the Message Continues ... 4/18

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Towards understanding Islam and the Prophet of Islam (s)
A perspective to help Non-Muslims distinguish truth from falsehood
        courtesy Radwan A. Masmoudi, Chairman, CSID

The following excellent articles were written by prominent Muslim Americans to defend Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The slanderous attacks launched by the extremists in our midst are not only wrong, misguided, and bigoted, they are also counter-productive to the cause of peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians.  I urge my fellow Americans, especially Christians and Jews, to educate themselves about the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and to denounce these hurtful and mis-informed statements.

One very good way to learn about the life of Prophet Muhammad is to watch the PBS documentary this Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM, and then watch FRONTLINE program on "Muslims", Thursday, December 19, 2002, from
9 pm -11 pm on PBS (check local listings).
Peace on Earth, and for all of Mankind.
Radwan Masmoudi   /


Muhammad (s):  

A Prophet of peace, co-existence, tolerance, brotherhood, and unity of mankind.

Understanding Muhammad
By Alexander Kronemer

WASHINGTON - It has become a familiar headline: A religious cleric rejects calls for tolerance and understanding and castigates a US president; an argument is made that peace will only come when nonbelievers convert; and American values of pluralism and religious freedom are fundamentally questioned.
Yet in recent weeks, these headlines aren't being generated by distant Muslim fanatics, but by some of the most respected Christian leaders in America.
Pat Robertson has taken issue with the president, after Mr. Bush recently reaffirmed his belief that Islam is a peaceful religion that has a welcomed place among the other faiths practiced in America.
In rejecting the president's words, Pat Robertson and other Christian leaders once again are asserting that Muslims are dangerous, Islam is fundamentally warlike, and that Muhammad was primarily a military leader.
These assertions, of course, tap into the fears of many Americans. As one of the co producers of a new PBS documentary airing on Dec. 18 titled, "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet," I have become well acquainted with the story of Muhammad and believe that the program will shed light on a debate that is currently generating only heat.
The idea that there must be something in Islam that nourishes the kind of violence seen on Sept. 11 certainly is understandable.
But it should be remembered that no religion is inherently violent, or for that matter, inherently peaceful. Not Islam, not even Christianity.
All religious scripture is subject to interpretation, therefore all can be misused. We need only go back a couple of dozen years to the Jim Crow era to find examples of how Christianity was shamefully misused and distorted.
Then, Biblical scripture was routinely cited (most notably, Genesis 9) as the divine basis for racial separation and superiority. The most famous American terrorist organization, the KKK, used overtly Christian symbolism and scripture to justify its decades-long campaign of violence, murder, and intimidation in pursuit of its goals of turning America back into a "true"
Christian nation.
Was there something about Christianity that bred or at least nourished such racism? Of course not. Religion in general aims people toward peace and justice, but people disposed to evil can always find scriptural justification for their position. Just as for a time the KKK was a significant political force in this country, so, today, Al Qaeda is a political force in the Muslim world. These organizations, not the religions they claim to represent, are the enemy. Historical context must likewise be remembered when judging Muhammad. The notion that Muhammad was a man of war as contrasted Jesus or Moses, as Jerry Falwell recently asserted, ignores the fact that Muhammad fought only a handful of battles in his lifetime, resulting in barely 1,000 casualties on all sides.
This might be compared to such Biblical figures as David, who is praised in I Samuel 18 for killing his "tens of thousands," famously earning the murderous jealousy of Saul who only killed his "thousands"; or to Moses, who in the book of Numbers 31 chastises his army for sparing the women and children of the vanquished Midianites. To compare Muhammad to Moses or Jesus, or against some contemporary standard, is meaningless and anachronistic. The world that Moses and Muhammad lived in was lawless and violent, different from even the Roman dominated world in which Jesus lived. Strong vested interests opposed the monotheism each preached, genocide was commonplace, slavery was taken for granted. Women had few rights, and might was the only law.
In this context Muhammad and Moses and all the other Biblical figures sought to create a new society based on justice and on the belief in a compassionate God. Their achievements in accomplishing this in lasting ways form the only relevant contemporary standard by which they can be truly judged.
"Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" attempts to present as clear and honest a portrayal of Muhammad as possible. Yet the very way it was made is itself a clear statement. As a collaborative venture, the documentary drew on the talents and hard work of many dozens of people, including Christians of various denominations, Muslims, and Jews, who worked together for more than two years.
At a time when so many voices are creating division and conflict, people not just from several different faiths, but from these three faiths in particular - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - have come together and proven that pluralism is alive, understanding is still possible, and tolerance is not beyond our furthest hopes. • Alex Kronemer, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is a co producer of the new PBS documentary 'Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.'

December 11, 2002
Anti-Islam Rhetoric Undercuts Moderates
By Salam Al-Marayati,

Now kill all the boys and all the women who have had sexual intercourse. Numbers 31:17
Don't think that I came to bring peace on earth! No, rather, a sword. Matthew 10:34

When such violent Old and New Testament verses are quoted, they usually are put in proper historical context. Yet the same standard of interpretation is not applied when the Koran is quoted. In fact, it's not even allowed. And Islam is called the violent faith. Because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, there seems to be open season on Muslim history and sacred texts.
I can understand this knee-jerk response to extremism; if I were not a Muslim, I would have similar sentiments. But rather than dealing with the complex realities of the world by oversimplification of Islam and Muslims, we need to adhere to a common standard of measuring religious attitudes and combating religious extremism from all quarters. American talk show hosts, columnists and political leaders seem lately to have become experts on Islam, the Arabic language, South Asian politics and Islamic law.
Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, for example, has compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," and the Rev. Pat Robertson has called Muhammad a warrior and Islam violent at its core.
Preaching to Muslims about the need to modify their faith is about as outlandish as Protestants preaching to Catholics about priestly celibacy or Muslims demanding that Judaism be separated from Zionism to remove the terrorist threat from extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
When violent biblical references are brought up, the usual response is that the era of Christian and Jewish violence is long past and that Islam is the problem today. But violence inspired by religious ideology is timeless and afflicts everyone; why not address the issue across the board? Ireland and the former Yugoslavia come to mind.
Let me offer an opinion on those who pontificate on the need for reforming Islam: Your simplistic "solutions" have undermined the authentic and invaluable work of Muslim reformists. When Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D.
Wolfowitz praises those he calls "moderate" Muslims, that in itself marginalizes the people he is promoting.
There have been several new books and television shows on topics involving Islam and Muslims. Some of this is testimony to the curiosity and goodwill of the American people, who want a more educated perspective on issues affecting the United States and the world. But there are those who perpetuate misconceptions about Islam and distorted images of Muslims to
feed the war industry, who exploit the pain and suffering of Sept. 11 to lead the United States into wars that do not make sense, as in Iraq.
Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, both of whom have publicly called Islam a violent religion, are politically allied with the Bush administration. Though President Bush has disavowed those positions, Falwell and Robertson have been projected in the Muslim world as spokesmen for all Americans.
When people like former South African President Nelson Mandela declare that the United States is a threat to world peace, when Europeans and Canadians have unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S., then moderation is not just a Muslim problem.
If we want progressive Muslims to be listened to in the Muslim world, we need to stop making them seem like puppets of American authoritarianism.
As an American Muslim, I call on other moderates to talk about the national security interests of our country and to end the counterproductive verbal and political assaults on Islam.
Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is holding an interfaith panel discussion on religious extremism Dec. 21. Web site:

Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Imams of Insanity
By Richard Cohen

Back in October the Rev. Jerry Falwell called Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a terrorist. This set off riots in India and may have contributed to the good showing of religious parties in the Pakistani election. About two weeks after he made the remark, Falwell retracted it. I think Falwell is an idiot. I will issue a retraction later. In the meantime, I will concern myself with the Rev. Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, who has conferred on Islam in general the distinction of being worse than Hitler. "Adolf Hitler was bad, but what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse," Robertson said recently. And rather than apologize or retract in the manner of Falwell, Robertson went on ABC's "This Week" and repeated it all to George Stephanopoulos.
Jews might quibble. In the first place, it's impossible to conceive how anyone could be worse than Hitler. Second, Jews familiar with history might note that from Spain to Baghdad, it was the Islamic world that offered the Jews of the Middle Ages a fair degree of toleration -- not the Christian
West. If there is anything inherently genocidal and anti-Semitic in Islam, it was somehow overlooked by most Muslims at that time.
Radical Islam, like radical anything, is a different matter entirely. As Robertson pointed out, Islamic clergy in too many Islamic countries have been permitted by their governments to traffic in the worst sorts of anti-Jewish -- and anti-Christian -- stereotypes. Still, distinctions have to be made and contexts taken into account. To sweepingly liken a thousand-year religion of a billion people to the ultimate in modern evil -- Hitler -- is reckless, a historical and just plain insulting.
After Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush went out of his way to emphasize that the enemy of the United States was not Islam but extremists who in no way were representative of the religion. He has repeated this message over and over, recently distancing himself from the anti-Islamic remarks of certain conservative Christian leaders -- Falwell, Robertson and the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham. Franklin Graham called Islam "evil." Oddly enough, Bush is in somewhat the same position as certain political leaders in the Muslim world. He too is finding it awkward to deal with crackpot religious leaders. America's religious fundamentalists are Bush's core political constituency. He relied on them in South Carolina, for instance, to defeat Sen. John McCain in the Republican presidential primary.
This is a dicey situation. The last thing the United States needs is for the war against terrorism to become one between Christianity and Islam -- or, if you wish, the Judeo-Christian culture and the Muslim one. If that is allowed to happen, then Muslims who abhor Osama bin Laden and all he stands for will be compelled to take sides on the basis of religion, not ideology or politics. That would be disastrous.
But just as I and others have held certain Islamic regimes -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. responsible for the hate speech of religious leaders, so will Bush be held responsible for the rantings of Falwell, Robertson, Graham and others. After all, they are not peripheral figures. They are now mainstream religious leaders, courted by political leaders of both parties (especially the GOP) and treated with great, if undeserved, respect. Bush felt close enough to Franklin Graham, whose father has been a longtime Bush family friend, to have asked him to speak at his inauguration.
Bush has yet to denounce these preachers by name. But they all have earned a personal rebuke. Robertson and Falwell, you will recall, were quick to blame the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on God's wrath over liberal tendencies in the United States -- gay rights, for instance. When it comes to blaming, perhaps Robertson's personal best can be found in his book "The New World Order," in
which he attributes the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth to "European bankers" (Page 267).
It is easy enough to have fun with such nonsense, but the situation is in fact sad. Falwell, Robertson and Graham are among the most famous ministers of our time, replacing the learned and, yes, liberal ones who offered the nation moral instruction during the civil rights era and the Vietnam War.
Now we have preachers who do not counsel toleration and understanding, but a sort of bigotry -- an ugly and sweeping vilification of a whole people, in the manner of the very Islamic radicals they condemn. Now I must make my retraction. Okay, Falwell is not an idiot. Robertson is.

December 13, 2002
PBS show to 'counter' perceptions of Islam
By Jennifer Harper

A two-hour PBS documentary on the life of the prophet Muhammad, to air next week, is meant to help counter negative images of Muslims, according to its creators.
"Americans get most of their images about Islam and Muslims from the headlines. Demonstrations and shouting in the streets makes the news, and those images are repeated," said producer Alex Kronemer, an American convert to Islam with a master's degree in theology from Harvard University.
     "We wanted to offer a counter to that, to help Americans understand that every Muslim is not Osama bin Laden," Mr. Kronemer said yesterday.
     "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" will air on most of the 349 PBS affiliates nationwide Dec. 18, though District-based WETA will broadcast the program Dec. 26. PBS also plans to rebroadcast "Muslims," a two-hour "Frontline" special, on Dec. 19.
     Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and author of "Militant Islam Reaches America," said yesterday that he had only "seen advance materials" of the production.
     "But all of this suggests that the American taxpayer is subsidizing an attempt to proselytize Islam in America," Mr. Pipes said.
     The production airs in an uncertain marketplace as Americans continue to assess their stand on Islam after September 11.
     In the past two weeks, evangelist Pat Robertson took on President Bush, who visited a Washington mosque Dec. 5 and praised Muslims who "lead lives of honesty, integrity and morality."
     In interviews with The Washington Times and ABC, Mr. Robertson called Islam "violent at its core," and said that Mr. Bush should refrain from religious commentary, as he "is not elected as chief theologian."
     ABC characterized the dust-up as "a theological dispute which is driving a political wedge between President Bush and some of his conservative Christian allies."
     Meanwhile, representatives from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) said yesterday that they have received no negative responses from viewers about the new program, or its scheduled air time of Christmas week.
     Producers say that their project has been a long time coming, and the direction has changed more than once.
     "The ground kept shifting under our feet," Mr. Kronemer said.
     Work began on the production three years ago, and was two-thirds complete when terrorists struck September 11. What began as a narrative documentary became a potential foil to public backlash against American Muslims after the attacks.
     Initially, Mr. Kronemer and partner Michael Wolfe, also an Islam convert, sought out the perspectives of American Muslims.
     The pair partnered with filmmaker Michael Schwartz, who said in a statement that he was struck "by the numerous affinities between basic American values and core Islamic beliefs" and that the production was intended for "a predominantly non-Muslim American audience."
     The personal narratives helped the producers explain the life of Muhammad without having to show images of the 7th-century prophet - considered offensive by Muslims.
     "After 9/11, these perspectives became important in their own right to counter negative stereotypes," Mr. Kronemer said, adding that Americans themselves are subject to stereotyping overseas.
     "In other countries, Americans are perceived as gun centered, and living in a very violent society," he said.
     American-Muslim subjects in the production include a congressional aide, a critical care nurse, and a Brooklyn fire marshal and ground zero veteran who credits his faith in his decision to become a firefighter.
     "The Koran teaches you that the saving of one life is as if you've saved all of humanity," he says in the program.
     Personal stories are paired with biographical details of the prophet's life, as well as academic analysis, all meant to reveal "intrigue and faith, revolutionary ideas and bitter persecution, brutal war and brilliant diplomacy," according to a press release.
     "Part of our subtext is that Muhammad is already in America, and is motivating people to do good things," Mr. Kronemer noted.
     The program has received money from CPB's Diversity Fund, which has granted $1.2 million to five other projects that create "a biography of American culture and society in the 21st century," according to CPB President Robert Coonrod.
     Funds have also come from Arabian Bulk Trading Ltd., the El-Hibri Foundation, the Sabadia Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Irfan Kathwari Foundation, the Qureishi Family trust, and about 4,000 individuals, according to the Islam Project, a nonprofit group that publicizes Muslim issues here and abroad.
     PBS will offer educational materials on Islam at its Web site, beginning this weekend, including a "virtual Hajj" - the pilgrimage to Mecca required of Muslims - interactive timelines, a discussion forum and "more information about Muhammad and women, violence, other religions, the Qur'an,
the Jews of Medina and America."
     The show has generated the interest of the National Council of International Visitors and the Interfaith Alliance, which plan to organize local community viewing and discussion groups, according to the State Department's Office of International Information Programs.
     In the meantime, PBS continues to cut a wide swath across religious programming.  According to the "Spirituality and Religion" section on its Web site, PBS lists 16 shows produced this year on a variety of faiths, including "From Jesus to Christ," "Dreams of Tibet," "Islam: Empire of Faith" and several programs based on the Holocaust.





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