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.
Women’s Rights and Islam
CPM: Let’s talk about women’s rights. Does Islam respect women’s rights as they’ve been established in the West?
Deen: The Koran, and bear with me because I don’t know the exact verse, says women must dress “modestly.” Well, how do you interpret modesty?
A big problem is that a lot of culture is bleeding into the religion. If you go to Pakistan, if you go to Saudi Arabia, if you go to Indonesia, if you go to Yemen — you name the Muslim country — you’ll see some women wearing the hijab, some wearing the niqab. But in Saudi Arabia, for example, the culture is male-dominated. It’s not the religion that’s demanding the clothes, it’s the culture and the culture is seeping into the religion.
Sayed: Many of the laws that are perceived to see women as unequal, if you look at them contextually, they were from a time when safety was a big thing. They had to guarantee those rights. They had to make sure the women were safe.
There’s actually a poem which taught me how important a woman is: “As a mother, heaven is under her feet. As a wife, she is half the faith. As a daughter, she is blessing.” If you break that down, a mother’s role is so important for a child. It’s not figurative — it’s literally heaven under your mother’s feet.
In the Hadith, there’s the story of a man who went to the Prophet and asked him, “Who, in terms of people, should have my companionship?”
The Prophet told him, “Your mother.”
The man asked, “Who next?”
The Prophet said, “Your mother.”
Finally — “Your father.”
So every Muslim man is a mama’s boy because, at heart, we have to respect our mothers three times before anyone else. For me, just coming to this interview, I had to ask my mom, “Hey, mom, are you okay with me going out this far?” She said, “Yes.” If she said no, I wouldn’t be talking to you. That’s exactly how important it is.
I’m not married, but if I was married, anything my wife owned, whether she’s a millionaire or earns a dollar a year, is legally hers. I cannot touch it. As a wife, you belong to your spouse. And I belong to my wife. Not belong as property but belong in terms of we have rights. It’s my job to guarantee and ensure her rights and vice versa.
Islam condemns infanticide of girls. It is one of the most horrific sins you can commit.
Islam tells you women are a blessing. A man who raises a righteous daughter, it can be an entry for him into heaven. Someone who has nothing but daughters, four daughters or more, is called, by translation, “father of the praiseworthy.”
Women have more rights in Islam today than they do anywhere else in the world. In Islam, women have the right to be educated. They have rights in both marriage and divorce. Islam actually forbids arranged marriages, but if you look at the majority of the “Muslim world,” you’ll see it is nothing but arranged marriages. But if you look at India and Pakistan there are non-Muslims who also do arranged marriages because it’s a cultural thing.
The problem is that the ignorance and culture bleeds into the religion and does set women’s rights back.
Deen: It’s understandable how the average American would not understand that and get confused. But in Islam, women are actually held to the highest degree, the highest standard. If you look at the Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH), he was married to an older woman and she made more money than him. She had her own business. But the West doesn’t really see that because it sees the culture — the male-dominated culture — suppressing women.
CPM: Well, as recently as the 1970s, you can see pictures of women in Afghanistan wearing miniskirts or women in Egypt dressing in what Americans would consider a very modern way. And now you don’t.
So what caused the shift in the cultures of these countries? What has made them so much more conservative today? Or is this a return to “true” Islam?
Sayed: It’s not true Islam. It’s radicalization. It’s ignorance. Imagine that town from “Footloose —”
CPM: (laughing) — I always do —
Sayed: OK, so imagine if they struck oil and had nothing but petro-dollars. They could fund their brand of conservatism, where “no dancing” would eventually lead to “no wearing of colors,” “no music,” — none of this stuff.
It’s ignorance. When you are the most educated person in the entire village, and you have a fourth-grade-dropout level of education, and then you start preaching to poor dirt farmers about the Koran, there’s going to be a problem.
What we’re seeing, since the 1970s, are Wahhabi climbing the ladder in the Arab states. There is a propaganda battle in Islam where a lot of the Wahhabi are reprinting the Hadith, changing it over time, subtly, to the point where you pick up two Hadiths and one is completely accurate and the other, published by the Wahhabi, is not only incorrect but it can actually lead you to extremism a lot quicker than the one that is correct.
CPM: That’s the Noble Koran, right?
Sayed: I believe that’s the one. When unchecked, radicalism and conservatism come together and they lead to women who aren’t even Muslim wearing niqabs.
CPM: So, when you look at how much culture infringes on your religious doctrine and perverts it, doesn’t that piss you off?
Deen: Yes. Being in the military, the intel world, the contractor world and all that shit, I look at Islam, and then I look at what’s going on with our Arab coalition, and wonder, “Well, why isn’t anything getting done?” The reason is — who is the “Arab coalition?” The controlling group — the coalition leader — is Saudi Arabia!
Saudi Arabia is in an apostate regime. There is no monarchy in Islam. There are no kings. There are no queens. Yet, our number one partner is a king and a queen and a repressive regime. Our allies are all repressive regimes. This was going to happen sooner than later in that area, we just sped it up exponentially.
CPM: What do you mean, “this was going to happen?” You mean the radicalization?
Deen: The radicalization. I mean, you look at Islam’s enlightenment during Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) time — that was when the West was in their Dark Ages. Then Islam had its problems after Prophet Mohammad died and it got kind of split — I’m making this really short and really brief, you know?
CPM: Yeah, of course.
Deen: So, leaving a lot of stuff out, the West came out of the Dark Ages and had the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and all that. Well, Islam is now in its dark period.
Look at Libya. Libya is a complete mess. Same with Iraq and Afghanistan. The people that we send back, like the new Afghani president, Ashraf Ghani, he’s from here. [Note: Ghani was born and raised in Afghanistan, but taught and lived in the US for 24 years.] You can’t keep sending ex-pats back to these countries.
If you look at Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is saying, “We are the protectors of Mecca because it’s in our bloodline. We’re going to make this place very religious.” But look at some of the kings, the princes and the princesses, when they leave the country, they don’t act in accordance with Islam — they don’t follow what they expect their citizens to live up to.
Sayed: …Right, like in LA recently.
Deen: As I said, in Islam, there are no kings and queens. Why do you have Queen Rania of Jordan sitting on TV saying, “Oh, we are moderate Islam?” If the United States keeps with this, it will lose everything in that area.
CPM: So, is it that religion and culture become aligned because religion and the state are intertwined? Is theocracy the problem?
Sayed: No, because, from what I’ve learned, Islamic theocracy can’t survive in the modern era. You don’t have a proper Islamic theocracy. What you have is a dictator who comes under the guise of a king, a queen, an emir, a president, a prime minister, a “dear leader” — and aligns him or herself with Islam. He’ll claim, “Oh, I’m a dedicated Muslim,” but if you badmouth him, then you’re opposing “Islam,” so you get taken out.
CPM: Where do you see or where have you seen Islamic theocracy work?
Deen: Look at King Saud. He inherited this huge Kingdom. What was he going to do? He wanted to keep power. The House of Saud is going to do everything in its power to do that. If that means to bastardize Islam — which they are doing a great job at — that’s what they’re going to do.
Growing up here in the United States and going to different mosques and listening to different sermons all my life, I’ve never really heard anyone say anything about the Saudi government. No one is saying, “What makes you the protectors? There is no lineage. There are no kings and queens. Why are you still in existence?”
Sayed: One man who, in my book, is a hero was that customs agent who stopped the 20th hijacker from coming into the US. [Note: Jose Melendez-Perez.] He wouldn’t let this Saudi guy into the country even though his supervisors were pressuring him to let the guy go. It turned out that Mohammad Atta was waiting to pick up the Saudi outside the airport. But if it had been up to the supervisors, they would have let him in because he was Saudi, he was connected.
I don’t know why we, as Americans, don’t stand up to Saudis.
So, to your question, yeah, it does upset me to see radicalism and ignorance take over the faith.
But, at the end of the day, I am an American Muslim, so I really don’t have a place telling an Egyptian Muslim, “Hey, you got to get your stuff in order. Your government is corrupt. They’re supporting terrorism.” That’s like me coming to your house and saying you should really change — I don’t have authority to do that.
The best way to fight radicalization is through education. Who is countering these extremist madrassas that are all over the place? Even the Saudis realize the issue because the last king modernized education at King Saud University. Religious police are not allowed to go onto that campus. Girls can wear whatever they want. There’s no hijab required. Guys don’t have to wear beards. I’ve heard from people from that part of the world that it’s like an American college campus, virtually an oasis in the desert. It’s focusing on science and technology.
When it comes to fighting against extremist madrassas, I know it can be sticky because we can’t fund religious operations in the United States and we have to separate church and state. But it’s going to come to a point where we’re either going to have to do it through a front company or something to counter this brainwashing and ignorance.
The War Within Islam
CPM: You guys are really ticked off about Saudi Arabia, but I’m not hearing your opposition to, say Iran or Daesh. Why not?
Deen: I’m not saying that Iran is not an issue, but everything starts with Saudi Arabia and the monarchy. That’s the enemy. All the other groups that we hate, from ISIS to al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood are motivated by the Saudi government. They hate the monarchy — that hatred drives their recruiting. Islam is in flux with itself. The US or no other Western nation can fix this. It has to be done internally.
Sayed: I don’t like Iran. They’re like an aggravated version of Russia during the Cold War. But you’ve got to realize that Iran says a lot of things against America, against Israel — but who is really threatening Iran? Saudi Arabia has called for them to be wiped out. Saudi Arabia has made it their goal. They don’t like Iran. They threaten Iran all the time.
Look, it doesn’t matter where you go, in any part of the world, people love the American culture. People love America. They want to buy American things. That’s no different in Iran. We can open it up, use our soft power. What if we could tell Iran, “Listen, the guy messing with you [Saudi Arabia] is not going to be long in the neighborhood?”
We do have a very rocky history in Iran. We supported the Shah. Look how that worked out for us. The monarch in Saudi Arabia, to Iran, it’s just the Saudi version of the Shah. I’m not saying we should go over there and overthrow the Saudis. But we should say, “Listen, you guys are on your own. Figure this stuff out. You got to get rid of all this Wahhabism and extremism. You’ve got to moderate.”
Deen: The Saudis hate the Iranians because of the Islamic Revolution. The revolutionaries called for the ousting of kings, which is a huge part. The Saudis, you can’t fault them. They’re going to do anything they can to keep their grip on power. If that means that buying politicians, they’re going to do that.
CPM: You mean U.S. politicians?
Deen: Yeah, they buy think tanks, corporations. The King of Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars to put to use.
CPM: Let me throw another point of view at you. I look at Iran and I see a state that has bankrolled terrorism since 1979 and caused so much death and destabilization throughout the world — including killing its own college students during 2009’s Green Revolution because they didn’t want to tolerate any kind of insurrection. To me, a non-Muslim American, Iran seems as culpable in perverting Islam, if not more so, than Saudi Arabia. Am I missing something?
Deen: I’m not saying that that’s the way you’re supposed to run a government or that’s the way you’re supposed to interpret Islam. But, if you look at the two countries, of how they’re set up, the perversion of Islam is Saudi Arabia.
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