Yasir Qadhi: Boston, Islamophobia and the Way Forward

Yasir Qadhi - American Muslim scholar.

After another tragic event, this time in Boston, many American Muslims found themselves hoping, and even praying, that the perpetrators of the horrific act not be Muslim. "Please don't let it be a Muslim" screamed the sentiment across the media landscape. 

We chat with Yasir Qadhi, an American imam, on Boston, Islamophobia and the way forward for the American Muslim community.

What do muslim communities need to do to combat the pervasive stereotypes on Islam and Muslims?

YASIR QADHI: There is no quick-fix solution. No easy answer. We need to engage our communities and create a recognizable long-term contribution to American society.

Look, we are in it for the long haul! Much in the same way that many other communities have had to deal with prejudices such as the African American and Latino communities.

We must change the negative view one person at a time, through our actions, not just our words.

We have to humanize ourselves against various forms of intolerance, xenophobia and ignorance that exists.

You are a former adherent of the Salafi school of thought. Why did you leave the movement?

I have grown out of the Salafi movement.

While I still sympathize with much of their theology, I cannot sympathize with their harsh views of opposing groups and many of their views on living in the current world (i.e. politics, law, minority fiqh or schools of thought).

I would also like to add that I have similar criticisms of other conservative movements as well!

Islamophobia is a well funded industry. To act as an agent of change, it seems quite an overwhelming task for an individual. What can Muslims do at the individual level to make perceptions change?

KNOWING a muslim changes people's misperceptions and biases about Islam. It's the best antidote to xenophobia.

We need to be proactive within our own circle of influence. One of the biggest problems that many muslims have is they think too grandiose.

God will not ask us if we were individually able to solve The Palestinian Crisis, but he will ask us if we knocked on our neighbors door to see that they were ok. 

Here is something simple. One thing we do every Eid, is to go house to house on our block and give sweets to all our neighbors. The positive reflection from small things like that, or knowing your neighbors on a first name basis, humanizes us to others.  Such small things can have such long lasting impact. 

Ask yourself, do your neighbors know you? Do you take a moment to introduce yourselves to them? If not, then do it. That's how you can make a difference.

Why are our mosques void of youth beside Friday congregation prayers ?

The mosque needs to become the social center for muslims -- not just the religious but social center. 

This can be accomplished in many, many ways.

For example, making a small cafe or coffee shop in the lobby. Having chairs to sit down and socialize or for kids to do their homework. Having a mentoring program for youth. Beyond that, having basketball courts or recreational center.

The masjid has to become the center for family life. We need to think of long term arrangements.

Sisters need to have their areas, beyond just Halaqas (a local gathering to share and learn). We need youth directors and outreach programs. 

The mosques in North America cannot function like the ones back home in Egypt or Pakistan.

Here in Memphis, we have 30 acres of land and are building a cafe, swimming facilities, recreational programs.

The masjids have to be the entertainment center, along with the family center, as well as a place of worship.

I am optimistic. Everyone is realizing this.  So we are on our way!

In Islam, giving to the less fortunate or poor is a requirement. Is it permissible or equally acceptable to give charity to everyone, regardless of their faith or lack of faith ?

I think this is a very serious misunderstanding many people have. 

I don't know a single scholar in our history who said that we could give charity (known as sadaqah) only to muslims. 

The Qur'an is so explicit in this regard. Of the earliest revelations (Surah Insaan) God says to feed the needy, the orphan and even a prisoner-of-war (someone caught purposefully trying to cause you harm or death). 

When the first revelation came to the Prophet Mohammad, his wife, Kadijah said, "By God!  God will never forsake you. For you are good to your relatives, and you feed the poor and you take care of the orphan. And you help in all matters of help."

Who was the prophet feeding? Muslims? Obviously not! Poverty does not just affect Muslims. Hunger is not just an Islamic problem. It is a human suffering problem.

Our religion tells us to take care of our local community!

What is the rightful response to Apostasy to Islam? 

This is a very emotional question and I don't think there is a 'one-size fits all' response. For us, leaving Islam is not a trivial matter. Of course, there should never be any response beyond social ostracization and verbal. Most of those rejecting the faith are people who become Agnostic.

Unfortunately, many of our imam's have not traditionally been equipped to handle issues of theodicy which questions the existence of a God who allows evil and suffering or qadr -- if God has willed everything, then what's the point of me doing anything.

These are typical agnostic arguments that are prevalent in the modern world and that Muslims are beginning to be able to answer. The family should utilize all avenues available to try to bring back this person into the fold of Islam. There should always be a door open for that person to come back.

Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Muslims that believe themselves to be more religious or secular, or Muslims who believe themselves to be more liberal or orthodox, I think that the two of them need more dialogue and less suspicion of each other.

I have benefited immensely from discussions with those on the 'liberal' or secular side, even though we may at times disagree. We will be more sympathetic and empathetic to each other when we dialogue with one another, rather than speak at one another.

Intolerance is detrimental and harmful to all of us, no matter what your school of thought.

Whether you are a Salafi or a Sufi, differences will remain, but we need to learn to have dialogue. Under no circumstance, can we translate theological differences into militancy and physical violence. This would be something that contravenes the very basic principles of our faith, Islam.

Thank you, Imam Yasir Qadhi.  And congratulations on receiving your PhD in Islamic Studies at Yale University.

Click on the the link to learn more about Yasir Qadhi or visit him on Facebook.

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View previous stories by Ben Zafar on Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp , The Arab Revolutions Comes To Brooklyn , Wedding Photography in Pakistan or Kabbadi Wrestling

                                                                Ben Zafar

Ben Zafar is a freelance photographer and photojournalist based in New York City.