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Islam, Citizenship, and Religious Liberty

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Event Name: Islam, Citizenship, and Religious Liberty
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:02 PM
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d and and now you know one out of every four Americans has some kind of Irish roots and Saint Patrick's Day is the biggest parade in New York and Boston so good things happen if people work hard enough and are willing to kind of take the blows in regards to the question of religious liberty and religious freedom there's a intra Muslim debate that's taking place about the extent to which religious freedoms and liberties should be granted especially when it comes to for instance attacking Islam and we see sort of the violence that erupts when cartoons are drawn her in the image of the Prophet and and and there's this in in troublesome debate about that what are your thoughts well I mean I would say first of all that the the the idea of vigilante justice is totally prohibited in the Islamic religion no Muslim is allowed to take extrajudicial action in in any situation so there are blasphemy laws in Islam just like there were there still are blasphemy laws in some European countries so it's not like these things have completely gone away they just don't implement them anymore I mean the last person to be killed for blasphemy was in Scotland you know in the late 17th century so it wasn't like Europe didn't have these things also the Muslim tradition is a pre-modern tradition and so it has many of the sensibilities of the pre-modern world view in in in in today's current situation I think Muslims first of all need to get used to to being offended the Quran has many about being offended was potala may applaud and be patient about what they say that's my live you know Otsuka time a company community no co-ed then kathira you're gonna hear from the people that were given the book before you meaning the jews and the christians and the policy is much odious or noxious statements and it says to be patient and not don't get angry and and so there's a lot of things about just not getting angry the Prophet once heard somebody call him with m-mom which means it's the opposite of Mohammed it means blameworthy because Mohammed means praiseworthy and he said isn't it interesting how God has removed there my name from their tongues when they want to curse me and he said they're talking about something you name with them them and my name is Mohammed you know in other words they're not talking about me and so those cartoon anybody that says those cartoons were the Prophet Mohammed as far as I'm concerned is not a Muslim you know as a beautiful Magritte has a beautiful picture and it's it says this is not a pipe and it shows a picture of a pipe because we forget that the image is not the thing and so if you make an image of something it's it's not that thing that those crucifixes it's not Jesus on the cross you know and so any image that's made especially if it's a caricature it's certainly not our prophet as now they do with our prophet and then Wilson's have to ask themselves have you contributed to the drawing itself has your behavior contributed to the person to the perception of this religion so when Muslims do heinous things unfortunately the Islam gets blamed and with Christianity that's not the case because we're in a society where Christians are fully enfranchised I know some people would debate the war on Christianity and on Christmas and things like that but Christians are enfranchised so when one Christian does a crazy thing all the Christians aren't blamed for it but unfortunately we're not in a situation where Muslims are fully in franchise din this country so when one Muslim does a crazy thing Islam is blamed for it I mean a lot of these people clearly have mental illness and in a man that the plane into the IRS building after writing a serious political screed you know he was just considered a crazy white guy but if his name was Mohammed that would have been a terrorist act it's as simple as that so you know the Arab said your preposition works and mine doesn't you know like you have different grammatical rules that night Santa Clara University as you know is the oldest institution of higher learning in California it's grounded in the Jesuit tradition of educating citizens and leaders of conscience and compassion to build a more just and more humane world can you reflect on your mission at Zaytuna College especially within the context and rooted in Islam what are your hopes in achieving in embarking on this I mean I would say that the Catholic and the Islamic traditions share a lot of things the central thing that they share is a profound dedication to education but but another thing they share is a profound dedication to the the the instrumental arts and and I buy art here I mean power the ability to do something historically that is from instrumental arts and both art traditions were the language arts and the number arts the the qualitative and quantitative reasoning and so in the language arts it was grammar logic and rhetoric there's a wonderful fresco by Botticelli of a student being led into the other six liberal arts by grammar and and it's personified as a beautiful woman and overlooking them as Prudential or wisdom and and one of the things that we don't realize is that that language is incredibly complicated when we speak I mean I was in a hotel recently and and we asked for somebody who asked asked me what I wanted I said an omelet with everything except the the meat and so the omelet came with everything with nothing but the meat and the reason was is the person's English was limited and and the concept of an exception using accept is actually a complicated concept language like had they said no meat it's very clear but to say except meat will confuse somebody who's not a native speaker sometimes if they don't know the language so we we don't realize how complicated languages and historically on Christian doctrine by st. Augustine st. Augusta argues that you have to learn the liberal arts in order to read scripture one of the crises in the Muslim world is that the liberal arts are no longer taught and so people are reading scripture without the liberal arts if you don't know what a conditional sentence is you should not be reading Scripture other than as a devotional practice but if you think that you can derive knowledge or wisdom from it you're going to get in serious trouble and there are many things in the Quran that are highly nuanced in in the Islamic tradition the last book that you read in our scholastic tradition is a two-volume work and I showed Graham wood this book who studied Arabic at Harvard who wrote the article for the Atlantic it's a two-volume work just on the particles and prepositions in in Arabic and how difficult they are there are several just in Arabic in the Quran has several possibilities there's something called phobia which is the causative there's you know there's a fad that is related to it happens after time has transpired it's it's a conjunctive that happens after time has transpired so every sentence in the Quran in in the Catholic tradition they used to study the sentences which were the sentences they studied this in in in seminaries for sometimes for 10 years this is a book of sentences because there's so much sophistication in great writing especially inspired writing by great theologians and so we've lost a lot of this and and our complex compound sentences are diminishing in our writing you can see this very clearly in modern writing we're losing the sophistication of language many of our students are incapable of reading Melville I sometimes wonder if David Foster Wallace really left the world just because of a kind of despair because he he's a you know he's a very sophisticated writer that sometimes writes sentences that last for a age and and he was teaching students English literature and he said he would always begin with a crash course on grammar because the students couldn't read and one of the things that I have done is just give students the first sentence to the Declaration of Independence and I've done this in several classes not just at say tuna but at other places and out of 50 students on average three or four actually get the main Clause of that sentence because they're unable to identify the difference between a subordinate and a main clause we've had a war on grammar for about 50 years it's literally been a war on grammar and grammar matters you know let's eat grandma without that pause we could become cannibals right so commas are a matter of life and death will open we had some questions that were written down we can take some more as well if you had them please put them on the on the cards someone asked please continue to express your thoughts on how Isis revives or leverages medieval Muslim traditions and behaviors well I mean first of all they they do not they aren't they are a real reflection of modernity they're not they're much closer to kind of Maoist or or radical Marxist tradition a lot of people are unaware of how profoundly impacted Marxist thought has I mean even in our colleges and universities in the United States critical theory which I mean we can trace it right back to Karl Marx and Karl Marx who has undeniably some brilliant criticisms about capitalist society but overall the end justifies the means is a Marxist concept it's not a religious concept and so the idea somehow that you can just enslave people the Prophet said that there's three people that he will be an advocate against on the day of judgment and one of them was men by Horan you know that the one who sells a free person you know and an alma wrote I would have been a toss about taking people as slaves in Egypt he said Metis stabbed it to them and what it did to Mahatma Harada when did you what right do you have to enslave people that their mothers gave birth to them and freedom you know they're free people and so this idea slavery is anonymity Islamic tradition there is undeniably a component in historical Islam of indentured servitude which was largely a way of reintegrating war victims and refugees into a society we have in our Islamic law the ability of anybody who's in indentured servitude to get money from the public funds to be freed if they so desire and so this idea of modern chattel slavery has nothing to do with Islam at all and so what these people are doing is not medieval in Dark Ages it is it is a gross distortion and I'm not going to deny that within I've spent enough time in pre-modern books to know that there's some really weird stuff in pre-modern tradition but I could take the Jewish religion numbers 31 if you go into the the city kill every every male even the little ones you know kill the the girls who have known intimately men and take the girls who have not known men intimately for yourselves right which was concubinage so that that's in that's in the Bible there's things that are in in our pre-modern text but you you'll find in the Islamic Scripture you will not find there's nowhere where there's racism and I would argue that the Prophet Muhammad is the first human being in human history to declare the Equality of human beings I have never found anybody prior to the Prophet Mohammed where he said there's no preference of a white over a black or a black over a white except in piety and I've never seen that articulated in any other and the Quran clearly says we made you peoples and tribes to know one another not to hate one another and even though that's an interpretation it's it is a sound interpretation so I really feel that Isis in no way represents normative medieval Islam there is a strain of radical Islam even in the pre-modern tradition that gets pretty ugly the idea that women who were taken as concubines could be coerced into Islam why did they want to coerce them because they couldn't have sexual relations if they weren't Muslim so you'll find the full kaha talking about these things but those things are relics of the past and they should not be revived in in in in the modern world somebody asks it's been said that Muslims and blacks are people that have been oppressed here in the United States historically and Muslims are the target today do you think there are currently any initiatives in which these two communities or two groups work together now first of all I would say anybody that can make a statement like that knows nothing about black history in this country the Muslims have in no way any comparison to what the african-american people went through or the Native Americans or even the Chinese Americans so you know I just or Japanese Americans I mean I could go on but you know we're doing relatively well let's face it you know I mean you know so you get some rude remarks you know welcome to America you know I mean I'm sorry like I mean we've got a front runner out there who just is as rude as can be and everybody loves them so you know Americans like rude people sometimes I guess I don't know but I mean I just think it's an odious comparison personally I really do what's down the road I don't know like I'm troubled definitely by the rhetoric but I think there's still an incredible number of very decent Americans that are troubled by what's happening and I'm also very wary of polls because you know I just my own experience I've been the bra I've had the brunt of of anti-muslim thing but it's a good thing also to experience prejudice sometimes you know because it gives you empathy I mean one of the things the Bible says is do not vex the stranger or oppress him for you two were strangers in the land of Egypt so it's sometimes to inculcate empathy we need to go through what other people go through to be more appreciative one of the things that the immigrant community failed to do is to really help the african-american Muslim community that was I think an egregious shortsightedness ethically and pragmatically


Here's a question to you: personally could you share the story of your own personal decision to convert to Islam for me?

You know I my mother raised me even though my great-grandfather built the Greek Orthodox Church that's on Valencia and there's a plaque with his name on it and I was actually baptized Greek Orthodox I went to Catholic schools my father was Irish Catholic and but my mother did tell me that religion is largely arbitrary you tend to have the religion that you were born into and so don't think just because you were born into this religion it's the only truth out there so she kind of raised us with that idea and she took us to various religious communities I went to a mosque when I was 12 years old at in Redwood City she took us to a mosque to experience you know a mosque I actually did wudu and prayed with the congregation so she took me to synagogue she took us to a Hindu temple so I read the Quran when I was 17 and after reading several different scriptures and the Quran was the one that really resonated with me because one of the things I really liked about the Quran was I got all the prophets that I grew up with and and you know I I definitely I think the the atonement story I never fully got you know and but I have incredible respect for Christian tradition I have spent a lot of time in Catholic theology I'm kind of an armchair Catholic theologian I would say I've read a lot of Aquinas Agustin and Joseph Pieper is one of my favorite writers I you know I always think the Catholics are just so bad at marketing because they they really do have an incredible tradition and in terms of ethics there they are the most advanced religious ethical tradition I think on the planet right now I really believe that they're just so ahead of all the other religions in really deeply dealing from a philosophical perspective a lot of the things that were confronted with because people are there's a lot of shallow thinking out there about what's going on and and we're looking at transhumanism which is profoundly troubling CS Lewis who was really kind of a closeted Catholic CS Lewis wrote a very very prescient book called the abolition of man which is a very troubling book and I would add to that book a book by the big noob residence key called between two ages and we're moving into a new phase I don't know if people notice but a law firm just hired the first AI lawyer so it's happening and it's happening at a very rapid pace and we're not really thinking about the ethical implications of eliminating diseases this was called eugenics in the Hitlerian project we had a eugenics movement in the 1920s where they in this country they sterilized a lot of poor people and African Americans so it's you know it's I think we really need Ephesus and we need ethicists that can think metaphysically and philosophically and right now the Catholic tradition is is one of the few that I really feel is deeply rooted in a sound of philosophical tradition to be able to grapple with these things and in the way that they need to be grappled with you had touched on this in your talk can you provide some examples in history where Muslim majority countries did in fact practice religious liberty Muslims were historically way ahead and I'll just give you an example this is a recent book that just came out it's called when Christians first met Muslims a sourcebook of the earliest Syriac writings on Islam this is a very important book by Michael Phillip Penn the reason it's important is because most Western Orientalism looked at Byzantine sources and people forget that the Muslims defeated the Byzantines so most of those sources were polemical and so they would attack the Muslims and say horrible things about the Muslims in the same way that we said horrible things about the Huns during World War one when they weren't like the Nazis and certainly the Iraqis in Kuwait we know what they said about throwing the babies out of the and then we found out that was a PR firm that coached that daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to say that that it never happened the Iraqis didn't pull any babies out but this is polemic you know in war the first casualty is the truth they say and so in reading this book I was struck by how the Syriac most that Christians loved the Muslims because they were liberated under them because they were oppressed under the Byzantines and so they were saying how wonderful the Muslims were and how incredible and also Fred Donner who is a world-class historian it showed in Muhammad and the believers that there's no historical evidence that Muslims destroyed any churches in in the conquest he said there's no historical evidence and one of the things we have in assault is called if sis haben Marcus which is is a it's a very sophisticated backward approach to a current situation so traditionally look at precedent and how it affects the pret the the present the so how the path but there's also a way that jurists in Islam look at the present and how it informs us of the past the fact that these great churches existed in Iraq for fourteen hundred years and the Christians perceive the Muslims in those places is proof that the Muslims always honored those so the destruction of these churches is completely alien to the Islamic tradition the Muslims did not forget their religion for 1,400 years and then this enlightened group called I see suddenly realized here's the true Islam that we're going to implement it's just complete nonsense so these great churches that have been destroyed this is one of the greatest crimes in our history and and unfortunately they are a sect of people that claim to be Muslims and it's going to be a blemish on our history just like the the the burning of the church of the sepulchre was a blemish on the fought them it's when they burned it down and 70 years later caused the Crusades but less people forget Muslims immediately rebuilt that church and recently shed Mohammed paid for the renovation of the of one of the great churches in Jerusalem so the Muslims you know they they honored the Christians and I have a two hundred years ago I have a book by Solly in Egypt where he says it's sad to hear so many Muslims saying I wish I was a Christian because the perks that the Christians got the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey were called The Omen favela you know before the Armenian crises they were one of the most honored groups in the ottoman tradition and the same is true with the Jews that Sabbath was a what we would call a prime minister today under the ROM and a second so Christians and Jews and even Buddhists of our Meccans were from a Buddhist shrine keepers the the great Buddhist traditions of Central Asia so the Muslims you know they had multicultural multi-ethnic civilizations this whole idea that were the first multi-ethnic civilization history is it's just stupidity you know it's it's just a hallmark of our ignorance and and they're undeniably I would argue that America is probably the most progressive civilization in human history in terms of legislating non-discriminatory law.  I think that would be a fair thing to say.  But for the Muslims for pre-modern records nobody compares to the Muslims.  And I say that objectively as a student of the history of that of that civilization I don't think any society and Toynbee and others would would also I think you know make that point as well in terms of the context of what we see today both within many Muslim countries as well as the tensions that exist in the United States in the the amount of Islamophobia that continues to exist in this country and in many ways is is getting worse what are your thoughts about this context and are you hopeful for the future I think Islam phobia is is a problem globally I think it's a problem in Muslim countries there's there's a lot of fear that the rulers have of kind of awakening that comes from Islam because Islam has a profound justice based element in its tradition but as far as I'm concerned I think you know overall the Muslims are doing relatively well in this country I think we have dropped the ball I think we dropped it over after 9/11 I made arguments for pre-empting this study you were in that meeting we had 15 16 years ago yeah where I made these arguments about having a getting you know a national organization and to start dealing with the anti-muslim rhetoric that's going to emerge in the coming years that's right and nobody listened to me at that time so you know Cassandra was cursed with you know seeing the future but not being listened to so it's kind of a bummer but that's the way things so in terms of what I see I see if if Donald Trump gets elected I think it could could be very problematic for the Muslims I think if Hillary gets elected Huma Abedin might end up being the chief of staff at some point so I I wouldn't say I'm hopeful I know enough about history to know how bad it can get but our religion is a religion of optimism were challenged to be optimistic and so I'm probably an optimist trapped in a pessimist body so let's hope for the best and expect the worst and Shella we as you know we're taping this on c-span and so her time is quite fixed and so I'll stop there please join me in thanking Sheikh Hamza she hums on behalf of Santa Clara University we just want to extend our deep gratitude for your presence with us and your thoughtful engagement and reflection and entering into dialogue with our community and thank you for Reid for your facilitation and also to all of you for coming today to participate and for your thoughtful engagement please join me in thinking once more our guests thank you