Prof. L. Ali Khan: Supreme Leader’s Letter to the Western Youths Is Elegant and Sincere
Scholars, intellectuals and academicians from across the globe continue reacting to the open letter by the Leader of Islamic Ummah and Oppressed People Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei to the youths of Europe and North America.
The open letter by the Leader of Islamic Ummah and Oppressed People Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei was written in the wake of the deadly January 7 attacks on the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was claimed to have been perpetrated by Muslim “terrorists.” The leader, lamenting the accusations directed against the Muslims for their alleged complicity in the attacks, had called upon the Western youths to ignore the propaganda of the corporate media and gain a firsthand knowledge of Islam through its original sources, including the Holy Quran and the life, tradition and sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Leader of Islamic Ummah and Oppressed People Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei had affirmed in his letter that he didn’t insist the Western youths to simply adopt his own understanding and interpretation of Islam; rather, he demanded them to open their eyes to the truth and disregard the distorted image of Islam being fed to them by the governments and their affiliated media.
An Islamic scholar says Supreme Leader’s letter was “elegant, sincere, truthful and in the finest traditions of Islam.”
“The Supreme Leader has selected the right audience in delivering the message about Islam,” said Prof. Liaquat Ali Khan in an interview with Fars News Agency. “The youths and not the parents are more likely to listen to the voices of rationality, tolerance, and mutual respect among the followers of diverse religions. Parents in the United States have minimal role in the shaping of the youth.”
Liaquat Ali Khan is a Professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. In 2014, Khan founded Legal Scholar Academy to provide impact analysis of US foreign policy pertaining to Muslim nations and communities. Over the years, he has written numerous books, law review articles and essays on Islamic law, international law, commercial law, jurisprudence, the U.S. Constitution, comparative constitutional law, human rights, and foreign policy. His academic writings are used as part of course materials in universities across the world.
On the importance of the Supreme Leader’s letter and its global impact, FNA talked to Prof. Ali Khan.
Q: The open letter by the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei to the youths of Europe and North America was received across the world enthusiastically, and many young Westerners reacted to it on their blogs and social networking pages, stating that they were surprised at the leader’s direct outreach and believe that they similarly feel the urgency to study Islam not in terms of the stereotypes of the media, but through the lens of original sources of Islamic philosophy. Is this letter going to have the international impact which the leader expects?
A: The Supreme Leader’s letter is a persuasive invitation to Islam. It is elegant, sincere, truthful, and in the finest traditions of Islam. I wish more Muslim religious leaders will engage the world. There has been strong interest in the message. I am unsure, however, whether the message will have any transformative effect on the youths of Europe and North America. There are several reasons for my doubts.
First, Europe and North America are turning away from ritualized religions even though there is some hunger for non-denominational spirituality in the United States. Europe seems to be skeptical of even non-denominational spirituality. Religion is dead among native Western European, except for Muslim immigrants from North Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East who continue to take religion as an indispensable part of their individual and communal lives. So call for tuning to Islam will in my view take persistent effort to materialize.
Second, the media-generated propaganda against Iran is so intense that any spiritual message from Iran is discounted. This discounting is particularly steep in the United States where the print and electronic media are spewing revulsion against Iran, primarily because Iran is seen as an enemy of Israel. Europe is a bit more sympathetic toward Iran. The Europeans are familiar with Iran’s contributions to human civilization. Ironically, the people in the United States are not much familiar with the splendid intellectual history of Iran, even though Jalaluddin Rumi is now vastly read and admired.
Third, the Shia-Sunni divide, deliberately exaggerated in Western political and intellectual circles, undermines the universality of any message coming from Shia or Sunni leaders. In sum, the Supreme Leader’s invitation to Islam, though powerful and instructive, will be seen through the muddy lenses of animosity against Iran and Islam.
Q: The Supreme Leader has addressed his letter to the youths of the West, and says that he doesn’t overlook the parents because they are not important, but he rather believes that the future of the Western societies will be in the hands of these young people, so it’s better that they lead the way in decoding the hidden realities of Islam and disregard the rise of Islamophobic propaganda. Will the youths in the West be allowed to dispel the lies and falsehood being spread about Islam and introduce a new, impartial reading of Islam?
A: The Supreme Leader has selected the right audience in delivering the message about Islam. The youths and not the parents are more likely to listen to the voices of rationality, tolerance, and mutual respect among the followers of diverse religions. Parents in the United States have minimal role in the shaping of the youth.
Comparatively, the youth in Europe might be more responsive to parents and families. In the United States, individualism is so powerful that it has smashed the family structure at the core. High divorce rate, childlessness, consumerism, personal experimentation, these and other factors promote aggressive individualism in the youth. Furthermore, an economically dynamic society such as the United States is worried more about wealth-accumulation and little about the preservation of values.
The youth always leads the nation, any nation. The youth in the United States is probably a bit more open to learning about Islam and therefore one can hope that they would disregard the stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. In this sense, American individualism is indeed a good omen in that the animosity against Islam and Muslims will not be entrenched in younger generations of Americans and Europeans. Many young people in America see little point in denigrating the Prophet of Islam through cartoons, or burning the Quran, or painting Islam, with a more than a billion followers in all countries and continents, as an evil religion of the Middle East.
An impartial appreciation of Islam will take place only if a decision is made to teach the Quran in Western colleges and universities with fairness. Hinduism and Buddhism are already being taught from an impartial viewpoint and the new generation is open to these religions. I am not sure if the political climate in the West will allow colleges and universities to teach Islam from neutral and respectful perspectives.
Q: In his letter to the Western youths, the leader voices his concern for the rise of phobias that have targeted Islam and the Muslims to an unprecedented extent. What do you think are the roots for the emergence of Islamophobia and the fact that anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice is threatening the security and privacy of the Muslims across Europe and the United States?
A: Historically, there has always been tension between Islamic and Western civilizations. This clash is not new. It started at the birth of Islam. For many centuries, Islamic civilization was the dominant civilization of the world. Colonialism reversed the equation and the West occupied most of the Muslim world. Western languages were introduced as rational and progressive languages of expression, research, and science.Islamic culture and values were denigrated. Poverty, illiteracy, and absence of democracy in some Muslim states generated a thesis that the Western civilization is superior to Islamic civilization.
Immigration from Muslim countries to Europe and North America has brought the two peoples together in ways never experienced before. Muslims in France, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States are committed to Islam and family values. Mosques are built all across Western Europe and the United States. While churches are empty, mosques are full. Muslim immigrants are surprised at the level of Western material development and native Europeans are shocked that even material comforts of the West cannot shake the faith of Islam.
Q: What do you think are the roots of the growth of Islamophobia in Europe and North America and the penetration of anti-Islamic sentiments in the minds of Western citizens? Are there deliberate attempts underway to spread an imaginary fear of the Muslims? Who benefits from the ignition of hatred against and fear of Muslims?
A: Islamophobia stems from various factors. Let me mention two. First, the West abhors the lack of assimilation of Muslims in local Western cultures. Muslims speak local languages, wear local garments, and yet they choose social segregation from the broader culture. Obvious symbols, such as hijab and prostrating during prayers, do not sit well with local populations. Second, the militant movements in various parts of the world paint Islam as a religion that condones violence. The Western media highlights the violence of Muslim militants but sees legitimacy in state-sponsored murder, abductions, drone attacks, detention without charges, and other gross violations of human rights.
Muslims living in the West are under constant surveillance. Mosques are infiltrated with snitches and spies. The governments use Muslims against Muslims for reporting against each other. Muslims are suspicious of each other. Many Muslims do not come to the mosques because they are not sure if their private lives and conversations are free from governmental intrusion. This is a great violation of the right to practice religion freely and without governmental harassment. The West betrays its own constitutional values.
Western law enforcement agencies use “entrapment” to draw Muslims into imaginary crimes. Entrapment is a law enforcement tactic to befriend Muslims and persuade them to plan to commit a crime. Vulnerable and weak-willed individuals fall for the incentives and are entrapped. Of course, the entrapped individuals are arrested before any crime is committed. This way the law enforcement agencies can achieve two goals at the same time. They can tell the public that they have prevented the commission of a “horrible crime.” Second, they paint Muslims as a potential threat to the peace and order of the community. Through entrapment, Islam is maligned; Muslims are harassed; Islamophobia is reinforced.
There are many domestic and international entities that benefit from slandering Islam and Muslims. Right-wing Christian groups have little tolerance for Islam and they look forward to stories that show Muslims as terrorists. Internationally, countries that harbor ill-will against Muslims may benefit from Islamophobia. In the final analysis, however, there is more detriment in persecution of Muslims than benefit to non-Muslims. Muslims are surely harmed but non-Muslims may or may not receive a corresponding benefit.
Q: The majority of corporate media in the West are inclined to portray a violent, distasteful image of Islam and make their audience believe that this faith preaches brutality and violence. With the spates of anti-Islamic propaganda coming from hundreds of newspapers, TV and radio stations across the world, how is it possible for the Western youth to grasp the reality of Islam? Will they believe anything other than what the media tell them?
A: The Western corporate media is for the most part anti-Islamic. Some media houses, particularly the Fox network, throw away journalist constraints in maligning Islam and Muslims. The journalistic ethics mandating that reporting be done accurately and without prejudice are discarded in telling prejudicial stories about the Muslim world. Western journalists, taking signals from right-wing politicians, present Islam as a religion that promotes violence. Muslims are shown to be addicted to violence. Wars against Muslim countries, including wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, whipped up the media frenzy against Islam and Muslims. Iran, due to its nuclear program, is the favorite media target of hateful propaganda.
Sadly, for all the reasons stated above, the Western informational air about Islam has been befouled. This polluted environment incubates negative views about Islam and Muslims. The Western youth will most likely be infected.
It is a violation of the youth’s right to development to feed them ignorance and bigotry against one of the leading religions of the world, Islam. It is violation of the rights of children to raise them to be ill-informed and hateful. Despite lip-service to human rights, the Western political and media elite commit a grave mistake insoiling the minds of children and other vulnerable citizens against Islam.
Muslim countries and Muslim immigrants living in the West must make every effort to combat the negative images of Islam. The Muslim media need to engage, with subtlety and fairness, fellow reporters and journalists in the Western media, and challenge them to be fair to the teachings of Islam. Muslim journalists are not helpless. They have as much power to portray the reality of Islam as Western journalists have the power to disseminate lies against Islam. Likewise, Muslim leaders cannot remain quiet and resigned to negative portrayals of Islam in the West. They must forcefully speak out and engage the leaders of Western countries in the fight against Islamophobia.
Q: All the major Sunni and Shiite scholars and religious authorities have clearly stated that ISIL is a deviant current, an un-Islamic organization which by no means represents the Muslims and has no jurisdiction to declare an Islamic caliphate. The actions of ISIL, including kidnapping people, raping the women and beheading the captives are entirely contrary to the most basic Islamic tenets, and if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi knew anything about Islam, he wouldn’t have endorsed these barbaric actions. So why do some politicians in the West, as well as the media organizations insist upon depicting ISIL as an Islamic group?
A: The ISIL is a creation of the West. This armed group was created to achieve several goals. It was launched to fight the Syrian government and topple President Bashar Assad. It was also conceived as a Sunni militant group fighting the Shias in the region. Some [Persian] Gulf States actively supported the establishment of this armed group. Many thrill-seeking individuals in the United States and Europe were secretly encouraged to join the armed group. Just as the al-Qaeda was created to fight the Soviets, the ISIL is established with a complex purpose of fighting the Syrians, the Russians, and the Iranians.
Just like al-Qaeda, the ISIL has its own regional and global goals. The ISIL embraced the idea of establishing a caliphate in the Muslim world. The territory under the ISIL control came handy in the establishment of a “state.”
Of course, many members of the ISIL had little training in the teachings of Islam. Some recruits are given a very superficial version of Islam. Popular among the group are the extreme views of Qisas – eye for eye, tooth for tooth, torture for torture, orange jumpsuit for orange jumpsuit, abduction for abduction, rape for rape, and brutality for brutality. Of course, Islamic law does not support any such barbaric applications of Qisas.
However, the ISIL is a mirror-reflection of what the Western forces have done in Muslim countries. At Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and other detention centers, Muslim men wearing orange jumpsuits have been tortured, brutalized, sodomized, and killed. Muslim women in Iraq have been assaulted and raped by Western soldiers, sometimes in front of their families.
It comes handy to portray ISIL as a Muslim outfit because it shows how evil Muslims can be. But the world should not forget that the ISIL is the alter-ego of the Western brutality and inhumanity. It is created by the West in the image of the West with a sense of brutality nurtured in the West. It is another white man’s gift to the human species.
Q: What’s your perspective on the role interfaith dialog can play in eliminating the misunderstandings about Islam? There are a great number of prominent Christian clerics who advocate the improvement of relations between the Muslim communities and the Western public through peacemaking activities, but there are also Christian clerics who fan the flames of hostility between the Muslims and non-Muslims through their fiery sermons against Islam, and as in the case of Pastor Terry Jones, by desecrating the Holy Quran. What’s your take on that?
A: Interfaith conversations are most useful in correcting distortions against Islam. Many well-meaning Christians and Jews are open to interfaith contacts because all religions are denigrated when any one religion is put down. The most vicious attacks on Islam come from secular Jews and secular Christians who believe in no religion. Some atheists are the most intolerant persons in the human species. True believers, who fear God, may be self-righteous but they are less likely to brutalize fellow believers, no matter what religion they belong to. In Kansas, for example, many Jews and Christians show solidarity with Muslims when Islam is under attack. They visit mosques during Ramadhan and eat with Muslims. They are genuinely inclined toward respecting the faith of Islam. I am a great supporter of interfaith dialogue.
However, ignorance and bigotry exist within religious communities. In the United States, many prominent Christian pastors spew hatred against Islam. Pastor Terry Jones is an ignorant man, a deviant man with little following. He received media attention because of his dramatic decision to indict the Qur’an for fomenting violence and burning copies of the Qur’an. However, Terry Jones is an ineffective pastor in deepening the hatred against Islam. Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham are more dangerous because they are more influential within Christian communities. Pat Roberson, with millions of followers, argues that Islam is not a religion of peace. Franklin Graham equates Islam with cancer. These hate-mongers, wearing religious costumes, standing in places of worship, say the most ungodly things. They hide under the law of free speech. To such hateful people, the Qur’an instructs us to say: “To you your way of faith and to me my way of faith.”