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Al-Awlaki on TOTN in 2001

Al-Awlaki on TOTN in 2001

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Published by: MarkMemmott on Sep 30, 2011
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 NEAL CONAN, host:This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.Today is part two of our look at Islam. Yesterday we talked about how Islam influencedthe development of politics, economics and science in the Muslim world, and we also posed a broader question: If, as President Bush and other leaders say repeatedly, this war is not against Islam, is it about Islam to some degree? Today we talk with Muslim leadersin America about the role if Islam in American society and the role of American Muslimsin the Islamic world.Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in this country. Many Muslims here urgentlytried to separate themselves from the actions of the Muslim extremists, especially after September the 11th. Most Muslims say that the brand of Islam espoused by the extremistsdoes not define their understanding of Islam or what Islam is really about.Others, though, question their sincerity. Some American Muslims who now describethemselves as moderates have issued inflammatory statements in the past, denounced theUnited States, associated with terrorists and raised funds for extremist organizations.Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions, as we mentioned. Today, we're going to talk with a few American Muslim leaders to hear about how they see their religion, whether they see it as part of the American mainstream and ask what's changed since September the 11th. And we invite you to join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is(800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address istotn@npr.org.We'd particularly like to hear from American Muslims about your perceptions of your fellow Americans, and we'd like to know whether September the 11th changed your views in any way. How do you feel you're being treated by your other fellow Americans?Have you felt any discrimination since the terrorist attacks, and what do you think your responsibilities are to explain America to other Muslims around the world?And for those of you who are not Muslim, do you feel that American Muslims have actedresponsibly since September the 11th? Have you seen discrimination in your community?Do you think Muslims are part of the American mainstream or are they somehowdifferent? Give us a call. Again, the number, (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255.Dr. Maher Hatout joins us now. He is the leader of the Islamic Center of SouthernCalifornia, which is one of the oldest centers for Islam in America, and reaches out to10,000 families. He joins us from the studios of member station KPCC in Pasadena,California. And welcome.Dr. MAHER HATOUT (Islamic Center of Southern California): Thank you.CONAN: Can you tell us, where were you on September the 11th, and how did you firstreact?
Dr. HATOUT: I was at Washington, DC, to have a meeting with President Bush, and sowe arrived there at September 10 at night. In the morning, we were horrified by the news,and needless to say that the meeting was postponed. We have been kept in Washington because the airports were closed for about five or six days, during which we were quiteactive in receiving the reaction of different Islamic organizations in the nation.CONAN: Now what were those reactions? I assume that there was great horror.Dr. HATOUT: Of course, and there was great shock, and the reassuring thing isunsolicited condemnation, almost unanimously, came from everybody, that peoplecondemned the terrorist acts. At that time, it wasn't quite clear who committed it. Of course we--everybody was hoping that, please God, we hope it is not one who willinvoke the name of Islam in that. And as the day developed, we discovered the horrorsand the suffering of the nation, and it kind of jolted everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, into a different level of maturity.CONAN: Now how has that manifested itself? Has your message changed sinceSeptember the 11th?Dr. HATOUT: Our message--I'm talking about myself and the organizations I represent--did not change. We felt the urge to make it probably more loud, more intense, but it didnot change. We had on record consistent condemnation of terrorism, as a matter of factconsistent condemnation of the Taliban regime in particular because we felt that it isgiving very bad name to Islam. So we did not change course. I'm talking about theorganizations I represent. But we stayed at course, but more intensely.On the same day, we had press conference. We issued statements, we went to the RedCross to donate blood and we tried from then on to intensify our activities to explainourselves and our religion.CONAN: Now I understand that part of your effort, your work is to try to design or create, I guess, a specific American Muslim identity.Dr. HATOUT: That's right.CONAN: And what do you mean by that?Dr. HATOUT: What we meant by that--this evolved about 20 years ago, when we saidwe don't want to be in America as an appendage to the Middle East or to the Far East.We'd like to be here as full-fledged American citizens, part of the American pluralism,that part that happened to be Muslim and is guided by the values of Islam. And so wewere very keen to say that American Muslim identity is not attached organically to anyother country or any other Muslim organization. This is home, because home is not wheremy grandfather is buried but where my grandson is being brought up, and we deliberatelychose America to be home, to join those who have been born in America as Muslims, andwe felt that this is an identity of its own. Similar to an Egyptian Muslim identity or a
Pakistani Muslim identity, there is an American Muslim identity. We defended thatconcept very, very enthusiastically, and I think it took roots.CONAN: Now a lot of mosques in this country were founded with money sent fromoverseas, in particular, as I understand it, from Saudi Arabia. Does that mean that thosemosques are beholden to a particular vision of Islam, in particular the Saudi Arabianversion of Wahhabism?Dr. HATOUT: I can't speak for them, but I personally, we took a stand as part of our  bylaws not to accept any money from any government, because we believe that once you become on the receiving end of money, whether intentionally or non-intentionally, it willhave an impact. As they say, money talks, and money talks very loudly.CONAN: He who pays the piper, yes.Dr. HATOUT: And we decided long time ago not to accept this money, and I think thehistory is showing us that this was the right decision, difficult but right, and I believe thatthe American Muslim community should be able to generate its own income. I believethat the Muslim community in America is wealthier and more well-to-do than any other Muslim community in the world, so I see no reason whatsoever to accept money fromoverseas.CONAN: What is the perception of American Muslims from overseas? Do Muslims inIndonesia or Bangladesh or Pakistan, do they understand that Muslims in the UnitedStates are allowed to practice their religion freely?Dr. HATOUT: I think they do, otherwise we wouldn't have been here. There is a greatdeal of confusion, of course. For example, after September 11, there were reports in theArab media, which I have access to, that Muslims are in a miserable condition inAmerica and they are being attacked, etc., which was not true, and we clarified that. I personally wrote a couple of articles and, as a matter of fact, a chapter in a book that'sstill to be published saying that this is not the case, and we have to understand the worldaround us more than we do. September 11 brought a very overflowing compassion andsharing of the American public. The fellow Americans of different religions came to thesupport of the Muslim community, and this speaks very highly for the fabric of thisnation.CONAN: Is it part of this American Muslim identity that you're talking about to explainto the rest of the Islamic world that Muslims were killed in the attack on the World TradeCenter, that Muslim women were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center?Dr. HATOUT: To be honest with you, this was not our emphasis, although it is a valid point, that the attack on America is an attack on all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims. Asa matter of fact, it is an attack against Islam, if the name of Islam is used. And we were so busy with the arena here, between the reception of the amount of questions and curiositythat was raised here in the United States, and also dealing with the very few hate crimes.

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