The Worldview of Muhammad Ali and the Worldview of Terror

24 Apr 1982, Cannes, France --- Muhammad Ali Praying --- Image by © Richard Melloul/Sygma/CORBIS

16 Jun The Worldview of Muhammad Ali and the Worldview of Terror

Assalamu Alaykum Dear All,

Yesterday(Wednesday, June 15th,2016), MAPS hosted its tenth annual Interfaith Iftar. MAPS Interfaith and Outreach Committee (IOC) and all its volunteers did an excellent job planning and executing the event. The event was booked to capacity days in advance. A broad range of interfaith leaders, government officials, law enforcement personnel, neighbors, friends and colleagues stayed for three speeches followed by a discussion followed by Iftar and dinner. Sr Maha El Genaidi, founder and CEO of the Islamic Network Group, was the keynote speaker. Sr Aneela Afzali from MAPS IOC and I took the stage as well. The event was very well received by the grace of the Almighty and demonstrated once more what MAPS stands for – a diverse and embracing community projecting the real face of Islam.

My sincere thanks go to the MAPS-IOC leadership and volunteers, the esteemed guests and the broader MAPS community for this very successful event.

My speech, titled “The Worldview of Muhammad Ali and the Worldview of Terror” is reproduced below. You can send comments and feedback to: president@mapsredmond.org.

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On behalf of the MAPS community, I would like to welcome you all and greet you with the Islamic greeting – Assalamu Alaykum Wah Rahmat-ul-llah – which means Peace and Blessings of God be upon you all.

In the past week, we witnessed two events and two characters. One event marked the passing of an American Muslim legend; the other event marked yet one more terror attack on America by a Muslim loner. One event brought us all together; the other event threatens to rip us apart. One event was celebrated worldwide with hope and a sense of pride; the other event has cast gloom and a sense of despair. One event marked progress for humanity; the other event marked a backslide for humanity.

One character stood against injustice in spite of great threat, harm and loss to his own self; the other character caused injustice, harm and loss to all of us. One character sought diversity, freedom of faith and championed individual rights; the other character spewed hate at others and violated our collective rights. One character throughout his life sought the advice and teachings of learned men and scholars; the other character picked up his ideology online during a radicalization period from dubious sources. One character was so loved that Muslims across this country, including in this mosque, gathered in throngs and cried at his funeral; the other character will have a hard time finding a Muslim mosque to bury him.

Both these characters called themselves Muslims. My question tonight though is: did they both belong to Islam? To answer this question, I want to talk about two worldviews: that of Muhammad Ali and that of Terror.

First, let us discuss the worldview of Muhammad Ali. Like Ali, there are 1.6 billion people worldwide who belong to the religion of Islam and who call themselves Muslims; that’s 23% of the world population; nearly 1 out of 4 humans alive is a Muslim. These people live in every country on Earth. In the United States, there are 6 to 7 million Muslims and by 2050, Muslims will form the second largest faith-based group in the country. There are mosques in every state and a dozen or so mosques in and around Seattle alone. This mosque is the largest in the state of Washington and serves 5000 Muslim families hailing from 40 countries. Our congregation comprises of people whose ancestors have been in the country since its foundation to the immigrants who came in the past decades to the refugees who arrived last month.

Who are we? We are the entrepreneurs who are pioneering new technologies at local startups, we are the executives at the largest area companies, we are the cleaners who clean your offices at night, we are the cab drivers who take you to the airport, we are the doctors and the nurses who will treat you in the ER, we are the teachers who teach your kids in school, we are the real estate agents who will sell your home, we are the check-out persons at your local grocery store, we are the baristas at the local coffee shop, we are your everyday neighbor.

What is it that we believe in? We believe in one benevolent God, Allah in Arabic, who is most merciful towards His creation. We believe that God instructed humankind over time through prophets. We believe that Abraham was a prophet, that Moses was a prophet, that Jesus was a prophet and that Muhammad (peace be upon them all) was a prophet. We believe that the teachings of God as given to many of these prophets are recorded in books. We believe that the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an are all books that originated from God.

What are those teachings? We believe that these teachings tell us how to lead a life that is centered around the worship of God, around the family and around the community. We believe that these teachings instruct us to lead a good and moral life, to love for others that which we love for ourselves, to be kind and respectful, to care for the needy and to be concerned about life matters. We believe that the teachings of Islam above all preach peace – for the name Islam itself means Peace! We believe that this peace is peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with our fellow believers, peace with our neighbors and peace will the rest of humanity. It is no coincidence that one of the most oft-repeated verses from the Quran reads, “O you who have believed, enter into peacefulness, the whole (of you)”.

Based on these simple tenets, for fourteen centuries Muslims have contributed greatly to the world – from whole civilizations that have charted our collective history to the local shopkeeper who remains honest in his dealings with you. This is the Islam that the vast majority of the 1.6 billion people worldwide are familiar with. This is the Islam that all of us here know, understand and practice. This is the Islam of Muhammad Ali.

Now, let us look at the worldview of Terror. Terrorism is the carrying of violent acts that aim to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or that aim to affect the conduct of a government. By its very definition, terrorism is the antithesis of Islam as it seeks to disturb peace – violence is not peace as clearly as night is not day.

The question then is why are so many so-called Muslims engaging in Terror? To approach this question in a facile manner seeking a simplistic answer could be both erroneous and dangerous. But, let me try to explain it this way: the underlying root causes of terror often span a range of personal, psychological, societal, economic and political issues with Islam then spread as a veneer on top of these deeper uglier motives. Credibility is given to these underlying causes by narrowly selecting bits and pieces of evidences from the fourteen-century history or the expansive teachings of Islam. The real problem then is: those who engage in terror often cannot detect the veneer, i.e. Islam, from the underlying root causes; they see the causes as Islam. And, there is no dearth of despicable advantage-seekers in the world who happily advance this seeming linkage between these causes and Islam and portray the causes themselves as Islam.

It is then no surprise when we hear of terrorist groups being very active on social media or publishing glossy magazines. It is also no surprise then when we hear that the terrorists whether in Orlando or Brussels or Paris are often disaffected youth with profligate lifestyles and little formal religious education. It further does not help when pundits and politicians too cannot or will not differentiate between the underlying rotten root causes and Islam itself. When they keep insisting that the two are but one, they are too being myopic and parochial in their understanding of this problem.

What is at stake here? First clearly Terrorism threatens all of us – starting with all of us here at home. Terrorism threatens our lives, our freedoms, our rights and our future. Second, Terrorism is a scourge on the Muslims abroad. At least 1.3 million Muslims have been killed and nine countries devastated by the ongoing War on Terror, creating the largest number of refugees in the world after World War II. Thirdly, this worldview of Terror threatens Islam itself. It is not the first time that Islam is encountering these splinter ideologies. Islamic history teaches us that the early Muslim leaders dealt harshly with such groups. The cousin of the Prophet, Ali ibn Talib, eponymous hero of Muhammad Ali, dealing with the Khariji is one famous example.

Terrorism threatens the very fabric of diversity, tolerance and equal rights in the West. It spawns hate and generates more fear. It feeds the vicious and never ending cycle of violence. In the past few days, we lived through such fear right here in this mosque. On Sunday an anonymous caller tipped the Redmond Police about a potential but credible threat to this facility. The Redmond Police, the Redmond Fire Department, the FBI and other local and federal law enforcement agencies deployed immediately to ensure the security of our community. Under their watch, 350 of us prayed safely. I said it in my statement yesterday and I will say it again today: the professionalism and courtesy of our enforcement agencies are commendable. I am sincerely grateful to them. I ask you to join me in thanking them. Thank you!

Mayor John Marchione’s leadership during this event was exemplary. He personally came here on Sunday night to ensure we were safe. It feels really great to live in a city where we all feel like one big family. Please applaud for Redmond! We have also received an outpouring of support from people everywhere. Governor Jay Inslee called me in person to express his support. And, we have been receiving continuous emails from the Senators’ office, from our interfaith friends, from ordinary citizens expressing support towards the Muslim community. Some supporters with placards showed up in person in front of our mosque yesterday. Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg and her congregation volunteered to stand outside while we pray inside. We are indeed grateful to all those who are reaching out to us – we are truly touched by your unwavering and sincere support. Thank you!

The worldview of Terror impacts us all. There is no room for Terror in Islam, in the East, in the West and in the modern world. Period.

How then do we ensure that it is the Islam of Muhammad Ali and not the worldview of Terror that prevails? That task is one that we, as humanity, should all shoulder. We should come together as one voice and denounce in absolute terms these terrorist acts. We should stand together whenever diversity, tolerance and individual liberties are threatened. We should come together when minority groups – whether LGBTQ, Blacks, Latinos or Muslims are threatened; and once more, we express our deepest feelings of sympathy to the friends and families of the victims of the Orlando massacre and the LGBTQ community. We should be better at teaching vulnerable young men and women the true message of Islam before those with an agenda get to them online. We should not tolerate deviant ideologies; this mosque and many others have repeatedly called out these false beliefs. I have repeatedly said that such ideologies are ignorant, wrong, destructive, twisted, sinful, murderous and have absolutely no place whatsoever in Islam!

We should not tolerate pundits and politicians associating and conflating Islam with Terror. We should denounce politicians and all those who would cast collective guilt on a whole community for the acts of a few. We should identify people who have mental and personal issues and get assistance to them. We should make sure we do not sell them guns. We should demand that our government encourage the freedoms and equal democratic rights we so cherish here abroad. And we should pray for peace!

I would like to conclude by leaving you with 3 takeaways and thinking points from the life of Muhammad Ali. First, be resolute and firm in your stance against bigotry, racism and the violence that it generates. Stand up for the weak, the voiceless, the minority. Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Do something positive about the issues we face. Join your faith group. Join a non-profit. Join a political movement. But, do not sit back, do nothing and expect somebody else to improve things for us.

Second, be the best at whatever you do. Muhammad Ali said, “I would have been the world’s greatest at whatever I did. If I were a garbage man, I’d be the world’s greatest garbage man! I’d pick up more garbage and faster than anyone has ever seen. To tell you the truth, I would have been the greatest at whatever I’d done!” Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Strive for the best. Achieve excellence.

Third, do not be discouraged by all the setbacks that we face. Muhammad Ali said, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” Use these challenges as a reason to be more active, to do more good, to be better human beings.

As we gather here today, as we reflect before we break our fast, I implore all of you to join us as we defeat this worldview of Terror and produce instead men and women the likes of Muhammad Ali!

Thank you

May God bless you all.

Mahmood Khadeer
MAPS President