Rev. Ben Daniel is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who has written a book just published by his denomination’s publishing house – Westminster John Knox Press. The book, The Search for Truth About Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction, is Rev. Daniel’s effort to promote good interfaith relations in the United States. The main thrust of his book is entirely reasonable: The vast majority Muslims in America are loyal, law-abiding citizens who have no intention of imposing a theocracy on their fellow citizens.
The Facebook page publicizing the book describes the text as Rev. Daniel’s effort to call out and correct “many of the falsehoods, stereotypes, and misconceptions that many Christians hold.”
In an effort to accomplish this goal, Rev. Daniel highlights Zaytuna College located in Berkley, California. He describes the school, which is currently seeking accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in the United States, as “filling an important niche in American higher education” and as the “only Muslim college in the United States.” (In fact, Stephen Schwartz, an American convert to Islam, reports that there is in fact another Muslim college in the U.S., American Islamic College, an already accredited institution which was founded in 1981.)
In his description of the Zaytuna College, Rev. Daniel interviews one of the school’s co-founders Imam Zaid Shakir, who says that the goal of the school is to “standardize the understanding of Islam” and train Muslim graduates to be leaders in how Islam is practiced in the United States.
Rev. Daniel chides Americans who might be fearful of the founding of a Muslim college in the U.S., writing that he has “no doubt that the existence of what Imam Zaid hopes to establish in Berkley—a fully accredited and vibrant Islamic university—would strike fear into the hearts of many Americans and provide ample fodder for the rhetorical canons of those who would have us regard Islam with trembling dread.” This fear is unfounded, Rev. Daniel asserts, because of assurances he received from Imam Shakir at the end of his conversation with him:
In parting, I asked Imam Zaid if there was anything else he wanted the Christian readers of his book to know. There was. He wanted my readers to understand that Muslims are not trying to take over America, and that 99 percent of Muslims are living peacefully in the United States, trying to make a living, trying to take care of their families, trying to take advantage of the benefits that are present in American society, trying to contribute in a positive way to the society.
Rev. Daniel suggests Zaytuna will be a lot like his alma mater, Westmont College, a Christian college located in Santa Barbara, California. “With an overabundance of Christian colleges in America, I’m sure we can make room for an Islamic college,” Rev. Daniel jokes.
There’s just one problem. The school’s most prominent founders, including the man Rev. Daniel interviewed – Imam Zaid Shakir – have said some pretty hateful things about America, Zionists, and Judaism. The things they have said contradict Shakir’s apparent commitment to pluralism and raise legitimate doubts about the school he has established.
Let’s start with Shakir’s colleague, Zaytuna co-founder Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Hanson), a man who has made some ugly statements that were recounted by Stephen Schwarz in 2007. Schwarz writes that Hamza Yusuf’s “bigoted declamations are well recorded and widely-known” and that in 1995 he
described Judaism as “a most racist religion.” On September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11, Hanson hollered in Los Angeles, “This country (America) unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too illiterate to read the writing on the wall.”In another pearl of Hansonian wisdom, the Islamist extremist side of his multiple personality babbled freely at a 1996 convention of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a paramilitary front for Pakistani jihadists. There Hanson described America as “a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights or any other element of this society that is held sacrosanct by the ill-informed peoples that make up this charade of a society… [F]undamentals of Islam are being compromised… [C]onvention resolutions are meaningless Masonic exersises (sic) devised by men who desire to engage people in forums that would insure nothing changes… [T]here should be no voting or debate… [W]e have no room for ayes or nays.” The final lines in this quotation reflect the standard radical Islamist contempt for all forms of democratic governance. (Emphasis added.)
So here we have a man who has called Judaism a racist religion, portrayed the Masons as an evil force in American society and who has called Jesus Christ, the Bill of Rights and the notion of democracy itself as false gods of American society and proffered the radical Islamist line that “there should be no voting or debate” regarding how society should be governed. And he’s founding a college in of all places – Berkley, California – in an effort to affect how Islam is practiced in the United States.
How could Rev. Daniel have missed all this?
To be fair, Schwarz reports that in the years after the September 11 attacks, Yusuf has moderated his public utterances. Also, he has apologized for his 1995 statement that Judaism is a most racist religion. (For more detail about Yusuf’s statements and his apologies, see this report by the Investigative Project.)
Nevertheless, in light of Yusuf’s previously stated contempt for democracy, the Bill of Rights and of voting, it seems reasonable to ask if he is really committed to democracy and pluralism and if the college he has helped establish is worthy of the positive treatment Rev. Daniel gave it.
Any responsible treatment of Zaytuna College would include a discussion of Yusuf’s past statements because we simply have no way of knowing whether or not Yusuf’s moderation is the result of a change of heart, or
is merely a tactical change of tone made necessary by an act of Islamist terrorism.
But Rev. Daniel omitted any reference to these statements altogether. Did he not know about them? They were readily available to anyone with access to Google!
Now let’s look at the statements issued by the man Rev. Daniel interviewed – Imam Zaid Shakir. As documented in an article previously published by JNS.org, Shakir has
suggested that the attack on the WTC in 1993 was “undertaken by Zionist forces to give proof to their allegations concerning the magnitude of ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ terrorism, and as a pretext to intensify their anti-Islamic propaganda campaign in the U.S. media.” Shakir seems to think Israel and its supporters are responsible for the attack.Shakir has also worked to undermine pluralism in the U.S., stating, “As Christians and Jews of this country have rejected the divine law and created their own secular system of a rule, the legal and political system of America is sinful and constitutes open rebellion against Allah. For a Muslim to join with the Jews and Christians in this system is to join them in their rebellion against Allah. Allah explicitly orders against this.”
According to the Investigative Project, the article in which he suggests that Zionists were responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Towers was published in Inquiry, a magazine published by Sami Al-Arian, an operative for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to the Investigative Project, this publication “frequently featured reports about the PIJ and other radicals.”
The Investigative Project also reports that Imam Shakir implicated the FBI in this bombing. At a 2001 speech at Zaytuna Institute, he said, “What are the consequences of so-called ‘Jihad in America?’ What are the consequences of acts like the World Trade Center bombing, which of course was aided and abetted by our good friends at the FBI?”
It should come as no surprise that Shakir has made similar statements in reference to the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, stating he doesn’t “really know what happened on 9/11” and that he has encouraged his fellow Muslims in the U.S. to read a book by David Ray Griffin to find out what actually happened that day. David Ray Griffin is a leading proponent of the notion that the Bush Administration was complicit in Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attack that killed approximately 3,000 U.S. citizens. In other words, he’s a Truther.
So let’s recap. Rev. Ben Daniel has essentially given a clean bill of health to an Imam who has (1) blamed “Zionists” for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in a magazine published by an operative for an Islamist terror organization, (2) has suggested that the FBI was complicit in the 9/11 Attack, and (3) has encouraged his followers to read the works of David Ray Griffin who traffics in outlandish conspiracy theories that encourage Muslims to deny Islamist responsibility for the 9/11 Attack.
Rev. Daniel might be less sanguine about the prospects of Zaytuna College if he were an Israeli targeted by PIJ violence or a Jew living in the United States who had to regularly listen to accusations about Jews staying home on Sept. 11, 2001 and of evil Zionists being responsible for all the troubles of the world.
And he might think differently about the school if he were a Christian who had fled Egypt, Iraq or Syria to avoid Islamist violence and oppression. And he might be less sanguine about the prospects of Zaytuna College being a positive force for change in American society if he were one of the many Muslims in the North America who want nothing to do with Islamist doctrine as espoused by the school’s co-founders.
Apparently, these folks have yet to appear on the radar of Rev. Daniel’s prophetic imagination.