What is the true Islam?
From a small 10 foot by 14 foot office tucked away in the back corner of a two-story storefront building located off 72nd street in the heart of Queen’s South Asian market, Imam Qazi Qayyoom sets out each and every day to accomplish his one goal-- making known the true Islam. On the center wall of his office a banner proclaims his Muhammadi Community Center of Jackson Heights’ slogan, “There is no terrorism in the peaceful religion of Islam.”
After 9/11, Qayyoom wanted a place where people in his Bangladeshi community could gather and learn about an Islam not associated with the terrorists. The imam’s teaching is rooted in the Sufi tradition of Islam. It emphasizes a peaceful, mystical faith. The tradition heavily focuses on poetry, music and art to allow one to become close with God. This brand of Islam differs from the majority of Muslims who follow the Sunni tradition.
The Sunnis generally dispute the legitimacy of Sufism, pointing to their belief that spiritual purity is attainable in this life. In countries dominated Sunnis the Sufis face oppression. Qayyoom was restricted in his home country and is quick to defend the many freedoms he now enjoys in the United States. He also offers family counseling, solemnizes marriages that other imans might oppose and provides after school programs for children at the community center.
“They are doing a tremendous job to clean out terrorism,” he says. “We support the NYPD to help us.”
He is not alone in his sentiment. Imam Qayyoom and thirty other Muslim leaders gathered on March 5th at One Police Plaza at the NYPD headquarters for a rally sponsored by the American Islamic Leadership Coalition. Founder Dr. Zuhdi Jassersaid that Muslims must take an active stand against terrorism by allowing the police to do the work they deem necessary.
“We thank God everyday for the NYPD,” Dr. Jasser said at the rally. “For too long, the NYPD has come under a systematic and coordinated assault by highly-politicized Islamist organizations.”
He mentioned the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Students Association as organizations that have led Muslim opposition to the NYPD.
“These groups would prefer to see American Muslims shackled to a collective mindset of victimization, rather than live up to our Muslim responsibility of reforming the radicalizing nature of Islamist ideas.”
Jasser, a physician and former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, is one of the country’s most outspoken Muslims against political Islam. He was one of four panelists that testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security in March 2011 on radical Islam in America. During his testimony, he said that if fear exists because of radical Islam, Muslims are the ones that should be leading the charge.
The moderate Muslim is not shy in the battle. Last spring, he became a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. A few weeks ago he wrote, “Across the globe, religious freedom is tied to robust democracy, diminished violence and greater prosperity and stability. Nations that abuse religious liberty often are incubators of intolerance, extremism, poverty, insecurity, violence and repression.”
He is also narrator of “The Third Jihad,” a biting film considered derogatory by some Muslim leaders like Daisy Khan of the New York-based American Society for Muslim Advancement. Jasser opposed the attempt to build a mosque near Ground Zero by Khan’s husband Iman Feisel Rauf. Even though he has faced vehement criticism from other Muslims, Jasser believes those inside the faith need to reconsider their reaction to the police department.
“I think it’s time for America to realize that we’re not a monolithic community,” Jasser says. “They can’t speak about us as ‘all Muslims are offended.”
Qayyoom says that the press criticizes his support for the NYPD surveillance program, claiming that it marginalizes Muslims from American society. The imam sharply disagrees because he says that the most important goal should be saving Islam’s reputation by separating it from the radical groups that the NYPD is searching for.
“I believe I am on the right track, so I don’t care about it. I have to keep going on in my work,” he says. “We are facing the problems caused by our own Muslims.”