DIMPOOL INTERVIEW SERIES
INTERVIEW WITH SOFIAN ABDELAZIZ ZAKKOUT
Dimpool: Dear Mr. Zakkout; First of all, we would like to ask about your organization –AMANA- and its goals in the US, because according to our research your association condemns terrorism and Islamophobia, and it also promotes the interfaith dialogue, so could you please explain us the positive results and achievements that you got through your association ?
Sofian A. Zakkout: When we established our organization in 1997, we established it for the reason of promoting Islam, in the west and especially in the US and our main goal were to reach out and to tell the people what Islam and being Muslim mean. Because we feel that in Islam we are required to reach out especially the people around us. If we compare that time and this time, there are many changes. I believe that due to the reason that Muslims in general, they do not do enough reaching out; that is why we have all these problems. Lack of information about Islam is the main reason of all those problems. The proof of that idea is that every time we see a demonstration or a rally in the Ground Zero in New York, we see that the people are putting signs which show how they are ignorant about Islam. The problem is, when people are ignorant about Islam and Muslims that will give the chance to the bigots who are against Islam to take advantage of the situation in order to poison the people mind -who are ignorant about Islam- with wrong ideas about Islam. It is not our responsibility to convert people to Islam because God whoever He wants. In the time of our Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) he was treated worse than the Muslims being treated nowadays and he was patient, and if we love our Prophet, we should follow his steps, not to retaliate with more aggression. We must work together and tolerate each others, Muslims and non Muslims regardless of all of our differences in order to build a healthier society and that will lead to a stronger nation against our mutual enemies.
BURNING OF THE QURAN IN THE US
Sofian A. Zakkout: We, Muslims are tough and strong but we are patient too, our community is very patient. And every time something happens against us Allah changes it to be good for us, especially after they tried to burn the Quran incident in the US, many people converted to Islam.
People are coming to us trying to help us, to work with us. When they burned the Quran here, we sent a message in behalf of 18 Imams telling that “Even they do that, we are prohibited to attack any worship places like churches and synagogues”.” And that is according to the teaching of our Prophet (SAW), We should stay patient and we are benefiting more and we are getting more people on our side, patience is the solution of all social sickness.
RACIAL AND ETHNIC PROFILING
Dimpool: What are your opinions regarding the racial and ethnic profiling in the US, which is a very conflicted issue nowadays?
Sofian A. Zakkout: We are living in a very diverse country but unfortunately many people hate do not getting along with each others. The US is called the United States, but unfortunately it is not the United Communities, yet actually communities are working against each other. Today they are against Muslims, but actually there is also too many people against African Americans and many against Jews. Nowadays unfortunately many people especially politicians going public against Muslims, now if you want to become a senator or a House represintative, you will get more support if they attack Islam or Muslims. But we reply to those attacks in a democratic, civilized ways; for example we boycott them, we do not engage in business with them. But Unfortunately these attacks against our community hurt us, they hurt our children, people of our community do not feel well because of this racial and ethnic profiling. This is not healthy and it isolates Muslim people, but we try to help them through counseling and we tell them “the most important thing is to go outside of the US and visit countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan so they can feel proud of their identity. The current situation in the US is our fault, we should have reached out more to the other communities. The Muslim Americans are around 10,000,000 have nearly 600,000 doctors and PHDs from 57 Muslim countries. We must be proud of our identity and to say “I am a Muslim” instead they say “I am a doctor” or “I am a professor”, Most of us are hiding our identity and that made the American public so ignorant about the American Muslim resources.
Dimpool: Why do you think that Muslim people in the US are hiding their identities, did the situation occur after the 9/11?
Sofian A. Zakkout: Many of them were hiding their identities before the 9/11 and many of them begun to hide their identities after the 9/11. But many of those people started to feel that, they have to find a new identity because when they wanted to hide their identities, they had to find a new one. Alhamdulillah that in America, Muslims are going back to their own because they could not find a better replacement.
ISRAELI – PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Dimpool: According to your biography; you were born in Gaza that is probably one of the most conflicted areas in the World and how do you see the future of Gaza? Do you have any hope that two sides can get together in order to reach an agreement soon?
Sofian A. Zakkout: I do not think so because, let’s say you take Hamas and take them out of the country. In two months if not less you will see a new group came from the people, maybe different name, maybe different personnel; but they are going to be identical to Hamas. Hamas is not the main problem. Even Yasser Arafat could not solve the problem with them, and he was not Hamas even he gave a lot he could not reach an agreement. If you want to solve the problem you have to work, not talk, but Israelis they pass laws that allows building more settlements, they put more children and women in jail. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote an article in Miami Herald in the US and he said that “in seven years the rockets of Hamas killed only four Israelis”. How many Palestinians and Lebanese killed by the Israeli! The peace will be never achieved because Israel do not want peace. The only solution for them is to become servants slaves to Israel. Hamas stated that it recognizes Israeli state in 1967, on the other hand Israelis do not recognize Hamas and they do not even care if Hamas recognizes them. They could not even make peace with Turkey so how could they make peace with Palestine? There is not even one sign that shows Israel is serious of for peace. I pray that the madness and killing of innocent people in Gaza would stop. I am anti war and I am for live and let others live in dignity and in peace. I believe that no Justice no peace.
ATTACKS AGAINST AMANA
Dimpool: According to our research your association –AMANA- has been acting very peacefully and committed to the true side of Islam but some web-sites and organizations are trying to picture you as anti-Semitic or they are trying to link you with violent organizations. Why do you think that they are acting hostile towards you?
Sofian A. Zakkout: If you remember, a while ago I told that “even if you give flowers to some Jewish extremist still they hate you and will never accept you.” There is a group of people in the US; one of them is a journalist named as Joe Kaufman who is the first person who wrote against me, he said that I was vice president of an organization which was a clear lie because I was never vice president of that organization. Even if I was it will be my honor to serve such humane organization. Moreover, he claimed that I hired a person whose son was one of the most wanted members of Al-Qaeda. The truth is I could not hire him because I was only an advisor of the Mosque that hired him, so the new management hired that guy. When he wrote these lies, his group copied his article and promoted it online, that is why if you Google my name now, you will see those lies. This Joe Kaufman as doing the same thing to every Muslim leader around the US also in his website he is attacking President Obama and Muslim Congressman Keith Allison. Joe Kaufman and other people like him also chosen to attack and work against good Rabbis and Jewish leaders who are working with Muslim leaders. They always attack to the Rabbis who work with me; they attacked J-Street, and a good friend and ex vice-President of the American Jewish Congress Mr. Jack Lieberman. We also exposed Joe Kaufman; last year he paid homeless people $20 and a pizza to come rally with him against Muslims. The Justice Department and other Government agencies have put my organization’s name on their list of organizations that they are going to work with. I really ignore people like Joe Kaufman we see people like him every where and those who will never lead to peace. If I was a dangerous man they would not deal with me. The mayor gave me recognition and Homeland Security gives us money, so these projects with Muslim people like me angered Joe Kaufman and other anti Islam and Muslims (Islamophobics).
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Dimpool: How do you define the events that occur in the Middle East? Do you believe that those events are movements toward democracy or can they be conspiracies planned by the Western powers?
Sofian A. Zakkout: Many people would say that there are too many plans, but I disagree with them. The bad systems would not last forever and whatever happening these is beyond the plans of any human being. Egypt and Tunisia are a big proof of that, it was too perfect for anybody can play with it and it is not controllable. The people want change in those countries, they want to be heard and they want to live. God said in the Qur’an that Allah will not do changes unless we make change among ourselves and people starting to do positive changes and God will not leave them alone. As human beings we cannot digest changes rapidly, that is why it has to be a lot of suffering and struggle before good things to happen. In Syria, people were afraid to speak one word against the government but right now they are trying to change the bad regime by marching on the streets. Regarding Libya, I think that Muammar Gaddafi is worse than evil, because when I see Libya I discovered that they have only 6 million population and richer than Saudi Arabia, but Libyans are dying in the middle of the ocean while trying to flee the country in order to live better. I do not consider Gaddafi as a Muslim nor human. If these Muslim countries respected Democracy the people would have never upraised.
TURKISH FLOTILLA INCIDENT
Dimpool: We would like to ask you few questions about Turkey. As far as you know, on May 31, 2010 Turkish flotilla ship has been intercepted by Israeli forces; an event which resulted in death of nine Turkish citizens. In the light of that event how do you analyze Turkish government’s attempts on supporting the people in Gaza?
Sofian A. Zakkout: It was a great stupid mistake by the Israeli Army that should have been avoided. Turkey is trying slowly and surely to meet their duties to their religion and to the International crises. Because our Prophet (S.A.W.) said “who does not care about Muslims, is not among them” Turkey is trying to fulfill their duties with the minimum human requirement by sending food and medicine to the needy Palestinians by sending a ship. It was a great example that Turkish people showed the world how Israelis do not want peace. When Israeli forces saw the medicine on board they had to let the ship to go through but they started shooting everyone. Turkey showed the world that it is standing for justice and it will never turn its back to Palestinian people or any other needy people. I was very proud of Turkey when I went to Haiti last year with my Muslim team carrying 2 huge containers full of food and medical supplies for the people of Haiti. Not only I was proud that I saw the Turkish flags while driving around the destroyed capital, I was very proud when some Haitian people told us that Turkey was the first who came to Haiti to assist the Haitian people. I consider Israel is a n extremist nation and that is not healthy for their future.
TURKEY: A MODEL FOR MUSLIM WORLD?
Dimpool: There is an ongoing debate regarding that Turkey can become a model for a Muslim world, as it has democracy and it has a parliamentary system. Do you think it is a good idea to promote Turkey as a model?
Sofian A. Zakkout: Actually I already approved that without a debate and I am one of the people who believe that Turkey should wait for the European Union (EU) to send them request to join them. Not to ask the (EU) to join like in the past. They need Turkey more that Turkey needs them. Because, in a short time period Turkey can become more than a model, it can be more powerful and more stable than European countries. That means if Turkey is strong, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria Saudi Arabia and others will be strong. We are like a body and Turkey is one of the main parts of that body. We want Turkey to be strong so we promote Turkey as much as we can.
Dimpool: There is an Islamic movement raised from Turkey which has inspired more than thousand schools around the world including the US. It is called Gulen Movement, and it also promotes interfaith dialogue similar to your association. Have you ever had a chance to meet or work with them?
Sofian A. Zakkout: I have some of their books and I like Zaman Newspaper, I use it all the time and I would like to work with them closer. Gulen Movement has a very good reputation in the US; I never heard anything bad against them, even though some critics said that they are too moderate. I believe that Islam does not have moderates and extremists, Islam is already moderate. It is good to promote moderate Islam –which is the real Islam- but you cannot enforce moderate Islam and in the same we should not allow extremism. Our prophet (SAW) said: “do not be extremist, extremism destroyed nations before you”. Gulen Movement achieved a lot I cannot ignore them, and this is the reason I would like to work with them closer if I have the opportunity. It is good to work together in good programs and projects to benefit the whole.
THE SITUATION IN THE US
Sofian A. Zakkout: In the US when you go inside to one mosque, you will see the difference. It is not like a Mosque in Egypt, or Jordan, or Turkey or Palestine, because in a US mosque you will see coming from 57 Muslim cultures and in one single Mosque you will see sometimes 4 school of thoughts. Sometimes I see in a small mosque 200 people, maybe at least from 40 countries. What I am talking about is, if you go in to a mosque like that, you are looking 200 people, Allah knows how many mentalities. You see a guy who became a Muslim 2 days ago, you see another guy whose father is Christian and you see a woman whose husband is Christian. Therefore, in a crowd like that you have to promote the good, if you belong to a close-minded group and start to make complicated statements you will lose the audience. The solution to deal with all is to promote the correct teaching of Islam, the guidance of the Book of Allah the Qur’an and the Sunnah of His Prophet Muhammad (SAW).