Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue
June 11, 2003
St.John of God Retirement and Care Center
Present: Fr. Alexei Smith, Sr. Siddiqi, Lucy Palerminio,
Ven. Piyananda, Tom Pachel, Dickson Yagi, Rev. Diokebi, Rev.
Ama, Sr. Thomas Bernard, Rev. Heidi Singh, Maria of the Focolare,
Our guest speaker on Islam is Dr. Siddiqi who originally came
from India to the United States 32 years ago. He studied comparative
religion at Harvard. He directs the Islam Society of Orange
County and is deeply involved in dialogue locally, nationally,
and internationally, including at Rome by invitation of the
Vatican. He was the Muslim representative at the National Cathedral
for the 9-11 Da;y of Remembrance Service.
Dr. Siddiqi: We need to build our trust but it is difficult
today. We need to build on our commonalities. There is so much
misunderstanding about Islam and peace. Islam is from the word salaam which
means peace and wholeness, being intact, at peace with the
self, the Lord, family, neighbors and all. We all have rights
and we need to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner. Our
faith and devotion to God is expressed in prayer 5 times a
day from the age of 7 on. Our whole day revolves around prayer.
We fast on Ramadan, engage in charity and pilgrimage/.
In terms of relations, spouses are to love each other and show
love and compassion to children who have duties to parents
and to each other, to the extended family, to elders who will
be called uncle and aunt. When conflicts
arise, we try to resolve them through negotiation and discussion.
War is only in self-defense, not for acquisition of land or
Jihad is blessed struggle, only in self-defense does it mean
fighting and not against non-combatants. If there are signs
of peace, we are to pursue it. Terrorism is not part of Islam.
In the last 100 years, secular and political groups practiced
it and that came into Islamic groups.
In Islam, there is no distinction between religion and the state
for they are based on the same principles. But the leader should
not be imposed on others. Religious authority should be an advisor
to the head of state. In the last 200 years, Muslim countries
were colonized by Western powers. When they became independent,
secularists controlled the government but with religious groups
with more or less influence. In some places, the political leader
influences the religious leaders. In Egypt, the head of Al-Ahzar,
the most important of Muslim universities, is appointed by the
president of Egypt. The imam of the Great Mosque in Mecca, the
Grand Mufti, is appointed by the king and can be easily removed.
The Imam of the mosque of Medina said critical words about Iran
when the Iran minister visited; he was removed the next day.
In the time of the Prophet (PBUH) he was also head of state.
When he died there were 4 caliphs and then religion and politics
Ven Piyananda: Muhammad united the tribes of Arabia.
He destroyed image worshipers. We Buddhists venerate statues.
Imam Umar in Afghanistan ordered the Taliban to destroy the
great Buddhist statues there. You dont use statues.
Dr. Siddiqi: When it happened we spoke against it. It
was not Islamic. For 1200 years Muslims had no problem with
statues. The Quran says that you dont abuse the religious
symbols of others in Chapter 22. God protects one people by
Fr. Alexei: In the iconoclast controversy over images,
the images at St. Catherine monastery in Sinai were saved by
Muslims who surrounded and protected the monastery. Muslims
in Jerusalem protected and saved Christian icons and images.
Michael Kerze: Does not Islam divide the world into
two realms, Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb the realm of
peace and the realm of war, depending on whether Islam is instituted
in the country? And what of the Wahabi?
Dr. Siddiqi: This is not in the Quran or the Sunnah
hadith. The distinction was developed later by jurists. What
does the realm of war mean? There are the lands of Islam and
the lands you have relations with. The lands you dont
have relations with are al Harb. That was developed in classical
In modern times, after colonization and the struggle for independence
and for reform, religion became very important. In places like
Palestine and Israel, the Central Asian republics under Soviet
influence, the Philippines, Kashmir, communities felt they
get independence. In some of these religion was used or abused.
The Palestinians struggle for justice and rights some
are secular and some are religious. People are suffering. Justice
is sought, sometimes with right or wrong methods. It is the
situation and not Islam at root. The majority are for peace.
We have fanatics like every religion. Jesus preached love but
then you had persecution of Jews.
The Wahabi started at the end of the 18th century.
They are sort of iconoclastic against Sufi saint worship
at tombs where people bring flowers, etc. Wahab was very against
it. From Riyad he destroyed tombs. The local prince joined
with him, the family of Saud, and took over all of Arabia.
Other places were influenced strongly, especially against the
Sufis. The extremism of the Wahabi are in their views but they
are not violent; they supported the government. For the last
60 years the government had good relations with the United
States. After the Gulf War things changed. During the war,
after Iraq attacked Kuwait, the United States and their allies
brought forces to Saudi Arabia. The government said the forces
were there only for the liberation of Kuwait but after the
war they did not leave. Afghanistan was taken over by the Soviets
and a liberation movement was needed. The US supported them.
It was a religious duty for Muslims fighting there and that
is where Bin Laden got his start. He now declares that with
US forces in Saudi Arabia, his own country must be liberated.
It has radicalized some Muslims. One should not blame the Wahabis.
Some who are violent are Wahabi and some are not.
After the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, Shiite
Muslims were seen as violent people. Not all Shia are
violent and not all who are violent are Shiia. Some Wahabi
viewpoints are extreme but in Christianity, you have someone
like Franklin Graham, son of Bill Graham, who is very anti-Muslim,
but is he violent?
Sr. Thomas Bernard: Earlier you said some use religion
for purposes that are not religious. Would you see 9-11 that
way? Did the Islamic world condemn 9-11?
Dr. Siddiqi: It was condemned, but most Muslims dont
accept that Muslims were doing it. There is a denial and thats
a problem that needs to be addressed. There has to be neutral
studies. We need to questions ourselves and our governments.
Look at Afghanistan. There have been 30 years of incessant warfare.
No buildings are left. But in the United States 2 buildings
were destroyed? There is great anger too over the Iraqi children
Rev. Heidi Singh: People in the United States are not
asking enough questions about 9-11 and thereafter. There is
an unfortunate parallel with Hitler using the burning of the
Reichstag to limit civil rights. We need to question our own
government more carefully. Im much more frightened of
my own government than I am of terrorists.
Why is there our extreme reaction over one American death and
not over others? We are using 90% of the worlds resources
and making the world suffer. 9-11 woke us up about our lifestyle
and its costs and how we treat others. One minister said to
use political and religious language together makes what is
going on come close to another crusade. Would we be so caught
up in it if it werent an Islamic country? What if it
were a Christian country?
Dr. Siddiqi: When a Christian speaker said that 9-11
was not Islam, people said: why believe you and not Bin Laden?
He answered: I went to Bosnia and saw 1000's of mosques destroyed
and children with 2 fingers broken so their hand would have
the sign of the Trinity and had crosses carved on their backs
but I did not hear people say its Christianity.
Dickson Yagi: I share Heidis fear of government.
With the movement of globalization wreaking havoc in the world
and the US vision of empire we wont allow any
nation to challenge us. We are more afraid of our own government.