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Arab American Leader Seeks to Dispel Misconceptions - 2001-09-16


In New York and around the nation, as grief and incomprehension over Tuesday's terrorist attacks give way to rage, some Americans have sought to blame Muslims and by extension, Islam itself. This has prompted a defense by leaders of the Arab-American community.

In this report, VOA interviewed one such leader in New York.

Ghazi Yachia Khankan is the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that seeks to dispel misconceptions about Muslims in America, and to advance the interests of Islam. Mr. Khankan also sits on the New York Advisory Board for the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

During a Friday interview, just before weekly prayers at the largest mosque in the eastern United States, Mr. Khankan spoke out against the attacks on Tuesday, when jet hijackers, whom authorities believe to be Muslim fundamentalists, killed themselves and everyone else aboard.

"And I must say at the outset, that this is an un-Islamic act. Suicide is an un-Islamic act according to our holy book, the Koran" he explained, "and killing innocent people is also against Islamic teaching." And, he added, "there are quotations from the Koran which say 'and never kill a soul which God or Allah has made sacred.' For anyone to do such a horrific act of violence is definitely doing something against Islamic teaching."

You tell me it is un-Islamic to take innocent lives. But isn't there also a tradition in Islam to use any means necessary to subdue people who are hurting, or perceived to be hurting, Muslims?

"The Koran says 'fight only those who fight you, and drive you out of your homes, or prevent you from performing your religious duties. And fight those who oppress others when the oppressed asks for your support.' So that is the Islamic outlook. Fighting is simply a defensive act, never an aggressive act."

VOA asked Mr. Khankan how the Islamic community was reaching out to people who are aggrieved.

"We have just done an interfaith prayer service in Long Island, and will be doing more of such things," he said. "In comforting each other and others, we ask for God's forgiveness. We pray to God to forgive those who have died, and those of us who are still living, to forgive and bless our young and our old, those who are present and those who are absent, meaning the dead." And therefore, he added, "we call upon all to be patient, because the Koran says that 'Allah is with those who are patient.'"

Ghazi Yachia Khankan is the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations an advocacy group. Mr. Khankan also sits on the New York Advisory Board for the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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