UN Interfaith Harmony Week (February 1 – February 7, 2020)
Author: Imam Syed Soharwardy
Numbering: Issue 22.B, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)
Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal
Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com
Individual Publication Date: February 1, 2020
Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing
Frequency: Three Times Per Year
Imam Syed B. Soharwardy is the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC). ISCC is a national Canadian Islamic organization in Canada with more than 20 mosques affiliated and growing. Imam Soharwardy is the author of “Defeating Hate – A Comprehensive rebuttal to ISIS, Taleban, AlQaedah and Islamophobes. He walked across Canada in 2008 leading Multifaith walk against violence. He can be reached at Contact@islamicsupremecouncil.com OR Phone: 403-831-6330.
Keywords: Allah, Canada, Interfaith Harmony Week, Islam, Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, Muslim, Syed Soharwardy, United Nations.
*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*
After the tragedy of 9/11/2001 in New York when I started Islam awareness campaign called Islam 101 in Canada and started speaking at churches, offices and other places I was accused by my own Muslim brothers and sisters including very prominent Imams that I am too cozy with Christians and Jews. Many so-called Muslim community leaders here in Calgary and around Canada were spreading rumors and lies about me. Even in few mosques Friday sermons were delivered against me. I was called George Bush’s planted agent in Canada. I was called many names by my own community members. When they could not stop my Interfaith dialogues and media coverage of those efforts, they used local Canadian and community newspapers to discredit me. But by the Grace of Allah and the training I had received from my father teacher and guide (May Allah’s mercy on him) I ignored all of them and kept on doing what I was doing. Because I knew the Interfaith Dialogue was a new concept for many Imams and Canadian Muslims. They knew the idea of debates. In those debates one faith leader tries to prove the other faith leader wrong. In debates one side proves the other side is wrong. One of the famous Muslim debaters in recent past was Maulana Ahmed Deedat of South Africa. His famous debate with Rev. Jimmy Swaggart is still fresh in several minds. But in Interfaith Dialogue instead of proving the opposite side wrong you just share what you believe without offending the other faith community. This was some thing new for many Muslim Canadian migrants at that time.
When I founded Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT) in 1998 several Muslim leaders not only opposed the idea of MAT but condemned me in public. One prominent very respected Canadian Muslim leader came to Calgary and met me. He advised me not to establish MAT. But I did it. And after the tragedy of 9/11 most of the Muslim leaders jumped on the bandwagon but slowly.
I am very happy that after several years of struggle in building bridges between the Canadian Muslims and Christians / Jewish Canadians, all those who used to consider “Interfaith Dialogue” against Islamic Sharia are now holding and participating in Interfaith Dialogues. However, in this country every day new immigrants including new Imams arrive, the importance of Interfaith Dialogue remains the same as it was back in 2001 or before. Muslims must continue in educating Canadians about Islam through dialogue.
However, one thing we must not do during interfaith dialogues is to sugar quote or distort or dilute Islamic beliefs in order to be acceptable to other faith leaders or communities. I have observed some Muslim leaders in Interfaith dialogues become so “liberal / secular” that they not only distort Islamic teachings but in fact they deceive other faith communities by showing “un-Islamic” beliefs or actions as “Islamic”. They think this way we can make non-Muslims happy. This is what I call “Taqiyyah” and we must not do this. We should present Islamic teachings the way our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) preached and practiced. We, Muslims must remember one of the most fundamental principles of Islam as Imam Malik (May Allah be pleased with him) described, “The only person we (Muslims) cannot disagree with is the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). With all others there is a room for disagreement.” Therefore, in Interfaith Dialogues our reference must remain Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). With other noble personalities of Islam, jurists, scholars and Imams there is room for disagreement. This is the way I conduct my Interfaith Dialogues.
Yesterday, a Canadian Muslim brother called me and protesting against the invitation to a Christian Pastor to come to our mosque and participate in the Interfaith Dialogue at our mosque. He believes this is against the Islamic Sharia to have a Christian (non-Muslim) speaker speaking at a mosque. When I told him that we are allowed to offer Muslim Friday prayers and Ramadan Taraweeh prayers in Churches here in Canada and many other Western countries, he was silent. When I asked him, is your migration from a Muslim country to a non-Muslim country for better jobs and opportunities not against the Sharia? He had no answer. When I told him that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) not only allowed but asked the Christians of Najran to offer their Christian prayers inside one of the holiest places of Islam, Masjid Nabawi Sharif in Madinah. He refused to believe.
Why such intolerant and ignorant Muslims come to this country? They are the bad image of all of us and our faith. They are one of the reasons for creating and promoting Islamophobia. This is not the first time it happened. Once I was in a B.C. mosque. During my Dars-e-Qur’an lecture, I said, “please invite your non-Muslim neighbours in Masjid, explain to them Islam and the life of our Prophet (peace be upon him) and answer their questions.” The Imams father stood up and used such a hateful language that I can not write. I was shocked. After that I never went to that mosque.Our Imams have a huge duty. They must know and believe in developing bridges with other faith communities as described in our holy book Qur’an;
قُلۡ يٰۤـاَهۡلَ الۡكِتٰبِ تَعَالَوۡا اِلٰى كَلِمَةٍ سَوَآءٍۢ بَيۡنَـنَا وَبَيۡنَكُمۡ اَلَّا نَـعۡبُدَ اِلَّا اللّٰهَ وَلَا نُشۡرِكَ بِهٖ شَيۡـــًٔا وَّلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعۡضُنَا بَعۡضًا اَرۡبَابًا مِّنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰهِؕ
Say: “O people of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and patrons other than Allah.” (Qur’an, 3:64).
Interfaith Dialogues provide us with opportunities to explain what Islam is and what is not Islam. Because there are many idiots who call themselves Muslims but doing everything that goes against Islam. Interfaith dialogues break down silos and build bridges. I challenge any Imam OR Muslim scholar to prove to me that a non-Muslim cannot come to a mosque OR cannot speak at the mosque. Our God is compassionate and merciful and our Prophet (peace be upon him) is mercy for all God’s creation.
May Allah save Canada from all evils. May Allah give us the correct understanding of our own religions.
Please reach out to your non-Muslim neighbours, colleagues, classmates and strangers and without asking them their religion, just say, “I am a Muslim and I love and respect you.”