By: Tom Duggan – June, 2008
The Valley Patriot was invited into the Selimiye Mosque in Methuen where an interview took place with several members, including Shaban, Yusef and Hussein. More than 250 families are members and worship at the Selimiye Mosque on Oakland Avenue in Methuen. Most are from Turkey and hail from Methuen as well as other cities and towns throughout the Valley.
In 2006, The Valley Patriot published a column by syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin regarding Islam and terrorism. And to show support for our colleagues in Denmark who were in fear for their lives for publishing cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, (something forbidden by Islam) we published one of the cartoons alongside Malkins’ Column.
It was a sore spot for some of the Muslims at the Mosque in Methuen whom admitted they were Valley Patriot readers at the time. But it wasn’t until we published a letter to the editor last months (written by Dennis Walters) equating Islam to terrorism that the members of the Mosque decided to officially respond. At first, the Mosque’s leader Soner Ungz sent in a letter to the editor in response, but within days, asked for an interview for publication.
Soner Ungz did not attend the interview but seven male members of the Mosque did. Ungz, communicated through a translator via email after the interview.
“I use to read this paper,” Shaban said when he saw The Valley Patriot on the table. “I use to pick it up over on Lowell Street. I thought this was a very good paper. But then I saw that cartoon and the [column] attacking Islam and I tell you that hurt a lot of people. I just couldn’t understand it,” he said.
“I talked to the mayor about the cartoon when he came here and I asked him if he knew who you were, I said I wanted to meet you so we can know each other. So we can see each others face. We were very unhappy, the cartoon hurt us because [Muhammad] is our prophet too, we didn’t complain at the time we didn’t want a back and forth ‘he said –he said’ but I did want to meet you.”
Asked how Americans can attack Islamic terrorists in the media without offending Muslims, Shaban got passionate as did the rest of the group.
“You can say Islam and terrorists, but terrorists can not be Islam. When the terrorist says he is are [for] Islam they are using my faith. They are using my Islam. This is big power for him. Do you think he is a good Muslim? They hurt us more than anyone else when they use Islam for their terrorism. A terrorist is a terrorist and I don’t care what he says he believes, he is a terrorist and I hate him more than you do, he is hurting my religion more than anybody else.”
Hussein, a young man in his 20’s took particular exception to the letter to the editor written by Dennis Walters.
“I was born in Germany and I was in Germany on 9/11. After 9/11, the media painted Islam as violent and that we have to see in the Muslims a terrorist. We are Turks, we have been in Germany since 1916, and we have not created terrorism in Germany in that time. You can twist the verses, [like] this writer took some verses without the history or background, he says in his letter that Islam orders Muslims to kill unbelievers, it’s not true.”
“Jihad is not to kill unbelievers it’s for defense. If you are attacked by another we say ‘Jihad.’ The people [can] call the terrorists Muslims, I call them unbelievers. They change the background and meaning of Jihad, they misuse it, therefore they are unbelievers themselves. They’re changing the word of Allah. They are wrong, see Allah in the wrong way. This is what we want people to know.”
“This letter is dangerous,” Yusef added. “It’s sloppily written. Every verse in the Quran has a certain background. If it happened during a certain times in the Quran the verses have a different context.”
Asked how Americans can tell the difference between peaceful Muslims and the terrorists, Yusef responded;
“There are extremists in all religions that have the same dress and study from the same book as non extremists. How do you know the priest who is not a pedophile versus one [who] is, they dress the same, they read from the same book?”
“All I can say is that Muslims have a responsibility, one way or another to teach others about our religion. We are still searching for the right way to do that right now, Muslims don’t have much of a voice in American media today. Maybe once we do, that will help. But, I think if you are someone from Methuen you know you have nothing to fear from the Muslims because this mosque has been here since 1995, the Turks have been here since late 80’s. There’s been no problem. The [former] chief of police and the mayor come to this Mosque all the time. They come to our summer picnics. We have a good relationship with them. So if you know the Muslims in this area, you know we are peaceful and have nothing to fear. I’d like to think that the people of greater Lawrence know that.”
Asked if Muslims have an obligation to speak out against terrorism, Yusef admitted they do.
“Sure we do, we have an obligation to speak out against any wrong. Long before 911 we had that responsibility.”
Why has that not happened on a large scale?
“A lot of it is fear. But a lot of it is that someone like Sean Hannity is not going to put a Muslim on his show unless he is saying something outrageous and then he will have them on to get ratings.”
“Someone said after 9/11 that the terrorists had hijacked their religion, because if they dress themselves as Muslims, it makes it harder for fellow Muslims to denounce it. It is harder to denounce a family member than someone else. Since 9/11 there is a lot of fear.”
“But, we have to show the difference between us and them that is our responsibility,” Hussein responded.
Shaban said he believed that the terrorists who were using Islam “as cover” should not be associated with peaceful Muslims. “They are using my beautiful Quran and they hurt us so much. I say don’t punish the faith, punish the terrorists. If you are a good Muslim, you do good things for your religion, you help people, you respect people, you don’t hurt them. It is against our religion to commit suicide. How many people know that? These suicide bomber are no way Muslims.”
Osama Bin Laden
When the group was asked if Osama Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 none of the group would answer the question except Shaban.
“Well, who pushed the button? Who was the cause, we don’t know. Did he do it, Osama Bin Laden? He didn’t do it himself. Who did it? They all attack Islam but they don’t know and it has never been proven. They used them [the people who hijacked the planes]. They found someone stupid enough to do it But they can’t prove who did it.”
Soner Ungz leader of the Mosque later explained that because of Shaban’s poor choice of words he did not want anyone to think that they were denying Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11 .
“I believe that Shaban was trying to emphasize the Al-Qaida Network as a whole was responsible for the attacks and not necessarily the singular effort of Bin Laden. If I recall, correctly, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was the mastermind behind it. It was more so a consorted effort. I don’t think Shaban wanted to down play the role of Bin Laden, but only to show that there are other major players behind the scenes. A quick example of this, Bin Laden had sought the guidance and edict of the Blind Shaykh, who is in prison now. Bin Laden needed to procure “scholarly” justification for what he and others were planning. I believe this is the common perception amongst American Muslims. They don’t wish to just single out Bin Laden, but stress that Al-Qaida is bigger than Bin Laden.
“The belief held by us at the Selimiye Mosque is that the prepretrators of the 9/11 attacks were not Muslims. We believe this because Islam, when examined in its original sources doesn’t advocate, or condone violence against civilians. He quoted the Quran passage: Sahih Bukhari Volume 004, Book 052, Hadith Number 257. Narrated By ‘Abdullah: During some of the Ghazawat of the Prophet a woman was found killed. Allah’s Apostle disapproved the killing of women and children.”
“Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, had advised the Muslim army along these lines prior to their campaign: “Do not be harsh on them; do not kill children, old men or women; do not cut down or burn palm trees, do not destroy fruit trees, do not slay a sheep or camel except for food. If you see people who have taken refuge in monasteries, let them be safe in their place of refuge.”
“In this context, those who purposely contravene the teachings of Islam can’t be necessarily associated with Islam, or more simply put, bear the label of a “Muslim.”
The Muslims of the Selimiye Mosque on Oakland Avenue in Methuen invited The Valley Patriot back for more discussions in the future and though there were some language issues and misunderstandings we fully intend to take them up on that offer.