Thursday, April 10, 2008

The following is the full text of an interview I had with an imam using the Camel method, minus the introductions and some unintelligible conversation.

Morris: Okay. I just have a few questions. I read that in 1998, in an article, that at the present rate of growth then, some people project that Islam will be the second-largest religion in America in about twenty years. And I was wondering how you would account for that growth. Is it because of immigration, or because of Muslims in the United States having a lot of children, or effective evangelism of non-Muslims, or all of the above?

Imam: Well, first of all thank you for coming. It’s always a pleasure to welcome people in the masjid and to talk to them and the questions they have, to answer. And if not we’ll go back to the books. The question is very important because it’s a now-a-days topic about the growth of Muslims, not only in America but around the world. It’s not because of the important number of immigrants. It’s not because of effective evangelism. It is about something (unintelligible words). It’s the message of Islam as a universal message. . . . So I was born a Muslim but was not born from an Arab family, and as a six-year-old child I was taken to a Qur’anic school to learn the Qur’an, and there they will teach you how to read the Qur’an, not how to understand it, but how to read it and then how to memorize it. . . .

Morris: Obviously, the Qur’an discusses the prophet Isa. I was particularly interested in the third Surah, especially the forty-seventh verse. Does this ayyah say that Isa came directly from Allah, and that He did not have a father?

Imam: Yes, what the Qur’an says is, and I know this, what the Qur’an says is God sent angel Gabriel to Mary to give Mary the good news of having a child. And Mary as a woman and knowing what it means to have a child and how a child is conceived, Mary says, “How can I have a child and have not permitted adultery or any man has ever touched me?” because that’s the natural way to have a child. Then Gabriel answers and says, “It is a decision your Lord has already taken,” and Gabriel (unintelligible word) this period in Mary, and then Mary started feeling pregnant. This is one of the miracles of God. He’s so powerful, He can do anything He wants. The same way He created Adam the first human being without any father or mother. And create Eve from Adam without any mother, the same way God could create Isa, Jesus, with a mother and without a father. Now, Isa then went through those steps, the three major steps as far as pregnancy is concerned, but it was in a quicker way because God made it so, and then was born naturally, the way we all were born, and to be a miracle, and the Qur’an called it a miracle. Remember when the people of Israel came to Mary they said, “How come you have a child? Your father had never been a bad person. So how come Mary you have a child?” Then Mary didn’t say a word. The Qur’an said (unintelligible Arabic words). She just pointed her finger to the newborn baby, and the newborn baby Jesus then spoke from the cradle. So asked to defend His mother, and what did He say? He says, “I am a prophet of God, and I was given the book and the wisdom, and I was commanded to say My prayers and to give charity. That’s how the Qur’an states it. So then, Jesus from there spoke to the people, which was a miracle of God for a newborn baby to speak out defending his mother. And this is how the Qur’an states the story of Jesus in many, many chapters, not only in Chapter Mary, but if you go to Chapter Mary, also, which is not the third chapter, but you will see also how detailed it is from God takes the plan of how Jesus works. And Muslims believe in that as a miracle and don’t take Jesus as anything else as a creature of God who is a prophet and a messenger to the people of Israel.

Morris: Now in two verses later, in verse forty-nine in surah three, it seems to indicate that He was given power over death. Do you know of any other prophet mentioned that had that kind of power over death?

Imam: What do you mean by power over death?

Morris: Let me look at that again. It says, “Bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission.”

Imam: Yes, but that was not only given to him. It was given to previous messengers and even was given to Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him. But the important words in that verse, or words in any verse is important, but the important thing to lay the stress upon is “with God’s permission,” meaning he wouldn’t be able to do it without the permission of God. Remember what Jesus said, “I was sent down on earth not to do My will but to do the will of the One who sent Me.” And in some Scriptures you see the “will of the Father” or he said the “will of the One who sent Me.” So then Jesus was never entrusted in his own will, but the will of God. This is why he couldn’t do anything without the permission of God. This is why he sometimes would vacate anyplace and go alone and pray and communicate with the Lord so as to have the permission of the Lord as far as what he was doing is concerned. So that in that verse (unintelligible word) was given the power, and the power is known. Jesus could raise the dead but with the permission of God which has nothing to do with his human status. But it is a power coming from God with the permission of God Himself.

Morris: In surah three, in verse fifty-five, “Allah said: O Isa, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the day of resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so I will decide between you concerning that in which you differed.” So it seems to indicate at that time Isa was taken to heaven, and the path was shown to him. Out of all the prophets, would he be the one who was most capable of helping a human being know the way to heaven because of that incident?

Imam: You know actually every single prophet was given the knowledge and the wisdom to show people the way to heaven—every single prophet. But Jesus is very particular because no prophet has ever experienced what he has experienced as far as ascending to the Lord when he was thirty-three years old. Then he ascended, meaning he was elevated to heaven. And he is living somewhere in heaven with the same age—thirty-three years old—and he will come back on earth with the same age—thirty-three years old, because in heaven there is no getting old. You will be always in the same style, in the same level. Therefore he will come back as we believe, and this is why the Qur’an says “ascended.” As he was living, a human being, he was ascended. So then he did not die, but he will come back on earth and then will face death as everybody will face death and then be buried. And when he comes, he will come at the same time with what we call “Al Mahdi (unintelligible Arabic word)” the messiah. In our own will come also will {sic} (unintelligible Arab word) Dajjal the antichrist. They will all have the same time. And then he with the help of the Mahdi then will kill the antichrist who will actually mess around on earth. So then Jesus as we said was ascended and of course will come back and will face that because he is a human being. Therefore he will have to go through what human beings go through, but was given favors that was given to nobody else as far as his birth is concerned and as far as his ascending to the heavens is concerned.

Morris: In that same verse, verse fifty-five in chapter three, it depends on the translation, but it seems to some people to say that,

Imam: Let me get the Arabic version.

Morris: Okay. In this translation it says, “I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth).” I think the Arabic word in question is “mutawaffika” or the short form “tawaffika,” and apparently that word can be translated in several different ways—as “received,” as “to take back,” but some people say it’s the most common verb used in Arabic for “to cause to die.”

Imam: You say chapter three?

Morris: Chapter three, verse fifty-five. I was wondering how you normally translate verse fifty-five.

Imam: Yes, I can see now. It says (unintelligible Arabic passage). Now this verse means, and I’m going to tell you what it means. Remember when the Lord said, “O Jesus, I am going to ascend you, to elevate you toward me. And you will come to me as you will be purified,” meaning God will purify Jesus. “Purify you” (unintelligible Arabic phrase) “from those people who are disbelievers,” meaning those people who are disbelievers—they are coming to harm you, and I’m gonna avoid {sic} that to happen. This is why when they came to get Jesus, actually Jesus was elevated towards heaven, and one of them was given the image of Jesus so as to be crucified. That was the punishment.

Morris: Was that Judas in most people’s minds who are Muslim, or do most Muslims speculate on who that person was that took the place of Jesus?

Imam: Yes, yes, they speculate. Some of them say it was one of Jesus’ disciples, and some say it was one of those who was coming to harm him. But Allah knows best. And therefore Allah says then. (Unintelligible Arabic phrase) “And I will make those people who believe and follow you,” meaning the true believers and the true followers—disciples—of Jesus. (Unintelligible Arabic phrase) “And I will put them” actually “on top of those who disbelieved in you,” meaning they will be better than them and much more honorable than them. (Unintelligible Arabic phrase) “And this will happen until the day of judgment, after the day of judgment.” (Unintelligible Arabic phrase) “And know for sure that you all shall return to me.” (Unintelligible Arabic phrase) “And when you come to me, then I will judge in between you.”

Morris: So, “mutawaffika” in this context means “to take him back,” or does it mean “to cause him to die”?

Imam: Yes, “mutawaffik” is a word that is coming from “fata,” and “fata” means “to die.” But what does it mean? That means separation from the light in this world to another life. Now Jesus was taken from this life to another life because the life in heaven far differs from the life on earth. So therefore still he did not die, but “mutawaffika (unintelligible Arabic phrase),” meaning I will take you from this life to the other life.

Morris: So he did not experience physical death.

Imam: No.

Morris: He was just quickly transferred and changed.

Imam: That’s the word—transferred—from this life to another life, but did not face death, physically, but will face death physically after having returned on earth by the end of time.

Morris: Is that the standard translation or interpretation that most Muslims give to that?

Imam: Yes, you know that is the authentic interpretation we have received from Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Now, let me make something clear. We have those we call “Orientalists.” You may have heard of them. It is a sect which took birth in the fourth or fifth century (unintelligible Arabic phrase) in Europe because of the extension of Islam in Europe. So therefore they have to create something which will sometime contradict. It’s within Islam, but which will {sic} contradict the teachings of authentic Islam. But still God will bless the community of Muslims of the best understanding, of the understanding itself of the religion. But anytime somebody brings something out of the limits of Islam, then the Muslims will know. The scholars will know, and therefore the Qur’an will teach us how to deal with those people. Those Orientalists now will come with certain ideas like that.

Morris: What countries do the Orientalists predominate in?

Imam: Okay, it was in Europe (unintelligible words) and according to history it was in Spain at that time, and you know that Spain was dominated by Islam.

Morris: Cordoba.

Imam: Yeah, and Spain became actually the heart of Islam as far as knowledge is concerned.

Morris: I have a question about surah forty-six, verse nine, The Sandhills. My translation, Muhammad is speaking: “Say: I am not the first of the apostles, and I do not know what will be done with me or with you: I do not follow anything but that which is revealed to me, and I am nothing but a plain warner.” Is this saying that he did not know his final destination, or what would be your interpretation of that verse?

Imam: Read the verse again.

Morris: “Say: I am not the first of the apostles, and I do not know what will be done with me or with you: I do not follow anything but that which is revealed to me, and I am nothing but a plain warner.”

Imam: Okay, that verse reads this way: “Say, I am not a new thing among the messengers,” meaning, I am not the first messenger sent. “Nor do I know what will be done with me or you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner.” Okay, concerning this verse, Allah is showing us that there have been prophets and messengers before Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. So then, whatever happened to those prophets and messengers before him may happen to him—Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him—how some messengers were killed by the people of Israel, and some were tortured. And this may happen to him. And he faced something like that when he went to Taif, when the people—the community of Taif—took the sick people, you know, and also the children, and they were throwing stones to him so as to have him bleeding. And God actually knew about it and sent the angel to him and say, “Whatever you want me to do for these people, I can do,” as He did to other people who used to do prophets like that. So then, God (unintelligible Arabic phrase) of course had the knowledge, and Allah gave him the knowledge, and he can predict things. But he would just let people know that I’m a human being like you. But what is special about me is that I am a messenger (unintelligible Arabic phrase), I am a person who God is revealing things to. So whatever happened to the messengers before can also happen to me, and that’s what I know what I know, what will be done with me or you. Nor do I know what will be done with me.

Morris: So he was not talking about the way to heaven. He was talking about physically being attacked on earth.

Imam: There you go. The messengers faced those kind of problems actually before him. Then this—also to let people know that the prophets and messengers who came before him were also teaching the same thing that he is teaching. Therefore he may face the same thing that they faced with opposition from other people. And by the way, if you really want to have an understanding of the Qur’an, this is Tafsir Ibn Kathir. This is the most authentic translation or explanation of the Qur’an.

Morris: I understand there is a festival called “Korbani Eid.” I was wondering, is that practiced all over the world. When I’ve read about it, it sounds like the sacrifice atones for names placed on a piece of paper as well as those placing their hands on the animal, and then the animal is killed. Is that a worldwide practice, or is that something confined to one area?

Imam: Okay, the Eid is called the “Eid-ul-Adha,” meaning the festival of Adha, meaning “sacrifice.” Now, remember what I said earlier about culture. Culture is very important to people, and people do—and let me just mention that placing your hands on the animal while it is being slaughtered—you know, we used to do that when our father was slaughtering, you know, the sheep on this particular day. It is our culture, and the people used to believe that if you do so, you will have the same reward as your father—the one who is sacrificing the sheep or the animal on that particular day. Now, Eid-ul-Adha is the eid of sacrifice, which is going to be on Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, and you will be very welcome to come there, you know, and see how things go and all that. And then on the particular we just remember the day when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Ishmael as related in the Bible or in other Scriptures. And God then, of course, put Abraham and his son through that test even though God knew exactly what Abraham believed, but He wanted Abraham to be sure of his faith, and Abraham was of course as a prophet and a messenger. So then, God put him through that test, and Abraham passed the test, so he was to be rewarded. Okay, so Allah made his children to be prophets and also the Prophet Muhammad to come you know through Ishmael, you know, as (unintelligible Arabic phrase), and those were Ishmael’s words, the father, we can say, the father of Arabs. Now, what is to be done is this: to go perform the sala and then go and slaughter, meaning the sacrifice. There is no putting the hands and all that. That is part of culture. It isn’t a part of the teaching of Islam. It is just part of culture, like I said again. But it is not a culture (unintelligible phrase), but it is better for the Muslim to limit himself in the teachings of Islam and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. But it’s all about culture at that particular point you are making. But of course every single Muslim, if they can, have to sacrifice this sheep or whatever they can, according to Islam, and for the sake of God, not for the sake of anything else. We don’t need the blood, and we cannot throw away the meat. That’s why we have to eat from the meat and also give charity to those who don’t have from the meat as well, and the blood is shed for the sake of Allah. We don’t need the blood. And sometimes as you go, they will, you know, put their finger in the blood and then put it right on their face, you know, all day long. This is part of culture but not part of Islam as well.

Morris: In some of the cultures is there a feeling that the guilt of the people is transferred to the animal, and maybe that’s why they touch the animal and put the animal’s blood on them—that the animal’s sacrifice takes care of their guilt and that it benefits them somehow?

Imam: It has nothing to do with guiltiness or anything like that. No. It is something prescribed by God, and we do it as we pray, as we give charity. It is an order from God, and we do it, now, for those who can. For those who cannot, it is not an obligation, but as far as feeling guiltiness and your guilt being carried away along with a sacrifice, no, Islam does not teach that. And if people think about that, it’s because based on character, that’s different from what Islam teaches. It’s not going to carry anything, but you do it. You do it for the sake of God, and then God will reward you and may forgive you of your sins because of how submitted and devoted you are in obeying Him.

Morris: So, we’ve talked some about accumulating good works. So at the end of time, my impression is that if you’ve lived by the five pillars of Islam: you’ve made a pilgrimage to Mecca, you’ve kept the fast at Ramadan, you’ve given alms to the poor, you’ve used the confession, and you’ve prayed five times a day—those things, and if your other good deeds compensate for any bad deeds, then at the end of your life, most likely Allah will accept you into Paradise. Is that a correct understanding?

Imam: First of all, a person can do something depending on the intention he has. In Islam every single act will have the value of the intention you have in order to do the act. Okay, people can call for a fundraising to help needy people. Is that a good deed or a bad deed?

Morris: So you’re saying the intention is what’s important, not necessarily the deed itself.

Imam: Not necessarily the deed, but the intention you have, because if you have a good intention of doing something and then you were not able to do it, still God will reward you for that good intention you have. And if you have the intention of doing something bad, it is a sin. And then in the long run you abstain from doing it, God will reward you for abstaining from doing that thing which is wrong because of the intention you have to retrieve yourself from acting wrongly. Now, the example I was going to give you, we have people, millionaires, and we say these people in Somalia, they are in need. It’s tremendously good to help needy people. Then I come. I have millions in my bank account, and they say, “Who can donate fifty thousand dollars?” I look around, see all these people, and I want it to be mentioned in the future as a good donor, and I write a check for a hundred thousand dollars and give. Everybody can see it.

Morris: So your motives are wrong.

Imam: There you go. So there you have done something great in the eyes of people, but (unintelligible Arabic phrase) in the eyes of God it is zero because of the intention you have to be mentioned in the book of good donors in the future.

Morris: So the time of judgment, it’s not just the things you’ve done, it’s the intentions that Allah looks at, and your good intentions can compensate for your bad intentions.

Imam: Every single deed you do with a good intention will erase a previous sin (unintelligible Arabic phrase). Every good deed you do with a good intention will erase previous sins. This is how it goes. This is how the Qur’an teaches us.

Morris: So, you’re saying Allah is perfect, His standard is perfection, and in order for us to meet that standard of perfection, our bad intentions, bad deeds, must be erased by corresponding good intentions and good deeds.

Imam: A human being will never reach the standard of perfection because the human being was created weak and never shall a human being be perfect. You can get closer and closer to God, moving toward perfection, but you will never reach perfection because, remember, human beings think, and they doubt, and perfection doesn’t go with doubt, and tell me, who is among the human beings that does not doubt? So doubt cannot go with perfection. That’s why only God is perfect, and perfected messengers were perfect as far as the message they were conveying is concerned, but as far as their lives as human beings, they were not perfect at all. They could make mistakes. They could give an idea in their lives, or somebody else may have a brighter idea which the prophet or the messenger will of course take, and we have so many examples in the story of the prophet and messenger, but as far as the message they were conveying, they are perfect because the message is not coming from them. It comes from a perfect Being who is God, but human beings cannot be perfect. But every single good deed you do is like taking you toward perfection, meaning purifying you, not making you perfect, but purifying you. And the more purified you are, the better person you are and closer you will be to your Lord.

Morris: Let’s see. I’m almost finished. Do most Muslims look at the Qur’an as being created or as being eternal?

Imam: Yes. I wouldn’t say most Muslims, but all Muslims should look at the Qur’an as not created because revelation is not creation, and the Qur’an is the words of God, and the words of God are attributes of God? And how can attributes of God be creatures, as God Himself is not a creature? He is the Creator. So, therefore, Muslims look at the Qur’an as the words of God which is eternal and not created.

Morris: So, I’m trying to understand in my own mind. In that sense, like God’s plan for the universe it’s always been His plan, and in that sense it’s eternal. I think I understand what you’re saying. Okay. Do you think it would be beneficial for Muslims and Christians to study the Qur’an together as a way to help them mutually understand some of these issues? And I know that many Muslims believe that the Injil, the New Testament, has been corrupted. Would there be any benefit for Muslims to study the New Testament as it is now?

Imam: The Muslim is the person that can find any answer of any question from the Qur’an. This is why you can see that many Muslims are not interested in studying the other books like the Injil. Now, I have studied it for two years because I thought that for me to better communicate with the Christians I had to know their book. Okay. But if it was only one book—called the New Testament, the Injil, the Bible—if it was only one book, one intact book that has no changes or anything like that, yes, it would be recommended for the Muslims to learn it because it will never differ from the Qur’an. The Qur’an is this Qur’an, and not even a single letter has been changed since it was revealed fourteen hundred years ago. Now, the Bible I don’t judge because judgment belongs to God. I have studied King James Version. I haven’t gotten the chance to study other versions, but I have listened to scholars who are well-versed in studying different versions of their book. But when I studied King James, what was very interesting was King James himself. I first studied King James himself and what brought the King James Version. That’s what I studied, and studied the history of King James and the War of the Roses that happened between King James’s family and the family of Lancaster and what brought this version. So if every single king or every single authority would have the power to have his own version concerning the Bible, and then we will see those differences between versions, then the Muslim will be confused which version to (unintelligible words) to get in order to have the clear understanding of the words of God. And this is why some of them will question, is the Bible the word of God, as you can see in some of those videos or some of those tapes. You may have listened to many of those with (unintelligible names). So that is the problem.

Morris: Do you feel that the Qur’an itself says that the Bible has been changed, or does it say that the interpretations of the Bible are corrupt?

Imam: The Qur’an states clearly that the Bible has been changed—not interpretations—but the Bible has been changed. And then God is saying, “Woe to those who have written the books with their own hands”—you see, with their own hands—meaning written in the way they wanted. And then says, (unintelligible Arabic phrase) “This is from God.” And it says, “Woe to them,” because that is not from God. So, not every single word has been changed, but some. This is why you see those differences in the different versions, more than two hundred versions today that we are seeing, as far as they are concerning, of the Bible.

Morris: Why do you think that Allah would preserve the Qur’an perfectly as his word, but he did not preserve for instance the Injil? Have you thought about that?

Imam: Yes, because the Injil actually was not the last message, and you were talking about God’s plan. God’s plan was to reveal the Qur’an as the last message. So then the Qur’an as the verifier of the truth in those previous books has to be perfect and preserved. That would allow us to know what is true and what is not in the previous books, as in the hands of the people. You see? Therefore it makes sense that the Qur’an will be preserved and will be kept intact as we can use it to verify the truth or what is not true in the previous books.

Morris: So in the original form of the Injil, it agreed perfectly with the Qur’an.

Imam: Which exists until now and which is not released.

Morris: Okay. So it agreed perfectly with the Qur’an?

Imam: Oh yes, definitely.

Morris: Now, I know you don’t see it as being equal to the Qur’an, but it agreed with the Qur’an?

Imam: Oh yes, definitely.

Morris: How would you classify that original Injil? Would it be called the word of God or as maybe an interpretation of the word of God?

Imam: It will be the word of God, not interpretation of the word of God. Okay, this is the Qur’an that you have, and this is an interpretation, meaning explanation. You know the words of God are words which are perfect. And do you think a human being, as imperfect, can understand everything of the words of God which are perfect without an explanation? This is why God would send prophets and messengers, and prophets and messengers would explain the word of God. It’s like when you are in the military. You have to be taught the codes, the coded language. But we who have never been in the military may not understand. And the Qur’an is a coded message, and there should be somebody to decode it, and that person to decode it is the messenger so that the people can understand the words of God. This is why you read what we call “hadith.” Hadith will come to explain the words of God. Some of them are very easy to understand. Some others are coded, and there should be a messenger to decode that which is coded as a message in the Qur’an.

Morris: So you’re saying the Qur’an is the word of God, pure and undefiled. The Injil as it was originally given was also the word of God, but not equal to the Qur’an.

Imam: Not equal to the Qur’an to the sense that every single prophet and messenger was sent to a particular people, a particular community. But the Prophet Muhammad was sent to the entire human family.

Morris: So it’s universal whereas the Injil was more of a local book.

Imam: Like Moses was sent to the people of Israel and then to Egypt. He was the only one {sic} prophet who was sent to two different peoples, for example to Egypt. Jesus was sent to the people of Israel. So then their shari’a, the legislation they have in their books, will only be considered within the people of Israel. So that will be the difference between that book and the Qur’an.

Morris: Well that is about all the questions I had. I appreciate your answering them so well.

Imam: No problem. You are very welcome.