Imam: Muslims Can Work Toward Peaceful Protest

Muslim leaders in the United States are trying to influence their counterparts in Europe as protests continue over cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammed. Renee Montagne talks to Imam Mohamed Magid, who leads a large mosque in northern Virginia. He says the American civil rights movement can be an example to Muslims of how to peacefully bring change.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Protests continue over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. In Northern Pakistan, tens of thousands of demonstrators took the streets, ransacking a restaurant, movie theaters, and mobile phone offices. In the Philippines, hundreds of Muslims protested at a Danish diplomatic office. And in Indonesia, importers began boycotting Danish goods today.

MONTAGNE: Here in the United States, some Muslim leaders are hoping to influence their counterparts in Europe, and help diffuse the controversy. Imam Mohamed Magid is executive director of one large mosque in Northern Virginia. He's among those who've also met with European diplomats in Washington, D.C., urging them and Europe's Muslim leaders to build stronger ties.

Mr. IMAM MOHAMED MAGID (Executive Director, All Dulles Area Muslim Society): We are trying to reach out to Muslims to explain to them that violence, burning embassies, and so forth, is not the way that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, himself would have responded to such an action, or act again the same. We would like to share with our friends and fellow Muslims in Europe how to address this issue by engaging in dialogue with their fellow citizens in Europe.

MONTAGNE: Now, last week on this program, we heard from a Muslim activist in Denmark who had played a key role in igniting the protest. He described to us how he reached out to Muslim leaders in Egypt and Lebanon to bring the cartoons to a wider audience, get people to protest against them. It sounds like you're doing not exactly the reverse of that, but you're offering what, a counter view?

Mr. MAGID: We're offering that Muslims have a right to show that they are angry, but I do believe that the violence is feeding to the stereotype of what Muslims look like, and therefore, it's counterproductive.

MONTAGNE: And you don't think that European Muslim leaders know that already?

Mr. MAGID: I think they know that, and I think some of them have really spoken against this, but I would like to see more of Muslims reaching out to their fellow Muslims around the globe, and to tell them how to respond to this issue, because [unintelligible] play a big role in directing people's energy and response to such events like this. But if they protest by boycotting products and so forth, that's peaceful ways of doing it.

In America, we have means and ways of doing this before. The civil rights movement, where people boycotted a particular company, or a particular product because they felt that they had discrimination against African-Americans. The role of leadership is to say hold your horse, let us contemplate and reflect how to respond to this in a way that is dignified, is honorable, and will be constructive.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like that you think the Americans have something particular to offer the Europeans because of their experience in the U.S.

Mr. MAGID: Yes, I do believe that. I do believe that Muslims in America they are in a unique position to share their experience of how they respond to such a thing before the United States. You have religious leaders in America, before, have called the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist. They call him different names.

What happened then, the Muslims talked to the higher officials in the government, including the President Bush, the Secretary of State Colin Powell, and both of them have distanced themselves from those leadership. And we have people from other faiths, from Jewish community, from Christian community, who came out and they spoke against this.

We have built interfaith alliances, developed a relationship with people of other faiths to the extent that they're coming to our defense. That's what we would like to see happening in Europe, that people in Denmark, Christian leaders or Jewish leaders in Denmark, stand beside Muslims and speak against this kind of bigotry.

MONTAGNE: Is this something of a turning point for Muslim leaders in the U.S.? Because right after 9/11, Muslim leaders protested against attitudes in the U.S.

Mr. MAGID: I do believe that still there's a lot to be done in this country regarding backlash, and Muslims, and some laws, and other things like that. And American experience, it shows that some people before us have went through hard times in America, but they overcome through means of dialogue, participating in the political process, being able to create an alliances with other people, reaching out to other people, and that's what we are doing here in the United States.

MONTAGNE: Imam Magid, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. MAGID: It's my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Imam Mohamed Magid spoke to us from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, his mosque in Northern Virginia.

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