[Editor’s note: The following article contains excerpts of an interview which took place on September 13, 2010, that was aired live on Al-Jazeera’s English language channel. Click here for full web video.]
In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.
Riz Khan (RK): Hello and welcome. Tensions are rising and divisions growing, but what is fueling hostility to Muslims in America? A new survey reveals that 40 percent of people in the U.S. have a negative perception of Muslims something that’s being highlighted in the media by the latest controversies.
The pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida threatened to burn copies of the Qur’an on September the 11th as a message to, quote: “radical Muslims.” Pastor Terry Jones did eventually back down after intense global pressure, including an appeal from the U.S. President Barack Obama. But copies of the Qur’an were desecrated in Tennessee and New York City, where another issue is dividing the population: Tensions remain high over the proposal to build an Islamic center in Manhattan near the site of the 9/11 attacks by Muslim extremists nine years ago. So today we ask: “Is there an organized effort to fan the flames of ‘Islamophobia’ in the United States?”
Joining me from Chicago is Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam; a controversial sect for the Muslim faith in the United States. Minister Farrakhan, I welcome you to the show. It’s good to speak with you again, sir.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (HMLF): Thank you. It’s a pleasure and honor to be with you again.
RK: I have to start by asking, sir: What sort of reaction has there been among the Muslims you know, and members of the Nation of Islam as well, to these incidents; especially the Qur’an burning over the weekends? Has there been an effort to reach out to non-Muslims to promote better understanding rather than perhaps react in anger?
HMLF: Yes, there has been. We had a press conference at the National Press Club, where a coalition of African American Muslims came together to dialogue and allow our voices to be heard in this very serious time of increasing anger, fear and hatred of the presence of Islam in America.
If I might say, Brother Riz: We have been in America–the Nation of Islam–now for 80 years. And in the beginning of our journey toward Islam in the ’30s, we were persecuted because our names were changed from our former slave names to Islamic names. And our women who changed their form of dress, and covered their hair and their bodies, were mocked and scorned as they walked the streets of Detroit and Chicago. This mainly was the followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Fard Muhammad, who is the Founder of the Nation of Islam.
In 1941, when Japan attacked the United States of America, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was arrested; sent to prison. Not because he was a “criminal,” but America, the president of the United States, did not want him on the streets of America preaching Islam during a time that America was prosecuting a war.
The early Muslims who set up the University of Islam were arrested because we took our children out of the public schools, and put them in an Islamic school to be taught by their own teachers.
RK: What the interesting thing about what’s been going on recently is I know there have been comparisons made about the burning of the Qur’an with what many see in the media from overseas, and some other Muslim countries where there are people burning the American flag.
And I wonder if there’s anything to even equate the two?
HMLF: No, there’s not. But, in finishing that point: We have suffered in America because we wanted to practice Islam.
You know that Muhammad Ali was called “Cassius Clay.” And when his name was changed to “Muhammad Ali,” although he was loved in the Muslim world, he was hated for his change of name. Now you can look at basketball games, football games, and you can see the names of Allah on the jersey of many Black American athletes. And there is no persecution for them, but we suffered that.
Now, since 9/11: Yes, the flames of hatred for Islam are being fanned. And even though we have a Black president, who has spoken out very forcefully, that America will not go to war with Islam; that it is not Islam that is the problem, it is those who are fanatic in their zeal, supposedly for Islam, that America sees, and the Islamic world sees, as the problem.
But under President Barack Obama, there’s the FBI that have been planting agents in mosques around the country, stimulating those who are hateful of Israel, hateful of Jewish people; inspiring them to acts of terror. And then capturing them, and putting that on the television as though this is the “norm” in mosques throughout this country.
RK: Sir, I’ll put an email about that issue of the media that we got in from Louisiana in the U.S.A. here. “Amy Luna” wrote in, saying, “I believe the U.S. mainstream media holds some responsibility in the Qur’an burning issue as this is the type of story that brings ratings.”
Now, of course, the media has been blamed for giving too much attention to that Qur’an burning proposal by Pastor Terry Jones. And I wonder, even though he did back down after some high-level intervention, how much do you feel the media played a part in this?
HMLF: Well, first of all, the gentleman, or, the pastor is a non-descript person that did not deserve the media attention that he received. So when the media catapulted this man’s thinking of burning Qur’ans to the entire world, this is provoking an Islamic reaction because of our deep love and devotion for Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Our deep love and devotion for this book, Qur’an: That raised the Arabs from a state of ignominy to eminence; and Muslims ruled the known world from the 7th to the 11th century based on the wisdom of this Qur’an. And this Qur’an is what sparked the Renaissance in Europe. So, to burn a book that has meant so much to so many is an act of sacrilege. That, of course, would stimulate and provoke serious reaction in the Islamic world.
RK: Now, of course, Pastor Terry Jones, as you say, wasn’t known at all before this incident. You, yourself, have always been in the media for a long time; you’re often a controversial figure to many. And I wonder how much pressure there’s been on you not to say too much; to keep a low profile in order perhaps not to inflame either side?
HMLF: Well, it’s time for Muslims, especially African America Muslims, to make our voices heard.
Many of our Muslim brothers and sisters who are immigrant Muslims may be somewhat timid, because they have a “Green Card,” and they’ve been spied on by the FBI, and they don’t want to be deported. They have been good, upstanding American citizens.
We were born here! We live here! We’ve suffered here! We’ve bled here! We’ve died here! So, it is our time, now, to speak up for the hurt and the pain of the Islamic community. But I would say, Riz, to all Muslims: Don’t over react, because, to harm people; because in their ignorance they burned a book that they may never have read, I caution you the 48th Surah of the Qur’an is called “The Victory.”
And what made it a victory? Because, at Hudaibiya, three miles from Mecca, when the Prophet and his Companions were trying to go to Mecca, an Accord was struck with the members of the Quraish who ruled Mecca; and on that piece of paper it said “Muhammad ibn Abdullah, Messenger of Allah.” And, the members of the Quraish said, “If we had believed that you were in fact the Messenger of God, we never would have attacked you, so strike that from the Accord.”
None of the Companions would strike his title from the Accord, so the Prophet himself took the Accord, and struck the title “Messenger of Allah” from that Accord. Why? Because he’s the Messenger of God whether it is on paper, or not, Allah is a Witness!
So you can burn the Qur’an, but you cannot burn the zeal that the Qur’an has burned into the hearts of 1.6 billion Muslims around the Earth. And all it did was give the Muslims a victory; and when you burn our Holy Book, more Americans who don’t know anything about the Qur’an, want to know, “What’s in this book? Let me study this book.”
So in the end, we’re the winner.
RK: “Guilty until proven innocent”–that appears to be the plight of millions of Muslims living in the United States. Many say they’ve been living under constant suspicion since the attacks of 9/11 which were carried out by Arab Muslim men. So what can the Islamic community in the U.S. do to reach out to Americans of other faiths?
Minister, one of the issues that’s been ongoing is the Park 51 Islamic Center that’s being proposed for to be built very close to the Ground Zero location in New York City. We had an email from a viewer in Israel, if I can put this to you, sir. From “Karina Robbins-Bronstein,” who wrote in saying: “What would Muslims do if, in Saudi Arabia, if a church was to be built next to the site of an attack carried out by a Westerner? There is very little tolerance in Arab countries for other religions.” Now, how valid do you think that is as a point about the lack of tolerance there is in some Muslim countries to other religions?
HMLF: Maybe in some, but I was in Iraq while Saddam Hussein was its president. And I visited Shiite mosques, I visited Sunni mosques. There [were] Christian churches that I didn’t visit, but I saw; and there were Jewish synagogues. And there never was violence between Christians and Jews and various Islamic sects.
There have been Jews and Muslims and Christians living together in the Middle East for hundreds of years, and they have not killed each other. But this is a recent phenomenon by Europeans who accepted Judaism, and then used their view of this Holy Land as theirs.
And since in, 48, the United Nations, mainly European countries–with only Ethiopia representing the Black Africa–giving Israel a home in Palestine. So now you have Europeans coming into Palestine, who are not Semitic–they are “Europeans.” And in Israel, they are persecuting the Semitic Jews who have been there for thousands of years, and they’re persecuting the Falasha, the Ethiopian Jews.
And in fact, just about a month ago I read where some European Jews did not even want darker-skinned Jews to go to school with them. This is not “Judaism,” this is racism masquerading under the name of Judaism!
RK: Minister, a caller from Saudi Arabia; “Omar” is on the line.
Omar: Sir, as an American working, or being in Saudi Arabia, what can I do to improve relations between our people and the Muslim world?
HMLF: You know, dear brother, our people are going through what the Arabs went through prior to the advent of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him.
We are in a state of jahiliyya: We are in a state of mass ignorance. And as the Bible teaches, “My people are destroyed”–not because they’re Black, but they’re destroyed “for the lack of knowledge.” So the more we improve our growth in knowledge; and as you know, the first words that the Holy Prophet heard [were] Iqra–“Read.” And when reading becomes the standard in America, we’ll grow from being the ugliness of a clot to the beauty of an embryo and a fetus, ready to be embraced by the entire world.
It’s our growth, and our development; and the banishment of ignorance from our words and our deeds that will make us accepted and acceptable among the civilized nations of the Earth.
RK: Let me get your view on the issue of the Islamic Center near Ground Zero; the Park 51 issue. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf had this comment to make about the way that the situation has been handled.
“The events of the past few weeks have truly saddened me to my very core. I regret that some have misunderstood our intentions. I’m deeply distressed that in this heated political season some have exploited this issue for their own agendas. And I’m deeply disappointed that so many of the arguments have been based on deliberate misinformation and harmful stereotypes.”
–Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf during a Sept. 13, 2010 press conference held at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York
RK: Minister Farrakhan, I wonder to what degree you feel what the imam is saying there reflects what’s happening in the U.S. to some degree with the midterm elections coming up. And how much, I guess, Muslims are caught in the middle of this political wrangling that’s occurring.
HMLF: I agree with Imam Rauf. I think he handled himself magnificently on CNN. He has shown that he is a Muslim. He is “Moderate”; he’s seeking peace between Jews and Christians and others, and he has every right to build a cultural center where they have that building. And he has every right to feel that the constitutional guarantees of “freedom of religion” and “freedom of assembly” should prevail over the sensitivity of people who lost lives.
Muslims lost their lives! Christians, Jews, people from all over the world lost their lives in that tragic event! So, it should not be that Islam is held hostage for the acts of some who are claimed to be Muslims.
I put this before the world: Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader of Afghanistan, said to President George W. Bush while Osama Bin Laden was living in Afghanistan; he said, “Show me the proof that this man is guilty of this heinous act, and I will turn him over to you.”
What proof have we heard from these wicked deceivers that in fact it was Osama Bin Laden?! As a Muslim, we should force them to show us the proof!!
RK: I’m sorry to have to stop you. There’s so much more I’d like to discuss, but we’re out of time. Minister Farrakhan, thank you very much for being on the show.
HMLF: We are out of time?
RK: Yes sir. I’m sorry.
HMLF: The world is too. Thank you.
RK: Thank you for being with us.