Healing the Wounds of September 11
|Islam is for Peace and Justice|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
I greet you with the Islamic greeting of peace, Assalaumalaikum, peace be with you. We Muslims like to say that we started this greeting, but this is not true. If you look into the Bible, you will read “As you enter the house, give it your greetings of peace. Let peace rest on it and let peace return to you.” (Mathew 10:25 )
The prophet of Islam has said “you have not thanked God unless you have thanked fellow human beings”. Thus, I must thank the faculty and students of this prestigious college for hosting the annual Ramadan dinner with a special thanks to Professor Blix of the Department of Religion, President Ford, Dean Simms, Dean Barnberry and the Muslim students of Wabash College.
Your college is well known for academic excellence not only in our state but in the whole USA. I was invited to give a medical ethics lecture at the University of Science in Philadelphia last week and when I mentioned about this program today , they knew of Wabash College which is nearly as old as that University. Later on, I was taken to an Iftaar given by the MSA of the University. I was told that MSA has daily Iftaar at the campus and the food is paid for by the University. This points to the fact now that the landscape of our great nation is changing. The Judo-Christian society is changing to Judo-Christian-Islamic-Hindu and other society. USA is a nation of nations .Also, changing is the purpose of learning Islam by non-Muslims. Some 200 years ago, Islam was taught to the Colonial Armies so that when they visited Muslim countries , they knew the religion of the people they will encounter. Now Muslims are your neighbors, your students, your employees, your employers, your physicians and your patients. We need to learn now about the faith of others who live with us to bring them into dialogue and co-operation rather than throw them into confrontation.
We are passing through the spiritual month of Ramadan and we greet each other with the greeting of Ramadan Mubarak meaning have a blessed month. This is the month in which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for the sake of God and spend the night in special prayers. Hosting Ramadan dinner is also becoming another American tradition. Secretary Collin Powell while hosting Ramadan Dinner on November 18 at the state department said “ one of the most powerful ways to bring diverse people together is by breaking bread across religion , at Easter ,at Sedar and at Ramadan as we are doing now”. For the last 8 years, our Presidents have hosted Ramadan Iftaar dinner parties at the White House. On November 7th, President Bush hosted some 66 Muslim Ambassadors and additional 25 prominent American Muslim leaders to the Ramadan dinner at the White House. I’d like to quote some of the remarks that he made in his speech. He said “Ramadan is a special time of prayer and fasting, contemplation of God’s greatness and service to those in need. According to Muslim teachings, this season commemorates the revelation of God’s word in the holy Quran to Prophet Mohammad. Today this word inspires grateful Muslims to lead lives of honesty, integrity and compassion. In hosting tonight’s Iftaar, I send a message to all Muslim nations that America treasures your friendship and America honors your faith. We see in Islam, a religion that traces its origin back to God’s call on Abraham. We share your belief in God’s justice and your insistence on man’s moral responsibility. Ramadan and the upcoming holiday seasons are good times to remember the ties of friendship and respect that bind us together. Learning from each other, we can build bridges of mutual trust and understanding. Working together we can create a better future for people of all faiths. I wish you all a blessed Ramadan.”. On November 14th the US Senate passed resolution S.Con. Res 155 calling for November 27th as “national day of fasting for all people of USA , a day for prayer and seeking God’s Guidance ---“.
The topic that has been suggested to me to talk about is “Islam is for Peace and Justice.” The question one may ask is this: “If it is true, then why is there so much unrest among Muslims and by Muslims?” Yes, it is true that Islam is a religion of peace. Even its name means peace. One of the attributes of God is As-Salaam, which means the Giver of peace and when we say assalamulaikum, we pray for peace for the other. Unfortunately, words of peace alone are not enough. They have to be followed by peaceful actions. Muslims are not at peace at this time of the history. When Muslims were left in peace between the 8th-14th centuries, they created one of the greatest civilizations in the world, in which Science, Theology, Medicine and culture flourished. However, Muslims feel that from the crusades until now, their faith, way of living and lands have been challenged and are being attacked. It is the continued colonization of Muslim lands and minds politically, economically and culturally that has caused Muslim rage against the west. While our President, many other politicians and various other Christian leaders including the Pope, have now extended the hand of friendship toward Muslims , there are Evangelists here who say “Islam is a wicked religion. Mohammad was demon possessed and a terrorist. The Quran is like a Meinkamp and Muslims are worse than Nazis.” Such inflammatory messages coming out of the USA by these so called “TV Evangelists” , are flashed across the world and misrepresent the true loving nature of Americans and Christians. After Reverend Falwell’s statement about Prophet Mohammad, as mentioned above, for which he apologized later on, the National Council of Churches denounced it and said such statements will endanger the lives of Christians in the Muslim world. A few days later, the Bali tragedy took place. Many mainstream, God-fearing Christian and Jewish leaders , have also denounced such incorrect statements about Islam and we thank them for that.
Islam is also for Justice . Another attribute of God in Islam is “ Al-Adil “ –the Just One. Quran commands Muslims to do Justice saying “ O you who believe ! stand out firmly for God as witness to fair dealings and let not hatred of others swerve you to wrong and depart from Justice. Fear God , for God is well acquainted with all you do” ( 5:8)
The second major reason that Muslims are not at peace is because many of them have not understood Islam very well themselves. To some of them, Islam is just 5 rituals. To some it is Jihad against external forces of oppression . It is our duty; those who have the true knowledge, to tell them that Jihad starts with the conquest of self against temptation of wrong doing. Jihad is t he peaceful inner struggle which is the hallmark of Islam. The external Jihad, wrongly translated as “holy war”, has very limited place. A war is never holy. This term was first used during crusades to invite Christians to liberate the place of Jesus from infidels.
Thus, if Islam is to be called a religion of peace and justice, then Muslims must prove it by peaceful actions and upholding justice for all and actions that will uphold the sanctity of human life and respect for the lives of others. God is not just God of Muslims but of all creations . The message of Islam is the title of the prophet “mercy to mankind”. This peace and mercy has to manifest in creating a civil society free of violence in willing obedience to will of God, not just to the human laws , to care for the weak, the poor, the elderly , giving equal rights and opportunities to women and minorities. Terrorism is the modern Plague which like the disease affects people of all faith and nations. We must fight it together and support our leaders and friends who have taken up this challenge.
When Muslims are at peace, only then do they become worthy of entering the garden of paradise. Quran says “O, soul at peace, return to thy Lord, well pleased and well pleasing, enter as My servant, enter into My heaven.” (surah Al- Fajr )
Mr. Pat Robertson has said on the record “Islam is the enemy”. But, since he does not know how to treat the enemy, I will quote him what Jesus (peace be upon him) has taught us about how to treat the enemy. In the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus said “you have heard that it was said, you shall love you neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be the children of your Father in heaven, for He makes his sun rise on evil and on good and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have. Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brother and sister, what more are you doing than others. Do not even gentiles do the same? Be perfect and therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
I conclude with a prayer from the Prophet Mohammad for peace: “Our Lord, you are the peace. From you comes all peace. To you is the return of peace. Make us live in peace. Let us enter into the house of peace. Blessed be You, our Lord, to whom belongs all majesty and honor.”
With love I came, with love I leave. In peace I came, in peace I leave. Blessed are the peacemakers. Shalom, Salaam, Peace, Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Goodnight.Keynote address on 11-20-02 at the 3rd annual Ramadan dinner at Wabash College, Indiana.