Muslim Calls on Co-Religionists to Keep Politics Out of the Mosque

Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser told a local audience recently that running a government based on Sharia law is contrary to the messages in the Koran. He also insisted that Muslims should stop portraying themselves as victims around the world, and that imams should keep politics out of the mosque.

While these statements sound as if they would best suit a right-leaning foreign-policy pundit, they were instead voiced by a devout Muslim. Jasser supports the war in Iraq and, during his recent presentation, he routinely used the word "Islamist" and even stated, "Thank God, I'm not an imam."

A former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, as well as a physician, Jasser is the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization devoted to denouncing terrorism, and showing that Islam is compatible with American and Western values.

"After 9/11, as I began to see some of the self-appointed spokespeople for my faith, I determined that it was not something that I could take silently," said Jasser, who was born in the United States but whose family comes from Syria.

Speaking Oct. 29 at the Union League of Philadelphia in Center City, he said that Islamists are using religion to gain power.

"What greater incendiary mechanism to manipulate society than to cover a fascistic dream with a faith that is a spiritual path for over a billion people," he remarked to an audience of about 100 people during a talk sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute. "What better way to insulate itself from criticism than to cover itself in a spiritual path?"

A physician with his own internal medicine and cardiology practice in Phoenix, Jasser seems an unlikely voice to speak up for moderate Muslims.

"My colleagues in the Muslim community will say that I'm fear-mongering," he explained, stating that some have even theorized that he is being paid by a special-interest group to express his opinions, something he has vehemently denied.

During his talk, Jasser said that "one of the primary problems with Islamic reformation issues is the clerical leadership and the imam." In the Muslim world, he pointed out, being an imam does not hold the high stature given to professions like engineering, medicine or law; the position may fall to those who may be "less than intellectuals."

He also noted that a great many mosques regularly serve as the sites for political discussions, something he believes should be left out of the religious institutions.

"Many debates I've tried to have with imams — to no avail — is to tell them that if God wanted us to discuss these things [in the mosque], the Koran would have been filled with injunctions on how to run government," he explained, "and there's nothing in the Koran that talks about government."

While Muslims in America often speak out against racial or religious profiling, Jasser called on them to reflect on the religious freedoms they have in a country like the United States.

"Engage the Muslim community," he told the crowd, "and do not allow them to circle the wagons and rally themselves around victimization."

When shifting his lecture to discuss Muslims overseas, Jasser hardly made a distinction between totalitarian Islamic dictatorships and democratic Islamic states, because the source of law is still the Koran.

"As much as the movement forward of Middle Eastern democratization is important, we're missing the boat if we think we're going solve the problems of the Middle East by simply getting them to have elections and parliaments," he said.

Jasser called for the empowerment of many moderate-leaning Muslims around the world as a way to help fight terrorism. "We need to start to bring forth an idea of freedom and liberty, and the fact that we respect individuals in America sometimes over the community."

When push comes to shove, Islamists must change their view of the Western world, he said.

"Until Muslims can feel that their faith is not threatened by enlightenment and a respect for the individual," he said, "I don't believe that we're going to win this war."



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