Channel: Omar Suleiman
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So the BBC reached out and said, We want to interview you. I said, we've got this idea. We want to take you to a park. And have you meet one of the protesters
who've been wielding his gun outside your mosque, and talk to him. It was really interesting because they've interviewed him before meeting me, and the things that he was able to utter, before meeting me. And before meeting Syrian refugees,
was just awful. I mean, the most dehumanizing rhetoric that you can imagine. But then at the park, he meets me talks to me, he meets a Syrian refugee family, one of the girls whose leg had been blown off and an airstrike. And he said, I feel like an idiot. I mean, he expressed all sorts of regret, and was terrified that he could dehumanize people the way that he was. And so my whole thing was, and is, come inside the mosque, Put your gun down, disarm yourself, and learn. And you'll be surprised what you'll walk away with, and only took one meeting with him to completely shift his worldview at the time, which was made up of heroes and villains, the Muslims, unfortunately, being
the villains that had to be wiped off the face of the earth so that the earth could continue.
The following is a conversation with Imam Dr. Omar Suleiman. He's a Muslim scholar, civil rights leader, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic research, and he's a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University. He's one of the most influential Muslims in the world, and as a fearless kind hearted human being, who I'm now proud to call a friend.
As a side note, allow me to say a few words about Israel and Palestine. While this conversation with Omar Suleiman was mostly exploring the history and beauty of Islam, and the Muslim community, we did Delve briefly into the topic of Israel and Palestine. This topic is an extremely challenging one, and an extremely important one. It has deep roots and implications in US politics, in global geopolitics in military and religious conflicts, wars, and atrocities, and basic struggle of all human beings to survive, to protect their loved ones, and to flourish as individuals and as communities. I did not want to cover this topic in a solely scholarly fashion. Much like with the
war in Ukraine, it is not simply a story of history, politics, religion, and national identity. It is also a deeply human story, to cover this topic in the way that my gut, and my heart says to do it, I have to talk to everyone, to leaders and people on all sides, Muslim and Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian, from refugees to soldiers from scholars to extremists. I'm not sure if that's possible, or wise. But like Forrest Gump said, I'm not a smart man. And maybe you know how the rest of that goes. I just like to follow my heart to whatever place leads, I ask the Muslim and the Jewish communities for your patience and support as they explore this topic, I will make many mistakes. And
I'll be listening to all voices so I can learn and do better. I've become distinctly aware that my approach of talking to people from all walks of life with empathy and compassion, but with Backbone can create enemies and all sides. I don't quite yet understand why this is, but I'm learning to accept it as the reality of the world. Hopefully, in the end, whatever happens, whatever silly thing I do, has a chance of adding a bit of love to the world. Thanks for going along with me on this journey. This is the LEX Friedman podcast to support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here's Omar Suleiman.
Osama Lake Kumar, we've been trying to do this a long time. It's the world tried to prevent it through the funny ways that the world does but here we are. I'm a huge fan of yours. It's a huge honor to talk to you. I appreciate it. Thank you for making the sacrifice and coming down. Coming up, I guess. I appreciate it's a short flight but a long journey. Let's start with the biggest question Who is God, according to Islam. God is the most compassionate, the Most Merciful, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is one God.
He begets not nor is he begotten. He is unique. He is omnipotent. He is beyond the limitations of man. He is beyond the constructs of our imagination. But he is ever accessible through sincere supplication when you call upon Him alone
One God, he is closer to you than your jugular vein, the Quran tells us he's known by many names and attributes, but his essence is one he's one God, no human likeness. No human imperfection can be attributed to him, no partners.
No image of him can be constructed.
And that is God. So God represents he is a feeling of closeness that is accessible to every human being. Well, God's not a feeling God is known by names and attributes, we call upon God. But
there is certainly a feeling of closeness when you access him. And so I think the beauty of Islam is that as perfect as God is described, he's also so accessible to the imperfect. And so the idea of sincere supplication and connection to him, we worship Him alone, we call upon Him alone, there is no clergy, there is no barrier between God and us. And that encourages a sincere devotion and commitment to him alone. And so he is certainly described supreme. And God speaks to us through the Quran. And we speak to him through sincere supplication. And his attributes are the furthest from us in terms of their perfection. But he is ever close to us, through our supplication through our
prayers, and through our connection to him.
To open the door to that connection, to have a connection with God, how difficult is that process? How difficult was it for you? How difficult is it for the people that for the many, many, many Muslims that you've interacted with? Well, I think that there are different layers of difficulty, right? There's the personal difficulty submitting yourself to God, you know, Islam requires a complete submission to Him. And one of the things that happens is that if we
project some of our bad experiences with a thority, onto our relationship with God, then we immediately perceive him in a certain way that might not allow us to gain a closeness to him, because maybe we didn't have the best relationship with our parents growing up, maybe we didn't have the best relationship with authority figures in our lives. And so this idea of an ultimate authority to whom you submit yourself can be very difficult. You know, Malcolm X, who is one of the most prominent converts to Islam in American history, talked about the difficulty of prostration for the very first time putting your head on the ground, putting your face on the ground, and praying to God
is a very humbling thing. submitting all of your affairs to him is very humbling. And ultimately, you have to relinquish control. And you can't relinquish control without trust. So you have to learn to trust God, to trust God, you have to know Him. And to know him is to love Him. And so, for me, personally, you know, growing up, going through certain difficulties,
having a sick parent who struggled in her life with cancer, and with strokes, dealing with racism in South Louisiana, growing up, it was important for me to learn about God through my difficulties, for example, rather than let those difficulties turn me away from him. Many times, people put a barrier between them and God, because they can't make sense of the things that are happening in their own lives. And so they project anger towards God, and at the same time, deny their own belief in Him, and do away with this natural disposition that every one of us has to believe in Him. So there are intellectual barriers. Certainly, there are experiential barriers.
But I think that one of the beautiful things about Islam is clarity.
There is an explanation for his existence, there's an explanation for our existence, there's an explanation for the existence of difficulties and trials and explanation for the existence of desires and distractions. And it all comes together so beautifully and coherently, in Islam. And so I think that for many of us, we want to be our own gods, you know, and ultimately, we create and fashion gods in ways that allow us to still be the ultimate determiners of our own fates of our own story.
And that's very unfulfilling when you fail at your own plan. But when you realize that there is one who is all knowing that there is one who is all wise, you actually find peace in submitting yourself to Him. And so submitting your will to him submitting your desires, submitting your own fate to him, becomes actually an experience of liberation, because you trust the one that you're serving.
Adding to you trust his knowledge over years, you trust his wisdom over the years. And that gives you a lot of peace and then you have direct access to him. You pray to Him, you call upon Him, you supplicate. And everything in your life suddenly has meaning. You know, in our faith,
everything is about intention. And there is an intentionality even behind the most seemingly most mundane actions, a morsel of food in the mouth of your spouse, your family is looked at as a great charity, the way that you enter into a place and exit out of a place what foot you step in what foot you step out with, there's an intentionality, there's a word of remembrance that spoken. There's a word of praise before and after you engage in any action. There are things that you say before you eat before you sleep, there is meaning even to your sleep, one of the great companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, he said, that I seek the reward for my sleep,
just as I seek the reward for my prayer. Because you sleep to refresh yourself so that you can once again do great things and the intentionality behind that allows even the sleep to be rewardable. You eat to nourish yourself, so that you can do great things, you seek to be in a position of independence and of being sustained, so that you can sustain others. So the Prophet peace be upon him says, for example, that the upper hand is better than lower hand, the upper hand is the giving hand, the lower hand is the receiving hand. So to seek a position where you can help other people, everything becomes intentional. And there is no such thing as you know, something that is
meaningless and without purpose. So every pursuit is ultimately a pursuit of God. And when you pursue God sincerely, then he rewards you not just with paradise in the afterlife, but he rewards you with a great sense of serenity and self satisfaction. Hear. You mentioned part of the struggle growing up was having a parent, your mom, who was sick, what do you remember?
About your mom? What are some happy, pleasant memories.
So my parents were all my father, and God is still alive.
My mother was a pious woman and beautiful woman, a righteous woman, a woman who was known for treating everyone with a great deal of love and respect. She was a poet, she used to write poetry about oppressed peoples around the world. From her homeland in Palestine to the genocide in Bosnia, she followed every conflict before social media, and poured her heart into it. She was a woman of great charity. So when I think back to my mom growing up, she was known for her smile, my mom was always smiling. And in fact, every picture of her, she's smiling. And at her funeral, you know, people talked about her smile, that she would smile at everyone. And that was kind of her thing. So
if you were left out of a gathering, she was smiling at you, and she kind of welcome you in. I remember my mom to be content, she was a woman of prayer and a woman of contentment. So I used to see her in her prayer clothes all the time. In fact, when I think back to her growing up, I think of her more in her prayer clothes than her normal clothes, because that's how often she was engaged in prayer. And I think of her
making sure that everyone was included in a conversation. So she's very interesting,
in that she had several strokes.
And each one of those strokes impaired, one of her senses to some extent, so she was partially deaf because of one stroke. And she'd be sitting in the gathering and she'd be pretty quiet with a big smile on her face, very serene. And she would tell me, you know, Hamdulillah, which means thank thank God All Praise be to God that I can't hear because
I can tell when people are gossiping when people are saying negative things around me about other people, because she says even the look on people's faces changes. So it's it was really interesting, because she was that spiritually rooted and deep that she said, like you could see on the looks on people's faces when they started to speak ill about other people that their faces would change that the night their demeanor would change. And she said, I would actually praise the Lord, that I couldn't engage in those conversations and that I wasn't sinful for hearing them. And what she would do is what people said, at her funeral, which was really beautiful to me, and was very comforting to
me. And I took it as a life mission, that if you were new to a place, or if you were kind of in the corner and not not known to other people in the community, and he felt left out she was the one that literally would look around the room. And she'd see who was standing in the corner, and who was new to the community or new to whatever place and she'd go and try to include that person in the gathering. So even when she had impaired speech and impaired hearing, with her smile, and with her warmth, she was able to welcome people wherever that was and so the amount of people that came to her funeral and the stories that I continue to hear till this day, 15 years later, after her passing
have people that said, you know, no one ever treated me the way your mother treated me. And she connected that to God. So that was actually part of my faith journey. When I think of great people, when I think of people of faith, she's the first person that comes to my mind, because
despite her challenges, she was always the greatest person that you would meet anyone that met her. And that knew her would say, I'd never I've never met anyone that kind that was her reputation. And she was deeply empathetic, she would shed tears over people that she had no connection. So this is again, before social media before, you know the the the heavy exposure that we have to people in conflict zones. She had to engage every single human being in her life in a deep and profound way, because she had a profound connection to God. And she believed that that was her calling. And none of her challenges made her bitter. In fact, they only made her more connected to God. And they only
made her a better person until the last breath that she took. Do you miss her?
I mean, yes, absolutely. But I,
I feel like everything I do is an extension of her. She tried to carry what she stood for. Absolutely, as part of yourself. The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said that when a person passes away, there are only three things that continue to benefit them, they continue to extend them a continuous charity, or a piece of knowledge that continues to benefit people, or a righteous child that prays for them. And I want to be that child that prays for her but also does charity in her name extends her charity extends what she taught me by being the person that she was
to everyone around me. And there's some times where I don't feel like getting out of bed, sometimes when I don't feel like doing for myself, but I actually feel like doing for her. So everything in my life that I tried to do.
I tried to make an extension of her. And
that's been my calling. And, you know, I believe I'll meet her again, I believe I'll be with her again, I believe that everything I do that is good, will be of benefit to her. And I believe that it would make her proud. And so as much as I miss her,
as much as I am
fueled to do for her. And so I continue that. And that's kind of become part of my life. It's been my life story. As a child, and as an adult, it's been sort of the centerpiece of my life, to do
things that extend her, and ultimately, in the process, hopefully benefit me because I believe that she's a woman who I pray is destined for Paradise, and I want to do the things that would get me there to
what did you learn about death, about life from losing her.
I feel like the facade of the material world
was made evident to me at a very young age, you know, most children grow up.
And their parents want to protect them from everything. And I felt that too, you know, my, my mother wanted to downplay her own tragedy, so that me and my brother could Live A Fruitful and fulfilling life. My father wanted to protect us from
the hardship of her life, so that we could live fulfilling lives he was, he'd often be the only father on a field trip, even though he was a distinguished professor. I mean, he was a busy man. He was a very busy man, but he tried to show up at a field trip and tried to make our lives as normal as possible. But in the process, we always understood that there was more to life than what other children were seeing it as, and now I know that as an adult, there's more to life than what other adults see it as the material world. Disappointed early on, so that we could see beyond it. And I often tell people that, you know,
there are many that grow up and tragedy orphaned children,
grow up and do incredible things because they immediately see past the
facade. They see through all of the material promises of this world, the deception of it, and that you can choose to be bitter as a result of that, or you can choose to be better.
And I think that for me, I had to consciously make that decision that I was going to live a life of prayer. I was going to live a life of charity, I was going to live a life of commitment. And in that process, invest in something that's greater, invest in something that doesn't disappoint.
And so I believe in God, I believe in the hereafter. And I believe that God will not let any trial, or efforts in this life go to waste without it being repaid in the Hereafter. And so I work towards that. And so life and death, I understood existence to be transcendence. Early on, that if I believed that there was nothing to life, except for life, I would be a very bitter person, but because I know that there is more to it than this,
I'm able to
exist in it, without being depressed by it.
Existence is transcendence.
What happens after we die,
So the Quran tells us that God brought us from the darkness of the womb, into this life, you were nothing but a dirty drop of fluid. And you became this fully proportioned human being from the darkness of the womb, you come into this life, you experience it, and then you go to the darkness of the grave, only to be resurrected once again. And that we are souls, with bodies, not bodies with souls. And there's a huge difference between those two things. This is the vehicle that contains us here. This is the material world that we encounter here. But we are not this. And this is not our entire existence. And so the soul continues. This is a life in which we seek to worship Him, and
seek to live in accordance with the purpose that He has set out for us. And after we pass away, our soul continues onwards,
either to reward or to punishment, or to a mixture of both. But it's a it's a realm of accountability.
And hopefully, it's a realm of reward. Should we exist in a way that he wants us to exist?
He said that he can look to God for wisdom to make sense of the world. There's a lot of stuff to us humans.
It's difficult to make sense of
like you losing your mother. There's a lot of cruelty in the world. There's a lot of suffering in the world. What
have you been able to find from God about about why there is suffering in the world? Why there's cruelty? You know, there's a saying that I wanted to ask God about why he allows hunger and war and poverty. But I was afraid he might ask me the same question.
God has certainly given us enough food, there's enough food in the world for everyone to have a 3200 calorie diet a day.
God has certainly given us enough guidance for us to not inflict on each other. The cruelty that we inflict, when we look to the world around us, first and foremost, we have to have a sense of accountability. We are accountable for our own actions. We don't blame God, for the evil of man. That's one.
But at the same time, we understand that God in His wisdom, allows for certain outcomes that we cannot encompass with our own.
And that, to isolate these incidents, and to try to make sense of them, is no different than a baby in the womb.
That doesn't understand the world that it's coming into, and trying to explain to that baby that hasn't yet developed its own senses and its own perception of this world. What is happening to it? Right? You know, I often think of the example of a child and, you know, having
been at this point now, through the experience of
parenthood, I'm still learning, I'm just going into having a teenager with three kids. And being a softy for my kids, you know, when you have to tell your child that they can't have something that they really, really want. And that child thinks you hate them at some point. Because Why are you stopping me from putting this toy in my mouth
and choking myself? They don't get it right. But at the same time, you prevent them out of love. They're not in a position to understand that you're preventing them out of love. And to isolate these incidents with God and to say the wisdom, what's the wisdom? You're trying to make sense of a pixel when you can't see the bigger picture?
Your mind is not at a place where you can make sense of the bigger picture, you haven't seen the bigger picture. And so, for him to even explain to us every incidence
would completely defeat the purpose of putting your trust in Him. So we believe in a God, that is all encompassing and his knowledge and wisdom that gives us and Islam is very specific, by the way that there is what God tells us to do. And there's what God allows to happen. So what God tells us to do in terms of the roadmap towards good, and then what God allows to happen in his divine wisdom that no outcome can escape him. But at the same time, we are accountable for our own actions and our own deeds. So when you come to someone and say, you know, why did God allow this to happen to this person? I can't rationalize that for you, because my understanding is relegated to the immediate
experience in front of me.
But if I know God, and if I learn about God, then I don't have to make sense of the plan. But I can tell you that I trust the planner.
And I think that that's where peace is found. You know, a lot of times you look for the light at the end of the tunnel, what's the light at the end of the tunnel? In Islam, there's emphasis on God and the hereafter, because to try to make sense of
Divine Decree, and why certain things happen in this world, without the existence of a god or without the existence of a hereafter will always fail you. So the existence of a god, that is all knowing what we don't know, I know what you don't know, that understands what we don't understand the existence of a god who is not subject to our constrictions. And the existence of a hereafter where all things find recourse, where there's divine recourse,
allows for this world to be situated within the existence of something greater and not treated in isolation. So when you're trying to treat an incident of this world in isolation, you're going to fail. And when you try to treat existence in this world, and of this world, in isolation, you're also going to fail. And so the emphasis is the belief in God,
a God that is not limited, like you are, and a belief in the Hereafter, that is not limited like this life. And so everything continues onwards, and there is divine recourse for everything. Each and everything, you know, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him mentioned that.
On the Day of Judgment, a person who lived the most difficult of lives will be dipped into paradise one time, and will be told, have you ever seen any sadness, any hardship? Now, when you think about the most difficult life, some of the commentators and Islam they said that this is perhaps referring to the Prophet job, a YouTube peace be upon him, because Job lift, obviously a life of great difficulty, but that a person who lived a very hard life would be dipped into paradise one time, and just with a dip, be asked, Have you ever seen any hardship? Have you ever seen any misery? And that person would say, what is sadness? What is hardship? What is misery now, if you don't believe in the
hereafter, if you don't believe in anything beyond this life, then the recourse has to happen in this life. And because we see so many people pass through this life,
without recourse of cruelty without recourse of suffering, then we're forced to try to make sense of it. And if you are someone who believes that this entire world came into existence, through randomness, that were just an existence of random atoms that collide with each other, and that all of this comes together out of nothing, then how can you put your trust in anything that is greater? So as you asked me, as a child of a parent who suffered, I believe that every moment that my mother suffered, that she will be rewarded, that she will be elevated that all of that made her or contributed to the beautiful person that she was, and will contribute to the beautiful reward that
she receives and the recourse is certain to me as a believer in that. So the right approach to making sense of the world, especially making sense of suffering and cruelty is that of humility, that we as humans cannot possibly understand fully, absolutely. Fact in the Quran. It's very interesting when God creates Adam, the angels say to God, are you going to create
a race or a species that will spill blood and cause corruption? And God says to the angels in response to that question, I know that what you don't know. So even the angels have to humble themselves for a moment the angels who adore God who love God
who worshipped Him who obey him unconditionally. They are told, by God, I know that what you don't know. And what we extract from that when many of the early interpretations extract from that is that God knows that there are human beings that will come out of this enterprise of humanity, that make the entire existence of it worth it. And so just as Yes, there will be criminals and corrupt ones, there will be prophets and beautiful people that come out of this, and sages and saints that come out of this that show that a human being who unlike an angel who has no choice but to worship God, an angel has no sense of will no sense of choice, an angel is created to worship, and has no
desires, a human being who has the choice of desire, and worship, the choice of righteousness and wickedness, that there are human beings who will choose worship and righteousness, that will choose charity over cruelty, that will choose service and choose dedication and devotion, over death and destruction, that there are human beings that will in fact, ascend the angels in rank, because they will live lives where they choose that capacity, that part of themselves. And they lean into that, and worship God lovingly, and obey Him. You see, in some of the sages in Islam scholars, they describe this as saying that the human being has the capacity to be anywhere from an animal to an
angel, or even worse, to be a devil, an angel, not in the sense that we ever actually become angels or become animals. But that an animal, you know, for the most part, seeks its desires over everything doesn't really think about, you know, many of the things that we are supposed to calculate as human beings doesn't think about which territory it's infringing upon, or you know, how much of its appetite it should fulfill, it simply exists to fulfill its appetite, and that many human beings simply exist to fulfill their appetite. And they choose that over worship reason or anything that is greater just, they they literally take themselves as gods in that sense, and their
selves have no limitation on appetite. So they just keep filling that appetite and filling that appetite and filling that appetite. Whereas a human being can also go to the extent of choosing something greater, and disciplining their desires, disciplining themselves because they're seeking a greater reward. You know, we know many people that achieve great things in the worldly sense, because they choose to study oversleep, for example, they choose to exert themselves, towards their careers towards their education, because they believe that ultimately, the outcome of those pursuits are more rewarding than the immediate fulfillment of their desires. So as believers, we choose that
love of God and we choose that outcome that we seek, and we discipline ourselves to where we can even ascend past the angels and rank. Now, of course, I said, we can go as low as an animal or as low as the devil. And we have tyrants, past and present, and future as well. That can become satanic, and their nature, because they allow their desires to take such control over them, that they not only worship them, but that every other existing being around them, simply becomes a piece of their own puzzle in pursuit of their own Lordship and their own satisfaction, they will kill they will discard not because you know, I always say this, it's not that tyrants,
necessarily like killing people, it's that people's lives pose somewhat of an you know, an indifference to them, they're indifferent to people's existence. And so you become either an abject for or against me. And so they're willing to discard, children discard people discard the rights of others, because they ultimately have chosen that the greatest pursuit of themselves is the maximum position of power, and a place to where they can fulfill what they want to of themselves without any limits. And every everyone else becomes either a threat or an opportunity in that regard. So we can be devils we can be angelic, like we can be animals. We're somewhere on that spectrum. And every
moment contains a set of choices you can make. Absolutely. Every single moment contains a set of choices. And that's where the intentionality comes in. Right? So the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him says that I saw a person strolling in Paradise because he removed something harmful from the road.
He tells us about a woman that lived the life and prostitution but that repented to God when she was thirsty one day and
He saw a dog that was also thirsty. And she said that I was thirsty, and God gave me water. So I'm going to choose to give water to the thirsty dog. And God enters her into paradise as a result of that. Sometimes the small moments with a small, sincere deed can have a huge impact on a person's trajectory. So every moment is a moment of choices. And when we choose belief, righteousness, a pursuit of something greater than we find ways to turn things that are otherwise mundane into miraculous acts, right? Where we can, we can choose God over ourselves, and in the process, choose a better fate for ourselves. How difficult is the process of knowing, understanding what is the
knowing what it means to be a good man? Oh, good woman. Well, the truth has consequences. So don't seek out the truth unless you're willing to abide by what you find. So a lot of people want to mold their journey in accordance with a predetermined pursuit that they already have. And so when they approach religion, they approach it like another product. You know, there was a, an article that was actually written by a rabbi, I've spoken about this in several sermons, it was called the allure of narcissistic spirituality, the allure of narcissistic spirituality, where he talks about, you know how religion becomes just another product of your own self adoration and worship, to where you only
approach religion, to the extent that it gives you
more happiness, in the worldly sense, you only approach of it what is therapeutic. So it becomes just as secular in its nature as any other practice of meditation or whatever it may be, or some other product. And he kind of mentions, you know, how he took that from a person that is praying in a temple, and a guy walks into the temple and bumps into him, and then he curses the guy out. So he didn't see his behavior towards that person as
part of his trajectory of worship. He just saw his being godly, as the worship that he was engaged in. The truth has consequences. The truth has circumstances that are required of you actions that are required of you that may be somewhat inconvenient. So you have to be willing to engage in a sincere pursuit of truth and look for truth for what it is, and not simply look for comfort and convenience. And when you engage in that journey of wanting to know, you have to engage thoroughly and sincerely and try your best to remove any bias. I think that's what makes the the religion of Islam such a phenomenon for people, that with all the Islamophobia and the bigotry towards it still
the fastest growing religion in the United States and the fastest growing religion in the world. And no, that's not all birthrate.
Yeah, we have a lot of kids. But many people, you know, you met someone, just before we started this interview, many people, in fact, in a post 911 world, saw what they saw of Islam in the media. And they actually, you know, went and checked out copies of the Quran and started to read about the religion and in their sincere pursuit of truth, ended up embracing a religion that they believed was the greatest source of destruction in the world. And now it's the greatest source of peace for them, and their own existence in their own lives. And so you have to be willing to engage in a sincere pursuit of wanting to know, and then be willing to engage in sincere commitment after you know,
otherwise, the heart rests. And so there's a process in the Quran talks about this, of making the heart, like fertile soil towards truth. So you have a sincere pursuit, but then at some point, if you come to know and then you ignore what you come to know, then the heart rusts. And it becomes harder to recognize it the second time around, and the third time around. And so when people come to me, and they say, you know, I'm looking for something I'm looking for, I'm looking for God, I'm looking for my purpose. The first thing I tell them, as I say, Listen, what you need to do is, if you're really looking for God, and you're and you believe in God, and there are often people that
say, I believe in God, but I don't know where to go with this, right? I know that there's something greater and Islam we call that the fitrah and natural disposition towards the belief in the existence of God.
But where do I go from here? You know, what do I do now? And I say the first thing you need to do is
you need to sincerely say, Oh, God, guide me to the truth. Call upon God sincerely say, I'm calling upon you alone, and I'm asking you to guide me to the truth. Show me what it is, right. And that's the heart function. Then you need to actually investigate and
Ready to suspend bias, right? Investigate the world's religions investigate the claims to truth, investigate, use, you know, rational inquiry to the extent that the heart becomes satisfied. And suspend bias. And you'll be surprised. And so for a lot of people, they come to me and they say, you know, this, this this about Islam, I'm like, Look, I'm
if you're just going to talk to me about what you've seen of Islam in the media, if you were serious about it, you know, if you're serious about it, then
you're not simply going to be satisfied with the highly edited images and distorted facts that come towards you about this religion, right?
What are you looking for? Right? Are you? Are you looking for a scapegoat? Islam poses a threat to many people, right? Are you looking for a scapegoat? Are you looking for the big, bad, scary foreign enemy? Or are you looking at a religion that 1/4 of the world adheres to?
And if 1/4 of us were bad, the world would not exist? Right? So are you looking towards this religion that 1/4 of the world adheres to? Are you going to read about the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him? Are you going to read the Quran yourself? Are you going to investigate for yourself? What it is that this faith has to offer and find in it, a great sense of, of, of wisdom, a great sense of beauty, a great sense of truth.
And I think that for a lot of people, you know, they find that Islam has such a beautiful combination of the intellectual proofs, as well as the spiritual experiences that often combine what people seek in the Western and the eastern religions. So I had an interesting two weeks, two weeks in a row.
This was August, two weeks in a row, I had someone who converted to Islam, that went from being that started off as a Methodist went from being a Methodist to being a Buddhist to being a Muslim.
So two weeks in a row, I had a Methodist turn, Buddhist turn Muslim, okay, Jer, and I caught Yeah, I called my Methodist friends, I have a lot of Methodist pastors in the city that I work with. And I said, What's going on here, man, you sending people on to this interesting journey of Buddhism and then Islam. But both of them had a very similar story, which is that they had sought in Buddhism, for example, the, you know, some of the meditative practices that are found that really Western religion which has been dominated by capitalism and dominated by by very material things and can be very unfulfilling, they found that in some of the Eastern philosophies, and the meditative
practices, and then they came to Islam, and it combined, you know, their their belief in sort of the Abrahamic way, it merged their belief in one God and the prophets, like Abraham, and Moses and Jesus peace be upon them all, with a deep tradition, of meditative practices of consciousness of connection to God on a regular basis. And they found that to be very fulfilling, both intellectually and spiritually. And so I was like, That's interesting, you know, two people in two weeks that went through that journey. So I think Islam is very wholesome, comprehensive, when people actually approach it with humility, and appreciate what it has to offer.
As you mentioned,
in the minds of some Americans after 911, the religion of Islam was associated with
maybe you could say evil in the world. Maybe you can say, terrorism? How can you respond to this association? How does it make you feel first of all, as a devout Muslim yourself, and
how can you overcome it personally? How can you overcome it as a community and as a religious leader?
It's interesting, because 911 Now, we're talking over 21 years ago. You know, there's people born after 911 It's great to talk to them all the time. Yeah, so when I'm talking to young Muslims, I'm talking about post 911 Post 911 They're like, I didn't I was born in 2005. What are you talking about post 911 I'm like, Well, I remember being a teenager, I remember being in high school. And this happened, right? So a lot of us that experience 911 as high schoolers or as college students, and remember distinctly what it was like to be a Muslim, pre 911 and post 911 We can relate to that experience. And we could we could identify that juncture, you know, very clearly, and talk about it
and speak to the change in the perceptions of Islam. That happened here in the United States and around the world. But a lot of young people are born into that reality and are experiencing the aftermath of it. And, you know, unfortunately have to deal with the bigotry that has not just, you know, taken greater shape in
Media constructions of Islam, but also policies, right? A lot of the civil liberties of the Muslim community. were taken away from us. You read about the Patriot Act, you read about the securitization of the Muslim community, and some of the unfair practices that have been engaged by the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and continue into the Biden administration, international Islamophobia. And so the hatred of Muslims and the bigotry that is wielded against Muslims on the basis of this idea that we are a barbaric people not ascribe to a religion of hate and violence
has had immediate consequences for us, no matter where we are, in terms of our age. And in terms of our experience, we have dealt with that in different ways. Now.
The Association of Islam to terrorism is a lazy Association. It's one that ignores both the history of violence, as well as its everyday occurrence. You know, we're good for how many mass shootings a year? Once when's the last time you heard of a Muslim carrying out a mass shooting in America? Right? How many of those mass shootings if you were to scrub the social media, what 400 500 mass shootings a year? If you were to scrub the social media of some of those that carried out those shootings? You know, we're good for one or two idiots a year. Right? It's unfortunate that you're gonna have people that
that carry out despicable acts of violence. But when we as Muslims hear someone in the media say, terrorism has been ruled out as a possibility. While the blood is still on the floor of that Walmart, we already know that the police chief just said that that wasn't a Muslim. Don't worry, you know, that wasn't okay, the guy or an ISIS guy.
It was it was one of our own, right. And so it's, it's become, frankly, ridiculous, because the association of violence with Islam
is one that is used to actually
carry out acts of violence against Muslims worldwide, it justifies bad policy towards Muslims worldwide, and then in the United States, and it's just factually so lazy. There was a study just about how the media gives more attention to acts of violence done by Muslims, and immediately stamps it with Islam, up to 300% more than it will, with another act of violence carried out in the name of anything else. So you don't hear about the acts of violence that are carried out by others. You don't hear about the religion of the perpetrators. You don't associate terrorism with actions, frankly, of state terrorism, you know, when governments launch chemical attacks or drone weddings,
and do so while explicitly dehumanizing the people, just because they do so.
With the government apparatus doesn't make it any less terroristic than if it's a lone person that goes out and commits an act of violence trying to achieve a political goal.
So the association is lazy. Historically speaking, the Crusades, I grew up in Louisiana, I saw Klan rallies, Ku Klux Klan rallies my whole life and people said, well, that's the thing of the past. Well, guess what? We see many semblances many acts that are carried out with the same vitriol that was generated by the Ku Klux Klan.
We have people standing in front of our mosques that belong to right wing hate militias carrying AR fifteens talking about wanting to inflict harm on Muslims, I have been to Christchurch New Zealand, and bury the victims of a white supremacist terrorist who was inspired by the political rhetoric here in the United States, in his own words in his manifesto to go and kill 50 innocent people and Christchurch, New Zealand, one of the most peaceful cities in the world. And by the way, Lex, I mean, it's really interesting, like with Christ Church, you know, the man wanted and I won't even say his name. But his next target after the two mosques had not been stopped was to go to a Muslim
daycare. So what drives someone to dehumanize people to that extent that he was willing to go to a daycare and murder a bunch of kids because he saw them as a demographic threat to civilization. So Muslims are terrorized? Because they are falsely depicted as terrorists. Muslims suffer domestically and globally because of this false Association. It's a lazy Association. And when someone comes around and says, Well,
fine, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims. I say that. You clearly don't read statistics, whether we're talking about the 20th century and I'm a student of his
History and I believe you are as well. All the isms World War One World War Two had nothing to do with religion, certainly nothing to do with Islam, fascism. Soviet atheism, right many of the systems where people were murdered in the millions, Nazism, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, I can go on and on the Rohingya today, the greatest atrocity towards the rivers. Where does Islam fit in all of this, people do horrible things. They stamp it with religion at times. But the only group of people that seem to suffer after an act of violence is committed are Muslims, because any act of violence that is committed by a Muslim will immediately be blamed on Islam, and 2 billion people
will have to carry the burden of the act of a single perpetrator.
And just to reiterate, in case the numbers are not known, you mentioned Christ Church, those are two mosque shootings will fit you want people killed and 40 were injured in New Zealand? Yeah.
it's hate manifesting itself and, and then actual human suffering and destruction.
Absolutely. Is there similarities between
anti semitism and anti Muslim hate? So is there something deeper to say about hate in general here, that is beyond just particularly hate towards Muslims? Absolutely. Look, in Pittsburgh, the synagogue shooting the perpetrator, particularly target, targeted that synagogue because Tree of Life synagogue for you as life synagogue, 11, killed six wounded in 2018.
Because he believed that they were taking in Syrian refugees or supporting Syrian Muslim refugees. You think about that,
the San Diego synagogue shooting that took place shortly after he went to a mosque and then he went to a synagogue.
Look the idea of
scapegoating minority populations and attributing to them a disproportionate sense of power and a nefarious element where they can't be trusted. And unless we wipe them out, then they're going to wipe us out,
underlies many of the bigotries that exist. I mean, look, after Trump announced his Muslim ban, there was a shooting in Canada, an attack in Canada on a mosque in Quebec, where six people were killed.
The shooter explicitly said that the reason why he went to that mosque in Quebec and shot that six Muslim worshippers was because he was afraid that because of the ban on Syrian refugees in the United States, they would come to Canada, and he didn't want them to feel welcomed in Canada.
So there is a connection. And I think it's when you are able to dehumanize large groups of people and attribute a nefarious element to them. Then unfortunately, in a world that's becoming more and more polarized, where people are able to construct their entire worldviews based on an algorithm that their social media caters to,
you're going to have some of these attacks happen, and there's going to be an unfortunate connection between them.
So what I what I tell people is that, you know, I think with all of these people that shoot up synagogues, and shoot up mosques, and even before that, actually the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting at an AME church.
You know, when he went there,
he actually said that before he murdered nine worshippers in that church,
he was taken aback by how nice they were to him, he sat there for two hours before he turned a gun on
many people who are over the age of 18 years old, and murdered them in cold blood.
So this is what I talked about when I say that as human beings, we have the propensity, unfortunately,
to become worse than devils, or we can choose to be angelic, when we choose worship and righteousness over ourselves.
So that's a spiritual crisis as well. And a crisis of meaning and emptiness, where I think people are willing to inflict great pain on others when they can't make sense of the pain in their own lives.
I'd like to try to figure out together with you sort of
a way out
to try to decrease the amount of hate in the world but maybe it's useful to talk about the BBC.
was kind of interesting that people should check out. It's called United States of hate Muslims under attack. And you, you appear in that you have conversations with people who are anti Muslim. And it's I believe most of it takes place here in Dallas. Yeah. And he can just tell me about this little documentary about that time, what it was like to interact, what was the group and the documentary and what was like to interact with them, you know, in the very beginning of the rise of, at that time, actually, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, like when when Islamophobia
was at the center of many of the presidential candidates campaigns at the time, so this must have been 2015. Yes, 2015.
The mayor of Irving at the time but Van Dyne, who is now a congresswoman
had put out the idea that Muslims were operating at Sharia court, in Irving, Texas.
And suddenly, there was hysteria, because again, there's the idea that Muslims are here to dominate Muslims are here to overthrow everything that you have. In the United States. There was a hysteria here.
And it was unfortunate because what it unleashed, you know, especially with the national discourse at the time, again, the presidential campaign, you know, Donald Trump says, I think Islam hates us. When he uses those words. I think Islam hates us, when Ted Cruz suggests that Muslim neighborhoods can be patrolled, or should be patrolled. And then you have the Irving mayor, saying that one of the most populated cities with Muslims in America, they're operating under an alternative, legal and alternate legal system. And
funnily enough, the year before, that, she'd come to the mosque. And she praised the diversity of Irving. And she was talking about how welcomed she felt in the mosque. And the next thing we know, you have these crazy white supremacist groups, openly white supremacist that affiliate themselves with the Klan, and others are protesting regularly in front of our mosques with their AR fifteens. And
telling people to go back home and I'm like, I'm from New Orleans, I'm not planning to move back to New Orleans, I'm home, we're home, we're good, you know, we're staying put. And we refuse to be intimidated.
But then when the Syrian refugee crisis is unfolding, as well, Dallas has been one of the more popular destinations, if you will, I'm not talking about it, like a vacation destination, but where a lot of refugees have come to just because of the infrastructure that we have set up here to receive refugees. And so that hysteria, was an unfortunate, perfect combustion of the national discourse with the local discourse with the incoming refugees. And we would do all sorts of welcome refugee events. And we do that, you know, and we don't only do that for Muslim refugees, by the way, there are refugees from other parts of the world as well.
But we would host events at our mosques, you know, to welcome refugees to help integrate them into the community to do things for them. So you have these armed protests happening, right. And it's horrible, because
I think about the trauma to the children that are hearing about Tree of Life and hearing about some of these other incidents that are unfolding. And really one of the first communities that was targeted was the Sikh community in Madison. That was one of the first shootings and then the AME, church Charleston. And then you just had tons of places of worship being targeted, right? So they're seeing this unfold and and they're seeing these guns in front of their mosques and the result to many as well, I just don't want to get shot. I don't want to go to the mosque. I don't want to have this happen to me.
So, you know, and BBC reached out and said, we want to do a documentary about this.
Unfortunately, Dallas was the only place in America where you had regular armed groups in front of our mosques. It was happening around the country infrequently, but here it was happening every week. So the BBC reached out and said, We want to interview you. I said, we've got this idea. We want to put you we want to take you to a park, and have you meet one of the protesters
who've been wielding his gun outside your mosque, and talk to him. And it was really interesting, because they interviewed him before meeting me and the things that he was able to utter, before meeting me and before meeting Syrian refugees
was just awful. I mean, the most dehumanizing rhetoric that you can imagine. But then at the park, he meets me talks to me, he meets a Syrian refugee family, one of the girls whose leg had been blown off and an airstrike. And he said I feel like an idiot. I mean, he expressed all sorts of regret, and was terrified that he could do
immunized people the way that he was, and so my whole thing was an is come inside the mosque, Put your gun down, disarm yourself and learn and you'll be surprised what you'll walk away with, and only took one meeting with him
to completely shift his worldview at the time, which was made up of heroes and villains, the Muslims unfortunately being the villains that had to be wiped off the face of the earth so that the earth could continue