As New York City and the rest of the country struggles with the question, should a mosque and Islamic center be built two blocks from Ground Zero, many facts about the Muslim religion, the building and the location are being discussed, disputed and misunderstood.
The mosque would be located two blocks from Ground Zero where the neighborhood brags a proliferation and variety of religious houses of worship, including a Muslim prayer house build prior to 9/11. With respect to the location, the mosque would not be visible from Ground Zero, nor would Ground Zero be visible from the mosque.
The proposed building is an Islamic center that will house a mosque as well as a community center with, among other things, basketball courts, a swimming pool, child-care and a cooking school and a September 11th memorial.
As for the Muslim religion itself, misunderstanding is rampant. In an interview about the proposed mosque last month in the Washington Post, Jerry Nadler, a New York legislator who represents the district that includes Ground Zero said, the mosque is "only a slap in the face if you think that the people in the congregation are responsible for al-Qaeda."
It may be fair to say that the religion is not only misunderstood by those who are not Muslim, but also by those who are. At least that's Dr. Tawfik Hamid's point of view. Dr. Hamid, who is a medical doctor and a Muslim reformer, believes that the Muslim religion is all about the way one reads the Koran. He wrote Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam and is calling for a less radical interpretation of the Muslim bible. He is also vocally opposed to building the Islamic center and mosque at Ground Zero and has written about his point of view in his blog, Inside Islam.
A reformed member of Jihad, Hamid is a Senior Fellow and Chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Study just outside of Washington, D.C. He learned about Jihad from the inside, as a member of its forces. He believes his insightful theories -- based specifically on his own quick descent into the hands of the Jihad through their sophisticated brainwashing techniques -- could be a great help to the US government who, according to Hamid, is not attacking the al-Qaeda problem correctly.
"My story," Hamid says, "is an explanation of why the United States has been unable to make headway in its fight against radical Muslim terror groups." It took Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became the second in command of Al-Qaeda, only six months to brainwash Hamid and thousands of other educated youngsters.
Counter to what we have been told about the kinds of children who fall into Jihad hands, Hamid didn't join the religious sect because he came from a poor, uneducated family. Hamid, who has a degree in internal medicine and a second degree in clinical psychology, was actually raised in a non-religious home in a Muslim township in Egypt by two well-off, educated, working parents.
"Religion was cultural for my family, so when I went to them at the age of 15 to ask questions about God, they had no answers. I was interested and very directed to find out about religion. And when I went out looking, I found a group that told me they had the answers I was looking for."
The group was Jihad. All Hamid knew is that they had answers to the religious questions no one else had ever been able to answer for him.
"And I joined," says Hamid. "Within six months Jihad had changed a very innocent child who wanted to play soccer and listen to music into someone who was ready to kill anyone."
According to Hamid, the brainwashing begins immediately and within the religious context of the prayer service.
1) The Wall: Those in charge will spend upwards of 20 minutes lining up the members of the prayer group, spacing them shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet so there are no holes between the worshipers. The concept -- God loves those as if one cemented wall -- comes from the Koran.
2) Hell Fire: Passages about Hell in the Koran are very descriptive. They are powerful and graphic. Hamid says the leaders of his group used these passages to incite fear in their followers, describing "how boiling water will be poured over their heads, will dissolve their skin and their guts. They told us how they would replace our skin so we would be tortured over and over."
3) Sex Deprivation: "This is not a joke, it is a reality," says Hamid who explained that his culture does not have a 'boyfriend system.' At the same time, early marriage is not culturally approved. Jihad couples this cultural phenomenon with the raging hormones of a typical young man, praying on his sexual needs by giving him books with detailed descriptions of 72 beautiful virgins waiting for him in Heaven. "We didn't, couldn't have girlfriends. We were given pictures of beautiful women while being deprived of actual women. We didn't have any reason to stay here when we knew there were 72 virgins waiting for us. Many of us, including me, were ready to die just to go to be with the 72 virgins."
Hamid says he was stripped of his ability to think critically, in other words, to think for himself. "I was brain washed completely in six months. I was ready to do any form of evil possible."
The violent mind:
"One of the fundamental things that creates the violent mind is the concept of accepting without using your consciousness. It made me a bad person. I accepted what they told me to do in the name of religion without using my consciousness. There was no question of permissible versus not permissible. It was deemed permissible and so I didn't think about it. I did it because I was told religiously it was permissible by God himself."
Hamid believes that fortunately for him, deep in his brain a part of his unconscious was still working. So, when Jihad asked him to carry out an act of torture, "to kidnap a police officer and dig a grave next to a mosque and bury the man alive, I gasped at the order. The critical thinking came back to me." At that moment, Hamid planned an immediate escape from Jihad.
Reading the Koran differently:
While on the run for three years, Hamid began questioning the teachings of the Koran; not the Koran itself, but rather the radical interpretations used by radical Muslims.
"I read a verse of the Koran: Kill the infidels wherever you find them and I asked, how could I do this? My neighbor is a Christian who is very nice, but how do I disobey Alla? I was very confused. I asked, 'how can this be possible that I should kill this person'?"
After much effort, contemplation and discussion with many different religious Muslim leaders, Hamid theorized that it was all about interpretation. "The Koran needed to be read a different way. Perhaps the Koran's message is about how it is interpreted. For example, there is a difference between saying 'I am going to THE White House and I am going to A white house'."
By way of explanation, Hamid returns to his original example. "Perhaps when the Koran dictates, kill the infidels it doesn't mean kill ANY infidel. The text doesn't read, 'all.' The text was written long ago and is based on a group of people in history, not our modern world," says Hamid, explaining that the whole verse changes if it is approached differently. "My vision my dream for a verse like this is that the word "the" would be written in red in order to help readers understand that it is not their neighbor to which the Koran is referring but rather someone and some thing that happened in history. I want to change this in every publication of the Koran," says Hamid.
This, for Hamid, is just the beginning.
In the next article, Hamid's theories on how to penetrate and stop the cycle of radical religious brainwashing.
Editor's Note: This post originally stated that Mr. Hamid runs the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in his role as Chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism. The full Institute is actually run by its Chairman and CEO Mr. Michael Swetnam.
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