By Yassin Aref [Arrested in a FBI sting operation, Yassin Aref is currently serving 15 years at the Communications Management Unit, Terre Haute, where Dr. Dhafir is serving 22 years.]

“This is not a teaching from me. I just wanted to give you a general idea about what Islam stands for. We are living here together as neighbors. The Prophet used to say, “He is not a believer”. His companions would ask, “Who, O Messenger of God?” Mohammed would reply “The one who sleeps with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry.”


People tend to judge religions and schools of thought by how the followers of these ideas act. I do not believe that this is a proper basis to judge a religion or an idea, and any judgments made in such a way will not be fair to the idea. It is not necessary that every follower of an idea actually understands it, and even if a follower understands it, he may not actually practice it. But at the same time we cannot stop people from making such judgments.

What is the benefit of a religion or idea if it is not practiced? Only by practice can one see the beauty and importance of it in the life of the people. Everyone has the right to ask, “If this idea or that religion is so good, why do those people who believe in it, live so miserably?” This question today applies to Muslim more than anyone else. Millions of people all over the world are asking why, if Islam brings so many benefits and goodness to life, are Muslims in Muslim countries living in conditions of the European Dark Ages?

How are people going to believe and understand that Islam:

1. Represents “Peace” when Muslim groups and countries are always fighting with each other?
2. Represents “Brotherhood”, when Muslims, Sunni and Shiite, slaughter each other?
3. Represents “Unity” while most Muslim countries do not have open relations with each other? (It is almost impossible to travel from one Muslim country to another, while people in Europe can travel to other European countries without even a passport. There are always problems between Kurds and Arabs, Kurds and Turks, Arabs and Persians, etc.)
4. Represents “Protection and Respect for Human Dignity”, while in many Muslim countries they torture prisoners, women are enslaved, and there are no civil rights for citizens?
5. Represents “Improvement of Life”, while a lot of Muslims depend on Western donations, and the majority of Muslims in Muslim countries are living in poverty and are centuries behind the West?
6. Represents “Knowledge and Science” while all the latest scientific discoveries and technological advances today belong to the West, and in many Muslim countries, people do not even know how to use these discoveries?

I really understand this from my own personal experience. I grew up in a time when the Communist influence was everywhere including Kurdistan’s mountains. I grew up with revolutionaries. Most of my friends were socialists and daily we discussed these issues and debated and argued. Whenever I said something about life in Russia, their answer always was, “They are not real Communists”. When I asked about what happened to freedom there, and the improvement of life in Russia, and the Stalinist purges, I was told that we cannot judge Marx by what Stalin did; it is not Machiavelli’s fault for what Hitler did; it is not Rousseau’s fault for what Napoleon did. We must criticize the text and idea itself and not what people do in its name. I accepted this and talked only about the theory itself. Never did I think that the time would come when I would have to say to people, “If you want to know about Islam, forget about the Muslims”. Their actions push you away from Islam. Even in the mosque I used to tell people repeatedly that the people in the West have the right to reject what we say because certainly none of them want to live as Muslims are living in the Middle East!! Even we do not want that — that is why we came to live here.

As a Muslim I am saying this, and my heart is melting, my eyes are full of tears, my mind is almost stopping. How can this happen? How can people come to see the beauty of Islam, to feel and benefit from it? It is really sad when someone today in the West sees a man with a beard and Muslim look, and is frightened because he thinks the man, instead of carrying Islam’s message of Justice and Mercy, is carrying a bomb. It doesn’t matter if this is true —only that many people think it might be true. This fear is helped by the media and by governments who spread this idea among the people.

(Are you surprised that this writer is now serving time in prison for Terrorism? The government believes that he is really wild and very dangerous and he has been put in a special isolation so he will not infect the other prisoners. Don’t forget that he preached openly in the mosque and has been convicted by a jury. If the preacher is a Terrorist what was he preaching? (You had better be careful when you read this because maybe my words might suddenly blow up!!!) What happened to me is really sad and completely unfair).

Islam is not like Communism which failed to build a paradise on earth, or to eliminate the class differences between people, or bring into being a real socialist society. Instead the Communists killed at least 50 million people, and after that they ruled for only 50 years. Islam has a much longer history. When Islam came 14 centuries ago it improved the lives of people. Before Islam, the Arabs were mostly illiterate, mostly they worshipped idols, they buried their daughters alive, they were divided up into tribes killing each other, they had no power, and the empires at that time were Persia and Rome. But when they became Muslim their lives changed. They overcame their poverty, they learned to read and write. They abandoned their idols. They united their tribes. And they reached the point where they were able to conquer both Persian and Roman Empires and continued to rule for 12 centuries. This was the Golden Age of Islam, while in Europe it was the Dark Ages. These are achievements no one can deny. Many western writers have acknowledged that modern technology began with what Europeans learned from Muslims in Spain. (See Gustaf Luban’s book, “Arabs Sun Rise On The West”). Other writers have said that no conqueror was more merciful than the Muslims. Many Western writers wrote about the Prophet Mohammed and described him as a great man — a man of peace — a person for solving problems, etc. Some said that Mohammed lived 10 centuries ahead of his time. In fact much of what he said and did could have been 12 centuries ahead of his time.

All of this is not enough to make people today understand what Islam stands for and how it leads to caring for humanity, because people want to see it in action and feel it in action. I believe it is not enough for Muslims to sing about history but Muslims must ensure that people receive a benefit from Islam. I want to tell everyone in the West that certainly the Muslim’s situation today is because of their corrupted leaders and their ignorance. Their religion has nothing to do with this. Sadly I must add that the foreign policy of many western countries has not helped to rid us of corrupt leaders and ignorance, or to end the Muslim’s tragedy and help support them to rebuild their countries. Politics is a dirty game and leaves behind a lot of victims. Islam is the answer to raise us to a higher level.

Islam wants us to use our minds. Many verses of the Quran ask us to think, and to ponder the universe, and to consider who made it and how it works. Other verses recommend that we travel, and to learn about what happened to those before us and why it happened. Other verses recommend that we use our minds to try to understand that everything in this universe happens by reason of God who made the laws of the universe and who will not change those laws of nature for our convenience. Other verses make it obligatory on us to read and learn and free ourselves from ignorance which God does not like. Other verses require us to listen and see and discover the truth for ourselves — nobody should copy blindly from someone else. Islam respects the mind and puts it in the highest position. For centuries Muslim Philosophers and scientists served humanity by discovering new things and some of their books and theories to this day are taught in Western Universities.

Islam gives praise to our Creator. Islam is built on one basic idea – that there is a Creator who created this universe and everything in it. We do not exist by accident. We did not create this world by ourselves, and we do not exist for no purpose. Certainly the One who created everything is all-knowing and all-wise. He knew what he created. Moreover, He is All-powerful, and All-just, and He will judge everyone. Do not allow any injustice to go unquestioned as He told us in the Quran “Did you think that we had created you in jest (without purpose); and that you would not be brought back to Us (for account)” (Surah 23, Verse 115). God honored human beings and blessed them with a mind. He commanded angels to bow before man and gave man power above most of his creations. He allowed man to use his creations.

Islam made people equal In Islam all human beings are brothers, coming from the same parents — all from Adam, and Adam from dust. There is no distinction by color or nationality. It is our deeds and actions alone that take us closer to God or to the Fire.

Because God honored human beings, any dishonorable talk or actions by humans is against what God wanted and anything that brings honor to humans is good and makes God pleased. Torture, killing, poverty, ignorance, taking freedom away from people, humiliation, injustice are all prohibited acts which will lead to corruption and bring God’s wrath upon us. The opposite is also true. Any activities that give back to humans their dignity is a pleasure for God. The Prophet Mohammed said “All human beings belong to God (His servants)”. The best of them is the one who serves others the best. This is the measure of our value – How much do we do for other human beings.

Islam requires everyone to be responsible for his own actions. As is said in the Quran, “Who receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit; who goes astray does so to his own loss; no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another; nor would We visit with Our Wrath until We had sent a Messenger (to give warning).” (Surah 17, verse 15). No one can take someone else with him to paradise or send someone else to Hell. No one will get to paradise by the good deeds of his parents, or friends, or some one of his nationality or color. In Islam nobody’s sins are washed away in advance, and nobody is cursed due to his father’s sins. All responsibility goes to the individual. In fact Islam encourages people to do good to others without waiting for this good to be reciprocated, because every good you do to others, God will reciprocate it to you after multiplying10 to 700 times. We are given a severe warning from doing harm to others. If we injure someone weak and powerless, God will never forgive this. He will expose us to injustice by others as a punishment, and reward the victim who is wronged — in this life or in the hereafter. And for certain we cannot hide anything from God because He knows everything and He sees everything. (And beside there are Angels writing everything down). All this should stop people from harming others and discourage them from selfishness, and to have preference for others over themselves. If not for such faith in the poor countries, in the time or war and starvation, people would literally eat each other. I pray that whatever we saw in Iraq, and others saw in Somalia, Afghanistan and many other places will never happen again anywhere else on earth.

It is really wrong and dangerous to take faith out from the heart of people. Faith helps people to be patient in times of difficulty because they believe God will reward them for what they have lost. Faith helps people to be hopeful in the time of powerlessness and hardship because they believe God can bring changes and grant them strength. Faith prevents people from cheating, lying, stealing, and harming others because God sees what they do and will not accept it. Faith makes people humble when they are powerful and rich because they know God despises arrogance, and that everything given to them came from God as a test for a limited time. It is just as my teacher used to say. Think about any thing you believe is good and I will show you evidence that Islam wants us to do it. Tell me anything that is wrong and I will show you that Islam forbids it.

Islam requires everyone to be fair A person must be fair in each and every word that he says, and in any action that he does, or in any judgment that he makes, and can never be unfair or hateful. As the Quran says, “Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to Piety; and fear Allah. For Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.” (Surah 5, Verse eight) The Prophet told us that there are three judges: the one who does not know the truth and makes his decision based on ignorance and without evidence — he will go to the Fire (Hell); the one who knows the truth but makes a decision contrary to it — he will also go to the Fire; the one who knows the truth and makes the right decision based on the evidence — he will go to Paradise.

Someone once asked the Prophet to be a witness for him when he made a gift to one of his sons. The Prophet asked him if he would make a gift to his other children as well, and the man said no. Then the Prophet said that he could not be a witness because the transaction was not fair. When Umar bin Khattab (Omer, the second Caliph) saw an old man begging, he asked, “Who is this man?” They said he was a Jew. Umar responded, “So what…we have not been fair to him. Since he was young he paid taxes to us and now because he cannot work he is forced to beg.” Umar commanded that the man be given a retirement allowance for the rest of his life. We believe God is all-just and will not accept injustice and the unjust rulers. All those who are unjust will be forced to pay back for what they did.

Islam frees people. It is very sad that people think Islam has forced conversions and continues to force people to believe in it. This is completely against what the Quran says: “If it had been your Lord’s Will they would all have believed — all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind against their will, to believe?” (Surah 10, verse 99). Faith and belief start from the heart and remain in the heart. How can some one force us to put something in our heart? You can force me to do a physical thing, but no body has the power to make me believe in God and have love in my heart. How can someone become a Muslim believer if deep in his heart he does not believe in and love God? When Rabiya bin Amir went to Kisra, the King of Persia, Kisra asked him what he needed, thinking that Rabiya came for some money, or for a piece of land, or a horse, or camel. Rabiya answered, “God sent us to free people from the slavery of man and put them in the slavery of God. From the injustice of the rulers, to the justice of Islam”. Umar declared very clearly, “How can you make people slaves when they are born free?” Islam says the people are born free and they must live free, and they may not be enslaved except for God alone.

Many people say they don’t want to be slaves even to God, and they accuse Islam of making people slaves, showing that they do not know the meaning of “slavery” in Islam. Slavery in Islam means to “follow obediently”. In fact every one of us will follow something or someone who will tell us what we should do every day, what we should believe, why we should do it, and how. This is slavery, and many of us are slaves to our own desires. We do what our desires command even when our mind is telling us that it is wrong, and our hearts are saying that this is inhuman. Many people know that drugs and alcohol are harmful. Their mind tells them that, but they do drugs anyway because of their desire. It is very rare that someone can commit a crime and not know that it is wrong. Even the law says that if you do not have the criminal intention, you should not be charged with a crime. But still millions are convicted every year for crimes that they intended. Why, when their hearts told them it was wrong, did they follow their desire? Of course, millions of us copy others and follow the local culture. So instead we should believe, and worship God and chose to follow what God has chosen for us to follow. No doubt that God knows better what is good for us, and He has chosen for the best even if we do not desire it.

Islam is mercy. The Quran tells us that God did not send Mohammed just to be the mercy for mankind but also to all of his creatures. “We sent you not, but as a Mercy for all creatures” (Surah 21 , verse 107). When we look at the Prophet’s life it is clear that he was very merciful; when he saw some poor person he could not hide his tears. There are many stories about how his eyes were flooded. When some people asked him about the tears he simply responded, “This is mercy. God puts it in the heart of whomever he will”. He then taught them by saying, “Whoever has no mercy to show will not receive mercy from God”, and he told them, “If you want God to have mercy on you, so must you have mercy on people and on all of the living things. Have mercy to those on Earth and the One who is in heaven will have mercy on you”. Mohammed used to eat not only with the poorest people, but he used to take shelter and food to those who had none, and he brought them back to his home and ate with them. The proud leaders of his tribe, the Quraish, told Mohammed, “If you send these people away we will sit with you. You are one of our family, but we cannot sit with those low citizens.” In fact he preferred the poor people to the leaders of the Quraish. Mohammed used to talk to orphans and show them sympathy and tell the people, “Whoever takes care of orphans and shelters them and feeds them and teaches them, he will be with me in Paradise like this “, and he put his two fingers together.

Islam prohibits revenge. Several verses of the Quran remind us that if God had to punish us for everything we did that was wrong, not one of us would be worthy to stay on Earth. “If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave, on the (earth), a single living creature; but He gives them respite for a stated Term.” (Surah 16 verse 61). But God is forgiving and wants us to forgive each other; when we forgive each other, He will forgive us. “Let not those among you who are endued with grace and amplitude of means resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen, those in want and those who have left their homes in Allah’s cause; let them forgive and overlook, do you not wish that Allah should forgive your? For Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” (Surah 24, verse 22). Clearly if we need God to forgive us, we must forgive and pardon each other. As the most beloved person and closest friend to the Prophet, Aisha, his wife said that the Prophet never took revenge for himself — rather his life was full of forgiveness.

After 10 years of exile and struggle against the people who had driven him from his birth place of Mecca, Mohammed returned in triumph to capture Mecca and the people who had persecuted him. One of the Prophet’s companions said, “Today is the time for Malhama” (which means killing)”, but the Prophet said “No — Today is the day of mercy”. Then he gathered together all the people of Mecca who had fought against him, and he asked them, “What do you think I am going to do to you?” They all said, “You are the best Prophet”. Mohammed said to them, “Go. You all are free”. The Prophet did not take any revenge even though he had the power to do so, and the people of Mecca had fought against him, and tried to kill him, and had killed many believers. But in the Prophet’s heart there was no place for hate, and his message was not revenge. He wanted to free people, not end their lives. Once Mohammed saw the dead body of a woman and he became really mad and raised his hand to the sky and said, “Oh Allah, I am free from what Kahlid (the head of his army) did. O Allah I did not command this and I will not accept this.” Mohammed used to remind his army each and every time he sent them out not to kill women or children or elderly. Do not kill anyone sitting in his home, who is not fighting, or someone who is worshiping in a temple or church. Do not demolish any church or temple, and do not cut any trees.

Today in the Iraq war 90 to 95 percent of the dead are civilians. In 23 years of the Prophet’s life as a messenger, the dead in conflicts did not reach even 1,000 including both believers and pagans alike. And civilian deaths were not even .0001% of the number today. Today in one attack thousands of civilians die. Some news reports claim that the dead in Iraq will reach 1,300,000, but the exact number will never be known. Even if we said that this fighting is for Democracy, (which nobody believes), why do people accuse Islam of being spread by force and not Democracy. I do not believe that anything good can be spread by force — only hatred and division. Islam was never spread by force, and war will not spread Democracy.

Islam protects its neighbors. Words are easy but it is what we do that is important. We are what we do, not what we say. Islam prohibits all kinds of wrong doing — cheating, lying, stealing etc. The Prophet use to say to his companions, “Fear God wherever you are and always do good, … treat people with good behavior.” I remember very well when I left my country to exile. I went to a very well respected scholar, Sheikh Uthman Abdul Aziz, and asked his advice. He read the above saying of the Prophet and told me what many good people today repeat. “Treat people the way you want them to treat you.” The Prophet did not say, “Treat believers (Muslims) with good behavior”; he said “people”. Mohammed used to say, “God sent me to complete and perfect the good manners”, and even his enemies testified of him favorably and called him “honest and trustworthy”.

This is not a teaching from me. I just wanted to give you a general idea about what Islam stands for. We are living here together as neighbors. The Prophet used to say, “He is not a believer”. His companions would ask, “Who, O Messenger of God?” Mohammed would reply “The one who sleeps with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry”. Mohammed also said, “No one will become a believer until his neighbor will be safe from him”, and he said, “Whoever believes in God and the hereafter, let him not harm his neighbor”. While Mohammed was taking his last breaths of his life he kept saying, “My neighbor, my neighbor should be taken care of”. He meant my neighbor who is Jewish, not just Muslim. He was worried that some one might neglect his neighbor because he was Jewish.

I realize that I do not have good modern day examples to show you what Islam is all about, except that hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world live very humble and harmonious lives despite the various social, economic and political problems oppressing them. In most Muslim countries life is miserable, because of corrupted leaders, nonsensical cultures and ignorance. Islam is not responsible for this. And I am sorry to tell you that many Western governments have foreign policies that are of no helpful in this direction. Such policies contribute nothing to ease the burden of the masses or to end their sufferings. Nor do these policies help develop a better relationship between the West and the Muslim countries or between the Muslims and Non-Muslims.