My name is Imam Shams Ali**. I’m the director of Jamaica Muslim Center.
I’m an imam based here in New York City, in the United States.
I’m an immigrant. I have been here in the States for 20 years. I work very closely with the Muslim community worldwide but also with other communities. I’m very much engaged in interfaith work with Christians, Jews and other people around me.
That is my specialization. I’m an imam and am well known as an interfaith advocate.
I’ve known the Hizmet Movement for quite a long time. In the beginning I was, as an imam, invited to one of the gala dinners for the Turkish center in Queens. From there I was amazed by the way they organized the dinner, the way they organized the event, and the people who attended, from mayors down to the imams. So I was questioning who these people were. So I learned about it and I found out that the Turkish center represented a very important, a very big movement in our world; and that is the Hizmet Movement.
So I learned from that moment and I found out that the Hizmet Movement represented the heart of the religion, the core values of Islam, and that is “rahmatan lil alamin”. As Allah says in the Holy Quran, “wa ma arsalnaka illa rahmatan lil alamin” meaning, “I did not send you except as a mercy to all humanity”.
So, the way Hizmet, basically, serves humanity is very much important in the way we are dealing with the world today.
We are living in a globalized world in this 21st century. Our world has become smaller; it looks like there is no barrier between nations. So we are becoming like one family and I think we have only two choices in front of us, either work together with all people or fight one another in the same house.
So, I think we must choose the first one.
Hizmet Movement represents, really, the heart of Islam, to work with all people around them, to serve God through humanity, through serving humanity. That’s why Hizmet has built an enormous number of schools around the globe in over 160 countries.
Hizmet does a lot of humanitarian work in different places.
So, I think, through education and through social work, we can prove that Islam is about serving God through service to humanity, and that’s what Hizmet is all about.
I think, in my opinion, the most important contribution of Hizmet is, number one, education. I mean, the education here is not only that Hizmet builds schools, many schools around the world, but, more importantly, educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike about how to live in coexistence, peacefully.
And I think that is a great example of a human being, and that’s what Islam is, because when you say Muslim, it means a good person. So, I think, through education Hizmet wanted to create the best people.
And that is what the language of the Holy Qur’an says, “kuntum khayra ummatin… khayra ummah”, that is, “the best nation, the best people”. And so, through education, we educate the Muslims that living with non-Muslims doesn’t necessarily mean to create animosity, tension or conflict. Living with non-Muslims means to live your values, as a good neighbor, to show them what the values of Islam are all about. But, more importantly, it is to provide security because the Prophet Muhammad said that a Muslim is the one who gives security to others.
“Man salimal muslimuna min lisanihi wayadihi.” “A Muslim is the one whose neighbors are safe from his tongue and his deed.” And I think that this is the education that Hizmet is offering to the people. It is about coexistence, it is about building a partnership and friendship through love and compassion. That is the best and most important contribution that our world needs today because we have to acknowledge that we are living in a world that is full of conflict; war, violence…
And I think, unfortunately, many of those conflicts are being perpetrated in the name of religion; people are killing each other in the name of religion. And here, Hizmet comes to show to the world that Islam is not that. Islam is not coming to make the people scared; Islam is not coming to harm people; Islam is not a religion that brings violence and terrorism to the people. Islam is the opposite of all these.
Unfortunately, Islam has been accused of terrorism and violent teachings. So, I think, the most important contribution that, again, Hizmet has offered to humanity is education, educating both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Many terrorist groups, unfortunately in the name of Islam, are being perpetrated by those who are not educated, ignorant people coming from the villages, very easily given certain money and they do what they want to do. Why? ... because there is no education.
So, basically, what Hizmet is doing is very crucial in this time of conflict. And that is, preparing our youth to utilize their potentials. From what I have seen, the schools that Hizmet is building around the world, are not only schools, they are very qualified schools…quality.
So, the graduates from the Hizmet schools are going to different areas. They are very educated, very smart people, very high potential people.
I know that there are some schools in Indonesia and I know that some Indonesians are taking graduate programs outside of the country. And it’s not easy for Indonesians to get out of the country sometimes, because of the language, etc, so on and so forth…
So, Hizmet offers the excellence in schools around the world, in 160 countries. I think, not many, and I don’t know any organizations that have done such a thing as building in 160 countries, schools of excellence, not only schools but schools of excellence that are, in terms of academics, among the best, in terms of morality, grounded in moral grounds—they teach them how to be good human beings. There are not many organizations that have done that.
As far as I know, there is none, except the ones that Hizmet has done in 160 countries, building such schools of excellence.
I’m truly appreciative, I’m truly thankful to Hizmet, in terms of interfaith, because it is my passion. I am right in there.
I have been in interfaith for the last 12 years, particularly after September 11. I’m building bridges of cooperation, not only understanding but cooperation with Christians, with Jews, with Hindus, with Buddhists..
And so, when I’m invited to an event by Peace Island Institute or other organizations within the Hizmet Movement to engage in the interfaith activities, I feel that that’s my spirit. I am thankful to what they have done and they are still doing.
Interfaith is a core teaching of Islam, it is a core part of Islamic teaching. The verse is very clear in the Holy Qur’an where Allah says, “We created you from a single male and a female and We made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.”
What is the meaning of ‘getting to know one another?’ That is another word for dialogue.
Because, to know one another means to build a communication. So, dialogue is to build a communication of one another. Through dialogue, we can build an understanding. We understand, oh our Jewish friends are those people. As many Muslims misunderstand that Jewish people are bad people… yeah, there are some, but not all of them! Similarly, Jews misunderstand Muslims, that there are some bad Muslims… yes, of course there are, but not all of them! So, I think that the only way to build that understanding is through dialogue and communication.
After building an understanding, we can build a compassion and mercy; we can build that love. We love one another, we respect one another.
But, more importantly, we can build partnership and togetherness as I mentioned earlier. And beyond that, we can fight for others. My motto, as a Muslim who is right now working with the Jewish community—and Christians as well—is to fight for others.
I want the Jewish people to fight for Muslims; so, whenever there’s Islamaphobia, I want to see the Jews standing up against it, against Islamaphobia.
And, anywhere that anti-Semitism happens, that is me, as a Muslim, it is my responsibility to fight against the anti-Semitism.
That is what we call fighting for others.
And I think we have proved that. Here, in the United States of America, particularly in New York, we have seen many Jewish Rabbis stand up against Islamaphobia. And we have seen many Muslims also standing up for the rights of the Jewish people. And I think that’s what we need to do in order to build a better world.
So, interfaith is very essential. It is a part of the religion. Those who say that interfaith is not Islamic; they need to learn more about the religion.
Prophet Muhammad moved to Madinah, and he engaged with all people of religion.
When he created the Madinah Constitution—it is called the Madinah Charter—he invited Jews, he invited Christians, he invited even the pagans—the Mushrikun—to come to the table to talk about the Constitution of the city.
And that was a civil constitution. This constitution is the first-ever civil constitution created by humans in the history of humanity. And the Prophet engaged Jews, Christians and even pagans.
So, interfaith happened there. It was not named ‘interfaith’ but Prophet Muhammad practiced the interfaith work, working with Jews, working with Christians.
So, those who are suspicious, I think they need to learn Islam better and they need to understand that we are living in a different world.
The charity organization that Hizmet is doing, again, is representing the mercy and the kindness of Islam. Why? … because the concept of kindness in Islam, and the mercy itself, is not limited to the Muslims.
The Qur’an says, “rahmatan lil alamin”; it’s not, “rahmatan lil muslimin”. And I think Hizmet is serving not only Muslims but also non-Muslims throughout the world. That in itself is the best way of representing the nature of Islam itself. I’m very thankful.
When God says in the Qur’an, “wa ahsin kama ahsanallahu ilayk”, “be kind as Allah has been kind to you”, Prophet Muhammad is commanded to be kind as Allah has been kind to him.
What does that mean? Allah has been kind to Muhammad without any limits, and Allah is kind to Muhammad but Allah is also still kind to Abu Lahab. Which means what? That Allah wants Muhammad to be kind to all human beings.
Hizmet, basically, represents that message. As Hizmet is serving the Muslims, Hizmet also must serve non-Muslims. Through that service, Hizmet proves to the world that Islam is not limited to certain people. Islam is for all humanity.
And I think that is the best way to represent Islam. In our time, Islam is being misunderstood.
I’m following the situation that Hizmet is being accused of… unfortunately I call those irrational accusations… Let me say this first; Hizmet is a dangerous organization?
What kind of danger are we talking about? Building schools? Serving through humanitarian work? I simply don’t understand.
Hizmet is building a connection with all kinds of people, with Americans, with Christians, with Jews… That is what Islam is all about.
We wanted to see that Hizmet changed the misconceptions of many people around the world about Islam; that Islam hates Jews, that Islam doesn’t like Christians, Islam doesn’t like non-Muslims.
Here, Hizmet is basically helping us change that image.
Now, to accuse Hizmet of being a, let’s say, a terrorist organization is for me, as I said, is an irrational accusation.
And I think that any human being with any sense cannot accept that.
Through the services, through the education, through interfaith dialogue, through seminars, educating people, I have never seen or heard anything that is endangering anybody.
Everything is about giving benefits to everybody.
And that’s what Hizmet is all about.
**Profile: Imam Shams Ali is a NY-based imam and the director of the Jamaica Muslim Center. He received his BA in tafseer and Master’s degree in Comparative Religious Studies from the International İslamic University in İslamabad-Pakistan. He was named one of the seven most influential religious leaders in NYC by NY Magazine in 2006. İmam Shamsi Ali has been chosen as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Jordan and Georgetown University, from the years 2009 to 2012.
*Produced by Spectra Media exclusively for Irmak TV, Atlas of Thoughts (Fikir Atlasi) connects the scholars, politicians, jurists, religious figures, journalists, and academics reflecting on Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement with the audience. Each episode features a person from a different segment of the society with diverse experiences regarding the Hizmet activities and its volunteers. If you are interested to hear about the Hizmet and Mr. Gulen from these people’s perspectives, do not miss this show!.
Source: Fikir Atlasi (Episode 47), © Spectra Media, 09 June 2014, MondayView more transcripts of Fikir Atlasi episodes