CPM: So because they were at this elite level, societally, there wasn’t really any reason or any forum for them to explain what Islam was.
Deen: Right, they would interact professionally, but that’s it. They really didn’t go out to normal dinners and things or have American friends, again I am not saying all Muslims did this but it was not the norm. Now, you’re seeing, because of all this stuff with ISIS and al-Qaeda, the older generation is having a hard time trying to figure out how to talk about Islam to their fellow Americans.
On TV, I always see the older generation talking about terrorism, not the younger Muslims. I think the older generation doesn’t want to take away from their seniority, they want to believe they know how to fix things. I think now it’s up to the younger generation, the first-generation Muslims that have grown up here, to take the mantle and start introducing Islam to regular Americans that might not have had any interaction with Muslims before.
CPM: Sayed, what is, in your opinion, the greatest myth or misconception that Americans have about Islam?
Sayed: I think if I had to pick out the one I always hear, it’s this thing about Sharia law. Not to disappoint all the conspiracy nuts out there, but Sharia law only applies to Muslims. It cannot apply to non-Muslims.
There’s two versions of Sharia, internal and external. The internal is what would guide me as a Muslim — how I pray, my dietary restrictions, how I act as a person and how I am at my business, how I treat my family.
The external is the bureaucracy of the state. The state and the religion is one, but for Muslims living in a non-Muslim land or a non-Sharia land, we are actually bound to uphold the law of the land as long as it doesn’t conflict with Sharia. If it does, we use civil means like the voice of the people or try to lobby our elected officials. Sharia law cannot replace the existing law of the land unless it’s unanimous. You can’t use Sharia to replace the existing law unless it’s completely unanimous, unless everybody agrees.
For example, if this was uncharted territory, if we’re in the middle of an uninhabited island and I first show up there, yeah, I can establish Sharia law. If I show up there and it’s your island, then I have to respect those laws and abide by them.
When I hear people say, “They’re bringing Sharia law into the country,” well, yes and no. We’re bringing it in a sense where, “Hey, I want to sell Halal meat, but how do I know this guy down the street is really selling me Halal or even kosher meat? Can the government verify?”
In that sense, the government is just monitoring that the guy does it by Sharia law.
You really don’t see proper Sharia law anywhere in the world. The closest you might get is in Indonesia. By the way, in Sharia law, since it doesn’t apply to non-Muslims, there are courts that are set up for Christians based on the Bible for Jews based on the Torah or the Talmud and there are even laws for “others,” depending on any other beliefs.
That’s the biggest misconception, I feel. People think we’re coming here to take over and overrule the Constitution when, in reality, our faith mandates we support the Constitution and protect it.
CPM: Now, what’s the biggest myth or misconception that Muslims have about us — about the US — and, specifically, the military?
Deen: I hate to say it, but when President Bush accidentally used the word “crusade” a lot of Muslims heard, “East versus West,” “Islam versus Christianity” — a religious war.
And it’s coming close to that. You look at the FBI, you have some of their experts saying, “Oh, it’s the war against Islam,” and they’re teaching this internally to FBI agents. Even the DoD had some lunatics that were “experts,” saying we were fighting a war against Islam. You have people who really believe that it’s a religious war and “we need to get rid of Islam.” If you’re having some of these guys and your listening to them and you’re implementing their policies…
CPM: So, what I’m hearing is that many Muslims fears are correct and aren’t actually myths. Is that right?
Deen: No, I’m saying it’s a myth, because the majority of people, I think — hopefully — don’t agree with it. However, when that stuff comes from the Bureau or DoD and Muslims are reading about it on Yahoo or CNN or whatever, that’s only enforcing the myth.
Sayed: One myth is that everyone in the military is a killer — no matter what your job or branch is. Another is that it is both the overt and covert goal of the US military and government to kill Muslims and eradicate Islam. That is the perception, whether you talk to Muslims here or overseas. Ignorance and misperception are huge problems.
I personally try to point out that’s not the case. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to someone and they brought up the whole Doctors Without Borders strike in Afghanistan, and I said, “Listen, people think military gear is high-speed but usually, it’s from the lowest bidder so, when you factor in sleep-deprived soldiers working long hours, dealing with equipment failures and technical issues and the general fog of war — that is a perfect storm. And now, the US is doing the right thing, we’re doing an investigation.
As for the whole “killing of Muslims” thing, I try to say that innocent people do die, there is collateral damage, but the US tries to mitigate that as well as we can.
And what’s the alternative? Most of the people we do kill are terrorists and extremists of the worst type and if we didn’t kill them, they would have assaulted innocent people, Muslims or not. The extremists cause the war and destroy our faith. Blame them.
I also like to point out that the armies of so-called Muslim countries like, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan — they kill more Muslims and they do it intentionally through their oppressive regimes. The US does it mostly by accident.
I’ve talked to younger Muslims who’ve been considering joining the military and I tell them my experience. I’ve had points where I thought about just saying, “’F’ it, I’m out,” and just leave the Army. There’ve been highs and lows but I’ve stayed in because of the people I serve with. I tell younger Muslims, if you want to be a doctor, how about you go become a doctor for the US military? You don’t pay for your loans, they pay you and you serve the country.
They usually ask me, “Is that possible?” Many people I talk to — by the way, both Muslim and not — are surprised you can use the military to go to college for free and that they don’t automatically have to kill people.