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New York - Prominent American Imam Speaks About Gilad Shalit, Hamas, And The Muslim Ideology

Published on: September 1, 2011 04:13 PM
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New York - Imam Abdullah Antepli the Muslim chaplain of Duke University is one of the American Islamic leaders who recently wrote a letter to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal asking him in the name of Islam to release Gilad Shalit. He did so with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and a group of “high profile U.S. Muslims.”  Gilad Shalit has been held captive since 2006. 

Rabbi Yair Hoffman for The Five Towns Jewish Times interviewed the Imam on August 31st, 2011. The interview was held in New York when the Imam was en route to a conference in Turkey.

Imam, many Americans were very proud of you for writing and signing the letter to the leader of Hamas regarding Gilad Shalit.  Did you have any hesitations about doing so – say, because of possible repercussions from radical Islamists?

No hesitation whatsoever.  I do this on moral and ethical grounds.  This is the truth and someone had to say it.  For those who have hesitations I understand and respect that.  But all faith needs a clergy who have no hesitations to uphold their ethical and moral values.
We have wasted a lot of time and energy blaming others.  We must point to our own ethical problems.  I helped him (Representative Ellison) write the letter as well.  I was hoping this would be a good reminder for my fellow Muslims calling for compassion and love.  I hope it will make a difference for the family of this poor soldier they will have their own eid – their own celebration.
Do you think the letter will be at all effective in securing Gilad Shalit’s actual release?

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We are people of faith and we believe in miracles.  It will make a change – maybe not in the heart and minds of Hamas – but in the heart of Muslims in Gaza, and Israel/Palestine.  It is an opportunity for the Hamas leadership to develop a higher ethical ground.

Could you explain to our readers what an Imam is, how much training is involved, and where you got your training..

Every culture and society of 1.4 billion Muslims has its own training requirements.  In Turkey it is 6 years.  I did it in Turkey.  My MA and doctoral work – I did in Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

Many American groups distinguish between radical Islamists and religious Muslims.  Is there really such a distinction?  Is the distinction clear?  What in your estimation can be done to get the majority of religious Muslims to realize that the ways of radical Islamists is not the way of true Islam?

I will try answering your second question first.  That responsibility lies with everyone.  Every term and definition about Islam has been corrupted and distorted.  There is a responsibility for Muslims to clear up their image.  There is character assassination, dehumanization and it is very very unfortunate.  It will take generations to clear up.
Of course there is a clear distinction.  Radical Islam is unethically and immorally picking up arms against people.  I lived in Afghanistan.  I saw people who claimed that you can kill people in the name of Islam.  It is disheartening to see this.  But these people exist also in Christianity and Judaism as well.  RI is not the product of Islamic theology only.  There are other socio-political and historical and economical realities that contribute to this mindset.
Is there a group or organization of like minded religious muslims that are taking a stand against radical Islamists?
There are organizations and communities all over the world who do that.  We do nothing these days but apologize for the crazies, the radicals.  We spend a significant amount of time apologizing for jihadism and Muslim extremism.  All the major organization do this.  If you look at their press releases you will see it.  Somehow what we do is not registering with people or the media.  Media just covers the sensational stuff.

I am sure that the term “moderate Muslims” is not a popular term – did anyone ever use the expression “Centrist Muslims?”

I personally dislike all these labels.  It is interesting that posivist liberal society.  The term centralist does not hit my heart.  People often label me as moderate Islam.  It is not true I am orthodox.  I am an orthodox muslim.  If you looked at my commitment to Islamic law – I am fully committed to Sharia law.

Hamas is getting a lot of support because they are funding social programs.  Is it possible to have a Centrist Islamic religious group replace what Hamas is doing?

Yes.  I think we should prevent all radical groups from using charity and helping people as a way of putting forth their troubling ideologies.  This is a universal problem.  People sometimes abuse the vulnerable situations of people to promote their agenda.  It is dishonest and disingenuous.  More and more religious groups who promote the ethical agenda should become more and more involved in charitable acts.  People should be radical peacemakers.

In Judaism there is a concept called “Chillul Hashem” – a desecration of G-d’s Name.  If someone religious does something wrong, like stealing or like kidnapping, heaven forbid.  Is there such a term in Islam – a desecration of Allah’s Name?

Yes. There are several terms – not one term.  If you are wearing something Islamic and sinning – your punishment is much much greater. This is called - hasanat-ul Abrar, Ssyyiatul mukarrabin - this is the term.

Hamas has pretty much not been involved in suicide bombings since 2008 – do you see this as a sign of hope?

Well, yes.  It is a sign of hope when radical groups receive the right kind of pressure.  But I wish they would have stopped it because they believe it is wrong in Islam.  I believe they stopped because of other pressures.  I do welcome it and am happy that they stopped it for any reason.  There is no way anyone who knows anything about Islam would justify this.  They stopped this because they are losing their name and support – that is why they stopped it.

Have you ever considered reaching out to the leader of Hamas with, say a group of American Islamic leaders, to brainstorm how to secure Gilad Shalit’s release?

We have been thinking about this – other than sending a letter.  They are not good leaders.  After this letter went out we have been receiving very positive feedback from Gaza.  It is interesting that you asked this question.  It may be more efficient to reach out to the Palestinian people rather than the Hamas leaders – the intellectuals etc.

What can you tell me about yourself – how is it that you have a more centrist view than some of your other colleagues?

Ha ha.  I have to correct your question.  I am not centrist – I am orthodox.  I think that I am more representative if you look at the numbers.  True we do not receive the coverage as Osama Bin Ladin or those crazies that people often read.  My Muslim community always see the Christian and Jewish crazies.  If you see my efforts you will see that my efforts involve combating anti-Semitism.  I bring scholars to Turkey to correct these mis-perceptions. R.  Mordechai Eliyahu published a fatwa during the Gaza war – his letter was distorted which said that jews should view the people of Gaza as Haman.  This was distorted all over Islamic countries.

The Iz al din al kassam brigades are the military wing of Hamas, and are likely part of the team that is holding Gilad Shalit - do you think that the Hamas leadership does and can control them?

Yes.  I do.  They often play a political game as if one has no control over the other.  If this was so then they should not be under one umbrella.  I don’t belive it when they say that they have no control over it.

Is there like a how to book, written by a Muslim that will outline a plan for Arab countries to develop as Islamic Democracies?

Yes, it is called “Strategic Depth.”

Where do you see the future going?  Will Centrist Islam strengthen and be able to eclipse radical Islamists?  What can the west do, this country do, to encourage the strengthening of centrist Islam?

Yes, I am very very hopeful that we shall overcome.  The Divine wisdom embedded in all our religions will reveal itself itself.  The Arab spring shows that radical Islam is losing some of its grip it s strength.  I do blame some west policy in the creation of this radicalism.  The west can stop supporting dictators.  Respecting democracy and encouraging it.

I think what is happening in Turkey is proving that Muslim society can excel and produce their own homegrown democracy.  Of course, it will not be copied everywhere exactly – but it is a good experiment.  It has evolved.  They have shown that they can do so without compromising with their core beliefs and religion.  I was so moved when in the middle of Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit here he stopped in the middle of the conferences to pray.  This provides inspiration and hope.

Thank you so much for joining us..


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Read Comments (23)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Sep 01, 2011 at 04:31 PM Elliot Pasik, Esq. Says:

Thank you, Imam, and your colleagues, for writing this letter.

2

 Sep 01, 2011 at 04:41 PM Anonymous Says:

This man is incredibly brave and intelligent. Bravo! And thanks VIN

3

 Sep 01, 2011 at 04:53 PM UseYourHead Says:

The Rabbi Amsalem of Islam?

4

 Sep 01, 2011 at 04:55 PM Anonymous Says:

We need more people like this man. Anyway of getting him to Israel? I'll pitch in for a ticket..

5

 Sep 01, 2011 at 05:25 PM wow Says:

This is an extremely powerful interview that should be used as a resource. It should get wider coverage. I plan to email this to some of my colleagues.

6

 Sep 01, 2011 at 05:44 PM Anonymous Says:

It is nisht kein raya fun an amerikansher imam. There is also a really good Italian imam too. The key is if any of the middle east imams would say this.

7

 Sep 01, 2011 at 05:56 PM Critical_Thinker Says:

It discourages me greatly when I read articles about wonderful Goyim who will try to help the poor Jewish people. I think if history has taught us anything, it is that we can rely only on ourselves, with the help of Hashem, to save ourselves. Leave the Imams of the world to their own people and we'll deal with kidnappers the way we should (I will spare the details). Gilad is not in captivity because of the lack of Goyishe pity. He's in captivity because we are weak in our resolve to battle a deadly enemy.

9

 Sep 01, 2011 at 06:02 PM deeper thinker Says:

Sorry critical thinker - I disagree. We have always had shtadlanim throughout our history - Rabbeinu Tam was saved by a Christian nobleman. You should not be discouraged - all good people need to speak out against immorality and evil - of all religious creeds. I am surprised at you CT!

10

 Sep 01, 2011 at 06:06 PM Oh yeah Says:

Sorry - I am with Deeper not Critical on this one.

11

 Sep 01, 2011 at 07:39 PM CommonSense Says:

These letters have the same effect that Reform Rabbis letters about Shechita have on us.

12

 Sep 01, 2011 at 07:57 PM Normal Says:

Quote from above: "It is disheartening to see this. But these people exist also in Christianity and Judaism as well. RI is not the product of Islamic theology only. There are other socio-political and historical and economical realities that contribute to this mindset."

Where does it exist in Judaism. One isolated lunatic is not the same as a group of hundreds of thousands.

13

 Sep 01, 2011 at 08:17 PM bored Says:

a jew interviewing him and making it sound like his opinion is authentic and everyone else in his religion is wrong, is the equivalent of an arab interviewing someone from niturei karta and making it sound like they are the authentic opinion of the jewish religion.
Btw anyone else enjoyed the imam's first answer as pertains to first sugya of maseches avoda zara? man ditani eideyhen lo mishtabesh, man ditani eedeihen lo mishtabesh.

14

 Sep 01, 2011 at 09:13 PM esther Says:

Reply to #12  
Normal Says:

Quote from above: "It is disheartening to see this. But these people exist also in Christianity and Judaism as well. RI is not the product of Islamic theology only. There are other socio-political and historical and economical realities that contribute to this mindset."

Where does it exist in Judaism. One isolated lunatic is not the same as a group of hundreds of thousands.

yes,he refuses to admit that islam is a religion founded on violence and that the koran espouses violence against non believers.

15

 Sep 01, 2011 at 09:20 PM qazxc Says:

Reply to #7  
Critical_Thinker Says:

It discourages me greatly when I read articles about wonderful Goyim who will try to help the poor Jewish people. I think if history has taught us anything, it is that we can rely only on ourselves, with the help of Hashem, to save ourselves. Leave the Imams of the world to their own people and we'll deal with kidnappers the way we should (I will spare the details). Gilad is not in captivity because of the lack of Goyishe pity. He's in captivity because we are weak in our resolve to battle a deadly enemy.

"He's in captivity because we are weak in our resolve to battle a deadly enemy."

"We"? "We" are weak?

Did you serve in the IDF or did you mean to say THEY are weak, THEY who put on the uniform, THEY who need to fight harder, THEY who would bleed for GilaD Shalit's rescue, THEY who would be c"v wounded and c"v worse if we waged more battles?

16

 Sep 02, 2011 at 03:32 AM emunah Says:

Great interview! Thank you Rabbi Hoffman!

17

 Sep 02, 2011 at 02:18 AM enodmilvado Says:

Agree with #11, he is like a Temple Emanual rabbi trying to influence the Rav of Lakewood.

18

 Sep 02, 2011 at 01:21 AM shtill Says:

Self hating Muslim!

19

 Sep 02, 2011 at 01:33 AM ablydec Says:

I just hope he continues to be safe. Too often, those who speak out for good get assassinated by the radicals.

20

 Sep 02, 2011 at 07:59 AM Critical_Thinker Says:

Yes, "we" the Jewish people are weak in our resolve, not in our armed forces, but in our resolve to take the necessary action against the entire malignant population. This does not have to include increased violence or blood per se. Rather it means not buckling to pressure from outside sources (i.e. the USA).

21

 Sep 02, 2011 at 02:38 PM Dovidmeir Says:

Reading this article makes me cautiously optimistic that the hostility between Muslims and the rest of us can perhaps be peaceable resolved. But I have the following questions:
1. The Imam say "Radical Islam is not the product of Islamic theology only" so he acknowledges that R.I. is partially attributable to Islam. Therefore, would it be possible to reform at least the Jihadist aspect of Islam and is anyone speaking about or attempting this?
2. He said moderate organizations condemn R.I. but he did not name any of these organizations. Who are they? Do they really exist?
3. He says "he is fully committed to Sharia Law." Does he want Sharia Law to supersede American Law and the Constitution and does he have the long term goal of making the U.S. into a Muslim country?
4. I did a search on the website Jihadwatch.org on Imam Antepli and found an article there which says Antepli learned with I. Mattson who is the Director of Hartford Seminary and the former President of the Islamic Society of N. America which is a society "many say is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood the wellspring of terrorist organizations such as Hamas."
These questions make me wary of his intentions.

22

 Sep 02, 2011 at 06:07 PM yaakov321 Says:

Basically we need more people like this Imam on the side of the islamic world. True Islam has violent origins. The entire Jewish population of Medina was murdered and destroyed. But I will give this guy credit that he can invent a category such as orthodox Islam that deals with propriety and reason and elects to offer assistance to others and works for the betterment of the world community. Give this guy credit. He is able to stand firm on a challenging and threatened platform to say that the entire nation of the Islamic people must come to their senses and do what is Right to the World and to the Creator that they believe is their G-d. I believe that Islam can someday get it right and perhaps if we have more of this guy and many others like him, we can start a new wave of reason and responsibility in the middle east and elsewhere. So lets see where this guy goes and give him our best wishes for full protection and unfounded success in his message for orthodoxy today. Thanks.

23

 Sep 04, 2011 at 11:32 PM ad_kan Says:

In general, the Jewish community has fewer connections with the Muslim world and its leaders than it does with the Christian leaders and communities. I think it would be a benefit to establish more connections. There is of course the issue of trust and resentment because of the current events in the Middle East, but in time there can be a degree of helpful communication between the communities. It wasn't easy to establish relations with Christians either after centuries of painful persecution, but we made the effort. We can encourage more like minded Imams to speak out and take principled stands, if we can get reach out to them. Needless to say, debates should be out of the question. Dialogue and working together is a necessary step which can benefit everyone.

24

 Sep 04, 2011 at 11:43 PM Anonymous Says:

Unfortunately, we don't have any dialogue or communication with the Muslim community. Having an open communication would encourage more Imams to speak out and take principled stands. During the frantic search for Leiby Kletzky z"l posters of him were hung in several mosques and Muslim community centers. We have to overcome the initial mutual paranoia and eventually learn to work and talk together. We have established good relations with several Christian leaders and communities and in the long run we all benefit - all citizens benefit - from more communication with each other.

25

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