|Pro-Democracy Muslim Promotes 'Sunlight' to Combat Radical Islam|
Jewish Exponent | Amishai Gottlieb
Zuhdi Jasser, 46, was amazed to hear his pro-democracy views become the target of a verbal attack in front of his family
by the imam of the Phoenix mosque he attends.
As the American-born son of Syrian refugees from that country's dictatorial Baathist regime, Jasser has made a name from himself as a devout Muslim and avid supporter of democracy, helping to found the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Speaking to about 25 guests at a StandWithUs luncheon on Dec. 10 at the Duane Morris law offices in Center City, Jasser explained how an August interview on Fox News, during which he slammed Islamic leaders such as fellow guest Imam Muhammad Siddeeq of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, Ind., for their failure to speak out against terrorist groups like ISIS and Hamas, became the topic of a scathing rant by the imam of Jasser’s own mosque.
“The imam called out against me just two months ago in the largest sermon of our annual services at the end of Ramadan,” said Jasser, who also spoke to an audience of 120 at Penn Valley’s Har Zion Temple the evening before the luncheon. “The sermon went from being about Islamophobia and about Ramadan to being about ‘a Muslim amongst us who is not one of us.’ ”
Jasser added that the imam called him a hater of Islam and “compared me to the hypocrites in the Koran, which basically is apostating me.”
The Medical College of Wisconsin graduate and former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander’s pro-Israel views and efforts to decry the Islamic nation-state have made him a minority voice in the Islamic world.
“This is a world where radicals are keen on eliminating any kind of dissenting voice,” said Joseph Puder, executive director of Philadelphia’s chapter of StandWithUs, a national Israel advocacy group. “So he’s got a lot of courage and what he says is very important.”
Jasser is the second pro-Israel Muslim guest speaker that the regional StandWithUs branch has hosted since forming about a year ago. Kasim Hafeez — a former Islamic radical who said he once considered becoming a suicide bomber before later adopting a pro-Israel stance — spoke on Sept. 7 at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.
“A guy like Zuhdi understands our mission, which is to promote Israel,” said Puder, adding that he also hopes to bring in Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, for a StandWithUs talk in the near future. “In his own way, even though he talks about his own work and his battle within the Islamic community, he essentially promotes Israel.”
He continued, “It’s important for people to know that it’s not just Jews and Zionist Christians that support Israel, but also Muslims — moderate Muslims — that really want to see a better world.”
Jasser explained that a visit to Israel in his youth helped him forge his current backing of the Jewish homeland, which at the time surprised him with its normalcy. He certainly didn’t hold back any punches while sharing his current opinion of the United Nations’ relations with Israel in regards to the Middle East conflict.
“It is absurd that the U.N. spends so much time on Israel when it’s like England, it’s like America,” Jasser said. “The Palestinian question is a problem because of the Palestinian leadership — the warmongering Hamas, which is sending rockets and starts a war and then expects nothing to happen in response.”
During his speech, Jasser outlined his belief that the only solution to the threat of radical Islam posed by groups like Hamas is to combat the issue on an ideological level. He equated extremist Islamic views to an illness.
You can’t treat “terrorism or violence, that’s one little symptom — you treat the cancer, which is the identification of Muslims with the nation-state through faith,” he said.
The speaker, who cited American revolutionaries Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine as his personal heroes, explained that he is attempting to change the way American Muslims view America, Israel and the principles of democracy.
But that change has come slowly, he asserted. For example, athough he is able to visit and lecture at some mosques, he is kept away from children — the very audience, he argued, that really needs to learn about the importance of Western governance.
“The bigger threat is the quiet majority" of American Muslims "that hates America, that doesn’t feel a bond to this country, would be horrified if their kids became military officers, and don’t feel an affinity for America,” Jasser said. “The only way to fix that is the antiseptic of sunlight, to start asking them these questions. The problems all over the world are only going to go away when we teach them why interfaith cooperation needs to work.”