Black Muslim leader sheds light on misconceptions

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Not all black Muslims are anti-Jewish.

In fact, most are not; such views are inconsistent with Islam. Unfortunately, however, the popularity and notoriety of black Muslim leaders like Louis Farrakhan have overshadowed Islam's peaceful teachings.

Imam Faheem Shuaibe of Oakland's Masjidul-Waritheen Mosque is fighting back against the angry misunderstandings that taint relations between Jews and black Muslims in America.

Shuaibe's ammunition is truth.

On Oct. 11, he shot down misbeliefs and misperceptions about Islam in a speech to nearly 75 students at U.C. Berkeley's Hillel.

Shuaibe didn't talk politics. He didn't take potshots. Instead, he offered simple lessons on Mohammed's followers and their beliefs.

The East Bay Jewish Community Relations Council and Hillel cosponsored Shuaibe's hourlong talk.

"In the midst of some very ugly confrontations between Jews and Muslims, I thought it necessary for someone to help distinguish American Islam from Middle Eastern Nationalist expressions of Islam," explained Rabbi Allen Bennett, JCRC executive director. "I wanted Shuaibe to teach students what Islam stands for. And that's exactly what he did,"

Beginning with an Arabic greeting meaning "peace" — ah salaam aleichem — Shuaibe launched into his speech.

"The Koran and Mohammed's example are the base and bedrock of the religion. Everything after that may or may not be consistent with teachings," Shuaibe said.

All Muslims, Shuaibe explained, consider the Koran God's "perfected faith revealed." All Muslims follow five "pillars," or teachings: declaring Mohammed's oneness with Allah and Mohammed's role as Allah's messenger; praying five times daily; giving wealth; fasting during the holiday known as Ramadan; and visiting Mecca.

Various interpretations of the Koran, the words of Mohammed and the faith's basic tenets, create diversity within Islam. More extremist strains of thought generally enjoy lesser support from the broader black Muslim population, Shuaibe noted.

For example, he said that Farrakhan's sect, Nation of Islam, would gain no acceptance in Pakistan, Indonesia or anywhere else where the local Muslims believe in the five pillars. Nation of Islam's particular "folklore, mythology and politics" — in which Farrakhan calls for black separatism and spreads anti-Semitic and antiwhite rhetoric — "go outside Islam," Shuaibe said.

Most people believe in the concept of a God but not in Allah, Shuaibe explained. Many believe in Allah and in the concept of a Judgment Day, but don't believe in Mohammed, he added.

Islam teaches respect for all these beliefs and for all the believers.

"We must protect the faith of other people so all mosques, churches and synagogues survive. It is not for me to judge what is in people's hearts," he said. "We may only present Mohammed's way as an alternative."

Fighting only for survival is acceptable within the religion's basic philosophy. The Koran holds off from discussing such violence until the 22nd chapter. And the concept of jihad — holy war — does not appear until the 96th chapter.

The first reference to fighting, Shuaibe said, counsels believers to actively resist their oppressors. The second, he said, cautions the faithful "not to listen to unbelievers.

"Some Muslims are more tyrannical against unbelievers than others," Shuaibe said. However, "I think we need to distinguish fighting from going in different directions. [Jihad] is about people's relationships with God, not with each other."

Literally translated, jihad means struggle. The ultimate struggle is understanding the Koran, Shuaibe said. The ultimate fight is to defend its words — for example, he explained, if a believer is persecuted or is prohibited from teaching the Koran.

Difference of opinion is not reason enough to wage war, Shuaibe declared.

Shuaibe opened the floor for questions, which ranged from dietary restrictions and prayer to the role of women in Islam. Many audience members queried him about jihad — though Shuaibe stuck to his no-politics stance.

He answered questions calmly and openly.

"The idea was to give some information about Islam that transcends generally-held perspectives of some Muslims and some Jews in some uncomfortable dialogues," he said. "These two groups are at odds with each other in the name of religion.

"I wanted to add to the store of information — [leading] to better judgments, better perceptions."