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Moderate Muslims Speak Out - 2001-12-19

American Muslim leaders say they found the videotape in which Osama bin Laden voices satisfaction with the September 11 attacks authentic, and are outraged by his reaction. Muslim leaders in Los Angeles say it is time to respond to the al-Qaida leader.

Some in the Arab world have suggested the tape in which Osama bin Laden and his cohort gloat over the terror attacks was a fake. In the tape, the al-Qaida leader said he knew in advance about the assaults and that their results, with more than 3,000 dead, were better than he had hoped for. U.S. officials say the home-made videotape was found at an al-Qaida site in Afghanistan and they released it last week, with an English-language translation.

Five moderate Muslim leaders who met in Los Angeles say they consider the tape authentic. The five say they have some disagreements with the translation of some Arabic words, but they say the tape's message is clear - Osama bin Laden planned the attacks and was pleased with their aftermath.

Dr. Maher Hathout is an advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Center of Southern California. The Muslim leader says he felt shock but not surprise as he watched the tape. "I was shocked, saddened, and as a matter of fact [felt] a great deal of anger, " he said.

Doctor Hathout says most Americans Muslims had assumed Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks in the first place. The Muslim official said he was most offended by bin Laden's use of quotations from the Koran and Hadith, the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. "This," he said, "is pseudo-religious talk because it is misquoting and quoting out of context to justify a very evil agenda which is not only bad but also damaging to the image of the religion.

Imam Hossein Qazwini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, California, notes that Osama bin Laden said in the tape that the attacks were good for Islam. Imam Qazwini finds that ironic since, he says, Islam rejects the killing of innocent people. He said, "Muslims in general felt the pain of September 11th, and there were Muslims that died. Second of all, Osama bin Laden represents a terrorist group, a small faction of Muslims that have a twisted and deviant interpretation of Islam that is based on terrorism, brutality and violence. Islam itself, as we believe, is a religion of peace and justice."

That message, say the Muslim leaders who attended the meeting in Los Angeles, has not been promoted effectively. They say mainstream Muslims are partly to blame. Edina Lekovic, the managing editor The Minaret magazine, calls recent events are a "wake up call" that the message of Islam has been "hijacked" by terrorists. In the wake of the attacks, she says Muslims must correct those who associate their religion with violence. "Clearly," she said, "to the 1.2 billion people who follow Islam in the world, this is not a wicked and evil religion that incites evil and violence. What it incites is peacefulness, it incites social justice, it incites community work, and this is the time that Muslims need to stand up and do that work in a public way. They have been doing it all along, but it's simply a matter of letting their actions be known and working within their communities and working within inter-faith circles and doing things along those lines."

Another participant of the meeting, Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, says Islam itself is a victim of the terror attacks because some Muslim youngsters are starting to question their faith and its ties to violence.

Said Muslim advisor Maher Hathout, many Christians were silent when Adolph Hitler was wreaking havoc in Europe, but now is the time for Muslims to speak out more assertively in defense of their religion. He notes that Islam has no pope to excommunicate Mr. Bin Laden, but says Muslims can raise their voices in opposition.