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