Al-Huda Foundation, USA


the Message Continues ... i 5

The edited text of a speech delivered by Azra Syed at an interfaith meeting  at Harrisburg synagogue at the eve of Yom Kippur.

           In the Name of Allah (God) the Most Beneficent the Most Merciful

All Praises are for Allah!  We praise Him and seek help from Him; we ask  forgiveness from Him; we repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our  own evil and from our own bad deeds.  Anyone who has been guided by Allah, he  is indeed guided; and anyone who is misguided will never find a guardian to  guide him, except Allah. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, the One  without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and  messenger.

 On behalf of the Muslim community of Greater Harrisburg I bring to you  greetings and good wishes on this day of Yom Kippur. It is our hope that by  the Mercy and Blessings of Almighty God we will be able leave here tonight  with better understanding of each other. I'd like to thank Rabbi Allen Myers  for making this possible.

 While we observe this holy occasion with you, the events of  September 11th hang over our heads like a dark cloud. Life is just not the same any more.
What happened on September 11th was a horror and like every American, I am  deeply saddened and outraged by the loss of so many innocent lives. However,  unlike many Americans, there is another feeling that lingers in my mind-- a  feeling of fear that we as American Muslims may not become the target of  bigotry and hate by some fellow Americans due to ignorance or for failure to  recognize that Islam and terrorism cannot coexist.

There are reports of hate crimes our mosques, our businesses and our school  going children. My Muslim friends, who wear head scarves in Public, are  fearful of stepping out of their homes now, attendance in our mosques has  decreased in numbers because of the recent attacks on our mosques.

I hope God will give us all the strength, the wisdom and ability to get  through this crisis without hurting each other. The best way to get there is  to begin to understand and get to know each other.

I am not an authority on my religion and my comments today are based on my  understanding of the principles and practice of Islam as explained to me by  my religion teacher, and my own research on Islam and Islamic history.

My talk to you will center on two broad issues. 

  1. Tolerance in Islam. 
  2. How this concept can become the basis for future dialogs between Muslims and other religious communities.

A British Muslim, by the name of Marmaduke Pickthall, did one of the first  translations of the Holy Quran, the Muslims' holy book, into English. He  said, "In the eyes of history, religious toleration is the highest evidence  of culture in a people. Before the coming of Islam, tolerance had never been  preached as an essential part of religion. The tolerance within the body of Islam was, and is, something without parallel in history; Differences based  on class, race and color have no place in Islam.

 Islam preaches oneness of God and oneness of mankind: we believe that people  are created equal in front of the law of God. There is no superiority of one  race over another. The only thing that makes one person better than the other  is his piety, righteousness and good deeds.

1. Islam Forbids Aggression against Innocent People

In his Farewell Pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad declared the principle that  people's lives, property, and honor are inviolable until the Day of Judgment.
This ruling is not restricted to Muslims; it includes non-Muslims as well.
Even in war, Islam does not permit killing those who are not involved in  fighting, including women, children and the aged. 

Islam  prohibits  aggression even against animals.

2. The concept of Individual Responsibility is another characteristic of  Islamic teachings.

     In Islam, every one is held accountable for his own acts.

     No one bears the consequences of others' faults, not even his close relatives.

3. Ends do not Justify Means
     The notion that the "End justifies the means" has no place at all in Islam,  if the end is achieved through violent or unlawful means. It is not allowed  to attain a good end through evil means.  Aggression and violation of human rights are completely forbidden.

    The Muslim rule in Spain for over 800 years, when Muslims, Christians and  Jews lived side by side, in harmony, more than amply demonstrates the virtues  of adhering to these guiding principles of our faith.

The early history of Islam and the relationship between Jews and Muslims:

Muslim Spain, which was a "golden era" of creativity and advancement for  Muslims, was also the same for Jews.  While Europe was in its Dark Ages, Muslims in Spain during the same period  worked side by side with Jews in developing literature, science and art.  Together, they translated classical Greek texts into Arabic. This task later
helped Europe move out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.

Jews flourished under Muslim rule in Egypt as well, where they held high
positions in government.

S. D. Goitein in his book 'Jews and Arabs', states that Islam was perceived  as "an act of God's Mercy" by the Jews of that time.

According to Merlin Swartz's article "The Position of Jews in Arab lands  following the rise of Islam", Jews in the Near East, North Africa and Spain  supported the advancing Muslim Arab armies.  Swartz  says that "the Muslim Arab conquests marked the dawn of a new era. Those forces that had led to the progressive isolation and disruption of  Jewish life were not only thwarted, they were dramatically reversed".

These aren't fairy tales or propaganda. The relationship between Muslims and Jews really was that of cooperation marked by peaceful coexistence.

So what happened with all this good will and understanding?  Where did we go wrong? This is the question that has puzzled me time and again. What are the root causes of the deterioration of the Muslim-Jewish relations? Could these be political, economic or simply personal agendas of power seeking people that have caused such a rift between the two communities?

I think that the anti-Jewish sentiment that we find in the contemporary Arab world is strictly a modern phenomenon and one that runs counter to the time honored Islamic tradition of fraternity and tolerance.

The very widespread popular notion that present day Arab-Jewish hostility is but another chapter in a long history of mutual animosity is totally false.
If there is one thing the past teaches us it is precisely that Arabs and Jews  can live together peacefully and in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The key to re-establishing good relations between Muslims and Jews again is peace with justice, a principle that is foreign to neither Islam nor Judaism nor Christianity.

 Islam encourages standing up against injustice whether it is against our parents our kin the rich the poor or ourselves.

In my limited knowledge of Judaism, I believe the emphasis on justice is also made in the Jewish scripture in the prophecies of Michael in chapter three:
 "Zion shall be redeemed with justice and by those who will come to her with righteousness."

For the Muslims, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are but three forms of one religion, which, in its original purity, was the religion of Abraham:
Al-Islam, that perfect Self-Surrender to the Will of God, which is the basis
of Theocracy.
Prophet Mohammad himself decreed that the Jews were an Ummah (community of
believers) alongside the Muslims. Jews have their religion and the Muslims theirs, and that each will assist the other against any violation of this pact

If this is indeed the case, then why the conflict and how can we expect to resolve our differences in the future?

While we believe that the future is only known to God, we can make some educated guesses and recommendations.
The future can be bright, if we support each other in the establishment of justice and peace, if we are tolerant of each other's viewpoints and treat each other with the same dignity that we expect others to show towards us.  Only when a true alternative of fair play emerges will we have hope for not a clash of civilizations, as some people suggest, but of peaceful coexistence based on tolerance for each other.

If we can put aside our economic, political and personal power grabbing agendas we may have peace. On more personal levels, our relationships with each other, whether they are with people of the same faith or different, succeed simply because they are based on genuine love, understanding and mutual respect for each other. We don't seek any personal gains other than what benefits all of us.

My only hope is that while we have little control over global events, we can at least start building bridges between our local communities. Starting with a person to person contact, we can move on to interaction between our respective communities and beyond. Let us examine what it was that bonded us together centuries ago, and try to understand the root causes of today's conflicts. Let us pray that God give those in positions of power the good
sense to make fair and just decisions. Let there is no poor and deprived people in the world. Let good will and justice prevail not only in America but the rest of the world also.

 Going back to the events of September 11th, all I can say is that all the Muslims I know cringe at the idea of our faith, that preaches peace and submission to the will of God, being used, and abused for political or economic gains. No matter what the underlying causes, these senseless acts of terror must be condemned.

If any good can emerge from this tragedy, it would be our collective determination to prevent such catastrophes from happening again by condemning

ALL crimes against humanity, whether they are committed at home or abroad.

We can begin by appreciating and sharing each other's cultural diversities by meeting and interacting with each other in a warm, friendly atmosphere like we are doing today.

Christians and Muslims have been meeting regularly as friends and religious partners in dialogue for some time now. We've worked together in many community projects. We are fully committed to one another as friends, believers, and citizens of this great land. I hope we can start a similar relationship with our Jewish friends as well.Together, we must find ways and means to turn the painfully dark human tragedy of September 11th into brighter days, weeks, months and years for all humanity.  The least we can do is try!

And finally, let me end with this prayer:

With the name of God, the Benevolent, the Most merciful:

We turn to you, our Lord, at this time of pain and grief. We witness the evil of destruction and the suffering suffered by many of our fellow citizens.
With hearts weighed down with grief and with tears in our eyes, we turn to You, our Lord, to seek comfort. O Lord, Help us in our distress, keep us united as people of diverse faiths, colors and races, keep our country strong for the sake of good and righteousness, and protect us from evil.