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, Michael Kerze.

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 glory.

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 separated.

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 don’t 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 don’t abuse the religious symbols of others in Chapter 22. God protects one people by another.

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 don’t have relations with are al Harb. That was developed in classical times.

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 didn’t 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 Shi’a are violent and not all who are violent are Shi’ia. 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 don’t accept that Muslims were doing it. There is a denial and that’s 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 who died.

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. I’m 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 world’s 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 weren’t 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 – it’s Christianity.

Dickson Yagi: I share Heidi’s fear of government. With the movement of globalization wreaking havoc in the world and the US vision of empire – we won’t allow any nation to challenge us. We are more afraid of our own government.