack in Luxor a while ago, so what are Muslims doing? They are Muslim and we are Muslim, the ones killed were also Muslim. What happens in Pakistan for example, suicide bombing in Pakistan, Muslims against Muslims, when aggression or attack is from the same religion or different ethnic community, we don't see it as religious attack from religion or from an outside source, if the attacks come from a different faith, we will accuse this religion or sect as it is the source of the attacks. This is wrong, in the West as in the Muslim world we need to think differently about it, we have to separate between attacks and see what their causes are. If you and your husband have a dispute, you say "all men are the same" "women are all the same" if [a fight] was between two men, one is white and the other black, you will say all blacks are the same or all whites are the same, in Rwanda between Tutsi and Hutu, it becomes "Tutsi are this way" and "Huti are that way" alright? What happens is tension and misunderstanding. We need to remember to look at the root cause. 99% of conflicts stems from competition for power or something that has economic value. For example, the problem with Palestine is an issue of Land. The issue is who does the land belong to? If it was between Muslims and Muslims it's the same. In Ireland between Protestant and Catholic, they had no balance in government and economic parity, economic well being. If you make a balance in the control and resources, this is what? This is the main solution.


Hind: You had an initiative after 9/11, the Islamic Center, it is the New Al-Farah mosque coming soon, close to the World Trade Center, and we would like to know if this Islamic center has been built already, and how was the initiative met with difficulties or was it the opposite that some might say "look here, the Muslims did this to us and we should not have them do this so close [to ground zero]


Rauf: We were concerned from this, but thanks be to Allah, we make good relations with the Mayor. The Mayor of New York Bloomberg. We made good relations with the religious communities, Jewish and Christian, and with the Jewish community board, of course, they say "No No, Feisal is our friend and this project is an important project" even the Jewish community center, we have relations with them, we told them "we want to do this and that" and they said "we will help you". All this was in the article that was published in the New York Times. So thank God this was very positive.


Hind: Is the center complete?


Rauf: No no, this is a long process. It will be praise be to Allah a structure that will be an icon and the Muslim community will be proud of, not only in America Muslim community in New York but in the entire Muslim world.


Hind: You stated in your book that after 9/11 that even on a personal level, your views and aspirations changed in your life, that you wanted to get deeper in the ideological and spiritual issues, to the extent that you went to synagogues and churches to explain Islam, maybe it was the motive as to why you wrote your last book, tell us how did you change after 9/11?


Rauf: The conditions of my life changed, as a man who was focused on religion and interfaith dialogue, into asking myself the question that I was not able to answer as to what can we do as Muslims and Americans, what can we do as Muslims, Muslim community and the American community who were not Muslim to solve the problem between America and the Muslim world. This of course required me to enter politics and get involved in how to solve the political problem, because the political problems are the biggest source of troubles between the West and the Muslim world.


Hind: The problem is that the Cordova Initiative to better relations between Muslim countries and the West, but in theory it sounds nice, but practically, how do we get constructive steps?


Rauf: The most important way to handle a sickness is to understand what is the sickness. In the beginning we began to analyze the causes between the west and the Muslim world, so we categorized it into four causes. The main cause was the political one, the first one was the Israeli Palestinian conflict. There are other issues, the issue of America and Iraq, the attack invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, there are also others, but these are the most major. The other part of the problem is in Europe, a sociological problem. In England, France, Holland and Germany, the Muslim community is increasing and the native population is declining. It's changing the identity of these societies; this is the reason for the problems that we see in Europe in particular. The third part, we might call it the "difference between the western religion or the western thinking and the Islamic thinking, a philosophical and religious category of problems, I don't mean philosophical only but also ideologically. The religion in the West is human freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of press, separation of church and state. These are the 4 pillars of the religion of the west. Of course, in the Muslim world, if ask someone, is there a separation between religion and politics?


Hind: This would be Kufr (unbelief) and apostasy


Rauf: I think that more then 90% would say "no no no no we don't believe in separation of church and state as Muslims" but this is the fear of the West, that we as Muslim we want to�


Hind: To have religion control over politics


Rauf: Yes, as an example you see on some blogs and websites about us Muslims: "O yes, we need to have a Caliphate in America" this scares the West and it feeds the tension, and of course the 4th reason is the amplifying roll of the media; it makes people get very very upset. Assume no one heard of Marwa El-Sherbini in Egypt, assume the media said nothing about her, there would be no reactions in Egypt. So media exaggerates every problem and makes people react in both east and west. These 4 categories are the source of the problems, soWe have to look at it [as] how to engineer solutions. The Cordova Initiative we think of ourselves as an engineering shop.


Rauf: Engineering what?


Hind: You study physics.


Rauf: Yes. We have an analytical approach. Our work has been that. IN THE BOOK CHAPTER 6, I WROTE ABOUT THIS BLUE PRINT as to WHAT HAS TO BE DONE BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, what has to be done by the Jewish community, what has to be done by the Christian community, what has to be done by the Muslim community, what has to be done by educators what has to be done by the media.




Hind: [correcting the slip] Obama.


Rauf: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE IMPACT OF OUR WORK IN A POSITIVE WAY. When you do a job, when you do a solution, of course, a very complicated one, so you look at your work "what have you accomplished from what you have done".


Hind: We are talking of problems that were going for centuries. The Arab-Israeli struggle, or Israeli-Palestinian, we are talking of a problem filled with years. According to you, how long do you think until we have a solution? Long time? Possibly?


Rauf: All these problems can be solved. What it requires is the will, the will to solve it. It requires political will, it requires resources and then the right focus. For example, the signs of how to go to the moon was known 200 years ago, but the political will and the financial support for it, happened in 1960-61. When John Kennedy said that we will send an American to the moon before this decade, he made the U.S. government put the money behind it, established NASA, the political will and the resources behind it.


Hind: But there are people whose goals are opposite from this.


Rauf: What is happening Hind is that every city and every community is chained with what I call the chains of political correctness, in every place there are things that we cannot speak against it so much even if they are wrong. Why? Because it's not acceptable in society, so part of what is required is to engineer ways to move against political correctness, and that's part of our work.


Hind: Good. I hope that many of our listeners read the book, but why most didn't read the book even though our listeners are mostly Arabs, Muslims and Christians. How do we as Arab peoples better the image and take positive steps to decrease the tensions between Muslims and the West?


Rauf: There are many things we can do. But in my opinion I believe that the first thing we have to do is to exhibit the best ethical values of our faith. Second, to recognize that the Islamic faith is not only worship but how to deal with one another. When Sheikh [Muhammad] Abdo went to France, a hundred years ago, he said a famous saying: "I went to France, there was no Muslims but saw Islam, then I came to Egypt and saw Muslims but without Islam"


Hind: In the Arab countries, we only have an outward show of faith.


Rauf: Superficial religious at first, second we concentrate on worship yet we forget how to deal with one another. What this means is ethics. This is why you see Muslims in the West. They see better ethics in France and Germany, they deal in Islamic ways, they have Islamic ethics there. This is very important for us. This is why I get questioned: "you say that Islam is the best of all religions, but look at the condition of Muslims, why do you live in poverty and social problems?" So if we can present our communities as "the best of people" [Quran] "you instruct on virtue and instruct against sin" "believe in God". We do believe in God, but where are our virtues that instruct against sin?


This means what? This means justice, moral values. We have to exhibit great virtue.


Hind: You call of course for reconciliation between religions and you study the dialogue between religions, but you know that with us, we concentrate on Judaism, Christian and Muslim faiths, but we also have other religions - Buddhists and non-religious. How do we deal these? In Egypt we have problems with Bahai community. How do we deal with the other religions that we do not believe in?


Rauf: If you want to win someone over, you need to understand their thoughts. If I was a young man, and want to win the heart of a young lady. The man says things without being sensitive and he offends the lady. Why? He doesn't think like a woman, if he understood how a woman thinks, he will be more effective, so we need to think of Christians and Jews not from an Islamic perspective. How do they feel, how do they think, what are there fears and you have to address those and then you can effectively engage. In every society you have special communities, in the U.S. the major communities outside our communities are the Christian and Jewish communities, so our work in America concentrates more on the Jewish and Christian communities, so in India, our relations concentrate more on the Hindus, in Malaysia our work is mostly on Muslim, Hindus and Buddhists, the focus of your work has to focus on the major faith communities.


Hind: We wish that our dialogue could have been extended. We thank you Mr. Feisal for this dialogue and for visiting our studio Radio Hurytna and you have honored us for your visit and we thank you very much.


Rauf: Thank you Hind very much.