Opinion: Metro Detroit groups burn bridges with false images of Islam

By Zeinaub Chami

A disturbing trend has been picking up steam in Metro-Detroit during the past couple of months: So-called Muslim “reformers” have been invited to speak in Ann Arbor, Detroit and West Bloomfield.

The latest weapon in the Islamophobe arsenal is Tawfik Hamid, who claims to be an ex-terrorist (which apparently makes him an expert on Islam). Hamid was recently invited to speak by the Zionist Organization of America at the Jewish Community Center.

Hamid — a medical doctor, not any sort of expert on Islam — said outlandish and inflammatory things about Islam. If the Zionist Organization of America is truly interested in building bridges with Muslims and understanding Islam, why bring someone who degrades Islam with false accusations and ridiculous claims?

For instance, he falsely stated that no top scholars in the Muslim world have issued fatwas (jurisprudential rulings) against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cohorts. As University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole pointed out on his blog “Informed Comment” back on July 9, 2005, almost all major Shia grand ayatollahs (who represent up to 300 million Muslims) have come out with scathing fatwas condemning bin Laden and al-Qaida. The top scholar of Al-Azhar University in Egypt — Sunni Islam’s most prestigious institution — has also clearly come out against those terrorists.

Contrary to popular belief, Muslims do not have a problem with progress, but there is a problem with some of the people calling for it. When self-proclaimed “ex-terrorists” are advising Muslims on how to be Muslims, there is a problem.

These people obviously had a very warped idea of Islam. The vast majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims would not look to terrorists, former or current, for advice on our faith when we have a number of scholars. The fact that they somehow “saw the light” does not in any way make them experts.

Few non-Muslims truly understand that Islam contains within it a complex system of laws, perhaps more complex than any other faith in the world. People like Hamid and bin Laden have never studied Islamic jurisprudence, nor are they qualified to interpret these laws. But for some reason different groups of people peg them as experts.

There is a much larger issue looming behind Hamid’s visit: the fact that groups in the Metro Detroit — which has one of the most concentrated and vibrant Muslim communities in the country — are burning bridges instead of building them.

Why are these groups not pushing for interfaith dialogue or respectful debates on issues in academic settings? They know very well that bringing the likes of Tawfik Hamid will alienate Muslims and drive a wedge between our communities.

A word of advice to all Metro Detroiters truly interested in interfaith understanding: Dialogue and progress start from within a community. To understand Islam, go to your local mosque, talk to your practicing Muslim neighbors and co-workers or call the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan.

There is no shortage of Muslims here working for progress. Maybe it’s time to reach out to them.

Zeinab Chami is a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan in Southfield. E-mail comments to letters@detnews.com.